In August, I purchased a pair of Vibram Five Fingers after reading Born to Run, in love with the idea that maybe, just maybe, switching to a more natural method of running and improving my form would help curb the injuries I’m so prone to getting. Determined to be a smart cookie about the move, I did as much reading as I could find online about transitioning from modern running shoes to minimalist shoes, and I feel like I came out ahead. I progressed the distance and time in my VFFs gradually over a period of several weeks, and I never had too much soreness in my calves. Blisters still crop up from time to time, but after reading more about running strictly barefoot, I better know how to treat them.
Here’s what I’ve learned in making the switch:
Most importantly, understand and commit to the process. Jumping into minimalist shoes overnight is a recipe for blisters, sore muscles, and injury. Allow yourself at least several weeks and up to several months to allow your feet and the rest of your body to adjust to this new way of moving. That said, the steps below, in their ordered progression, worked for me:
- Start barefoot. That is, start going barefoot around the house. You need to strengthen your feet, lengthen your Achilles tendon, and allow just about every muscle involved with walking and running time to get used to the idea.
- Strengthen and stretch. Beginning minimalist running can take its toll on the muscles that haven’t had to do much work before. Your calf and arch muscles will need to man-up in a hurry to support your running self instead of relying on shoes to do the work for you. Calf raises, ankle circles, pointing-and-flexing the toes will prime them for the road.
- Limit time in your minimalist shoes. For any pair of new shoes, there is a breaking-in period when your feet may be prone to blisters and soreness because the shoes are stretching and conforming to the shape of your feet. In VFFs, your feet are also adjusting to wearing shoes without socks and having shoe where no shoe has been before — between your toes! Limit time in your shoes to an hour or so at a time, or until you notice “hot spots” (early signs of blisters) on your feet. Wear them out and about — at work, on errands, around town — but bring a spare pair of flip flops or other regular shoes to put on in case the new shoes start giving you problems. Limiting time in your minimalist shoes will both break them in and continue to strengthen your feet and calves.
- Start running gradually.After several days, possibly a week, walking in your minimalist shoes, go for a short run. And by short, I mean, really short. For the first week, start in your minimalist shoes at the beginning of a normal run, and switch to your regular shoes at the quarter-mile mark. Listen to your body for complaints in your legs and hot spots in your feet. If everything feels OK, add a quarter mile in your minimalist shoes every week until you’ve worked up to a mile, always changing shoes if your feet or legs start feeling fishy on a run.
- Keep running gradually. Once you’ve worked up to a mile in your minimalist shoes, start adding a half mile every week, always listening to your body for any signs of protest. Once you’ve worked up to three miles are so, start testing your shoes on longer runs, but never too much too soon. If you want to be conservative, follow the 10% rule and add no more than 10% of your longest run. If you want to be a bit more liberal, add no more than 50% of your longest run. For example, if your longest run in your minimalist shoes to date is 3 miles, a 10% increase would be a 3.3 mile run and a 50% increase would be a 4.5 mile run. No matter what, always always listen to your feet and the rest of your body, put your pride aside, and if anything doesn’t feel right, stop running, switch shoes, or both.
It’s December, and I’m now running full-time in my VFFs. I’m growing fatty deposits on the balls of my feet (they need more padding now that they’re doing most of the work) and the soles of my feet are toughening up. Even though I’m running in minimalist shoes for every run, I know that my form and my feet are still adjusting to this new way of running, so I’m keeping my runs short (less than an hour) to prevent blisters and muscle soreness.
Have you made the switch to minimalist shoes? What worked for you as you made the transition?