Barefoot Running 101

We’ve all heard of barefoot running. But how do you actually do it? Coach Andrew Allden explains.

How can you safely transition to a more minimalist shoe? USATF Level 1 Coaching Educator Andrew Allden explains:

I do believe runners should choose a shoe with the least amount of cushioning and support possible. For some that means literally jogging barefoot on the beach; for others, it's hitting the city streets in one of many new minimalist models out there. To find out what works for you and successfully make the transition, you need to do two things: Gradually decrease the amount of "shoe" you're running in and gradually increase the amount of time you spend in those shoes.

Although they may share general characteristics (lightweight and low on support, motion control and cushioning) all minimalist shoes are not created equal. They fall into three distinct categories: cushioned low-drop, cushioned zero-drop, and barefoot zero drop.

The cushioned low-drop shoe, such as the Nike Free or Asics 33, offers significantly less cushioning and heel lift than the traditional two-to-one front-to-back ratio (meaning the cushioning under the heel is twice the height of that under the forefoot). The cushioned zero-drop family, like the New Balance Minumus Zero Road, offers some degree of cushioning via the traditional mid-sole, but has no heel lift. The barefoot zero-drop shoe, which is completely flat with no heel lift, like the omnipresent Virbram Fivefingers or the new Saucony Hattori, has little more than a rubber sole designed to protect the skin from the ground. For those in an urban environment, this is as close to barefoot as you should get for obvious reasons.

Gradually begin working your way down the lineup – and back up if the thinner model isn’t feeling right: Start out by jogging in the new pair for just 3 to 5 minutes at a time on alternate days, gradually increasing the minimal-to-maximal shoe ratio by no more than 5 minutes per run. Once you’re up to your full mileage, repeat the process again on the alternate days until the shift to the cushioned low-drop shoe is complete. You can also use your new slim sneakers for cross training drills, such as skipping and high knees, to improve your lower leg strength, balance and agility, which can make the transition easier.

Success? Repeat the program with a cushioned zero-drop shoe, then move onto the barefoot zero-drop if you so choose. Don’t ever be afraid to go back to the previous level. When it comes to minimalist running, you want to take the minimalist approach.

What's all the fuss about minimalism? Read more