Minimalist Shoes: Why and how to transition


I’ve finally bought a pair of minimalist shoes. I looked into it a few years ago when they first came out on the market because a friend who had knee problems swore her knees stopped bothering her when she transitioned over to a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, but they were expensive. Now, for about the same cost as a normal pair of shoes, I have my own pair, although I picked minimalist shoes that don’t separate my toes instead.

It seems that I had the right idea to transition with a relatively normal pair of minimalist shoes instead of switching directly to toe shoes. Minimalist shoes don’t support your foot and take some getting used to. The most common injuries are toe stress fractures while transitioning.[1]

I assume that sticking with more traditional minimalist shoes decreases the odds of toe injury. According to a salesperson at REI, the toes are more protected when kept together. They also said I should transition to minimalist shoes slowly to give my feet a chance to properly build up the muscles that haven’t been used due to the structural support of traditional shoes. My research confirms this[2], and goes further to show that your running style changes with minimalist shoes, so it makes sense to build them into your workouts instead of switching into them for a long-distance run right away.[3][4]

Overarching benefits to wearing minimalist shoes are readily apparent. A recent survey found that while 46.7% of runners that wear traditional shoes reported injuries, only about 13.7% of runners that wore minimalist shoes reported injuries. The type of injuries was also different.[5] On the whole, I suspect that such shoes diminish the odds of running injury because you can feel the ground with every step, which makes you more aware of your foot positioning and posture.  Such shoes also strengthen your foot muscles by removing artificial support structures, thus making your feet work to naturally balance you in motion. For the same reason I choose to do yoga barefoot.

As for how to run, a guy featured in the Oregonian summarized his takeaway from a class on how to run in minimalist shoes. “Stand up straight while leaning forward slightly, and to land with our feet directly underneath our hips on every step.” [6] He also tried (and described) several different models of minimalist shoes if you’re interested in reading about his experience. He also recommends wearing such shoes, and I’m looking forward to breaking in my new pair.

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