5 Tips to Transition to Minimalist Footwear Safely

Advantages of Minimalist Footwear

Running, walking and living barefoot or in minimalist footwear is ideal, yet this is a far cry from our modern reality. Years of wearing heavily cushioned shoes with high heel to toe drop have weakened our feet and altered our body mechanics, training us to rely on our shoes to absorb impact in lieu of our lower leg muscles. Hip alignment is thrown off, causing lower back, knee and foot issues. Beyond that, the human body has become less able to thrive and be useful in the world it was created to live in. This was all brought about by “well-meaning” doctors and companies who do not have enough faith in the human body’s ability to adapt, repair and be all around resilient. Thus, overprotective footwear ends up causing or reinforcing many of the issues it is designed to protect us from.

More and more people are beginning to discover the health benefits of transitioning to minimalist footwear. Conventional shoes are the perfect storm for foot, ankle, knee, hip, and lower back injuries. In fact, over 75% of the population suffers from foot pain and injuries, usually caused by shoes, at some point in their life!*
foot problems caused by conventional shoes

Common foot pain & ailments connected to wearing conventional shoes include:

  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Blisters
  • Mallet Toes
  • Claw Toe
  • Heel Spurs
  • Flat Feet
  • Heel Pain
  • Ankle Instability
  • Metatarsal Foot Pain
  • Hammer Toes
  • Collapsed Arches
  • Ingrown Toe Nails
  • Bunions

It is very important that you transition to minimalist footwear safely. Because, while modern shoes are a recipe for disaster, they’re probably what your feet have been trained to work with with for most of your life. Keep reading to discover our 5 best tips and tricks to safely and comfortably transition to minimalist footwear, because no matter where you are on a scale from ultra-runner to doctor prescribed inserts, it’s not too late to transition to minimal footwear.

transition to minimal

Interested in transitioning to minimalist footwear but not sure where to start or afraid of injury?

Just like any of our lost primal skills, it takes time and patience to re-develop the skills, muscles and biomechanics (a fancy word for how your body moves) to get back to your body’s original design. Keep reading for a primer in the advantages of transitioning to minimalist footwear, and our favorite minimal sandals.

Start Slow

We know it can be tempting to take your new minimal sandals out on a test run as soon as they arrive, but please don’t go hike your normal routes in minimalist footwear on day one! Instead, bring your new shoes along and start by doing 20% of your normal distance in minimalist footwear. Get a feel for it, dial in the laces and build your way up to doing full hikes in minimalist footwear. Getting stuck on your first long hike (in minimal sandals) is a formula for injury. Simply spending time in your new minimal sandals whether engaged in physical activity or not can help you acclimate faster. Try to wear them as much as you can throughout the day as your normal routine allows.

bring backup shoes

Build a New Foundation

An effective tactic to ensure a smooth transition to minimal sandals is to walk on uneven natural terrain with extra weight (20-40lb) on your body for short distances. Try carrying a heavy pack or heavy trail rock, or even farmer carries at the gym! This will enforce proper biomechanics and build strong muscle, ligaments, tendons, and work the plantar fascia. Practicing the forefoot/midfoot touching the ground first should come to you more naturally while carrying weight as the consequences of jarring your heel will be greater (“Ouch!”). Note: Add incrementally to your existing regimen to avoid overdoing it!

Work the Plantar Fascia

work the fascia foot rubz massage ball

With less protection underfoot, your feet will get sore. You’ll need to work the plantar fascia to allow a new foundation to form. Try using the Foot Rubz massage ball or tennis ball to work out the soreness on the bottom of your feet, calves, and achilles tendon. You can also try walking short distances on natural uneven terrain totally barefoot to help work the plantar fascia and receive a sensational reflexology treatment. Listen to your feet but try to relax into whatever terrain you are walking on. If you are unable to avoid tensing your feet, try moving to a section of ground with more gentle terrain features.

Soothe the Plantar Fascia

soothe the fascia epsom soak for sore feet

Soaking your feet in a warm epsom salt foot bath is one of the most restorative things you can do for your feet when they are sore, inflamed, and building new strength. To increase the therapeutic value of of a hot foot bath, try adding some essential oils (peppermint, eucalyptus, or lavender) for additional relaxing, restorative and anti inflammatory effects.

If your feet are really sore you can alternate your hot foot bath with an ice foot soak to achieve some contrast therapy and flush the lactic acid out of your sore feet.

 

Gradually Increase Foot Freedom

Your feet have hyper-sensory capabilities, so listen to what they have to say. When they say slow down, slow down! When they scream, take a break. Err on the side of caution. You will move though the world differently in minimal sandals so be ready for a change of pace. You may have a heavy exercise day lined up that your feet are not ready for. Don’t ignore you feet’s request for a chill day.

If you ever feel pain in the form of soreness in your feet, try taking your minimalist footwear off and going barefoot to work the plantar fascia in your feet by increasing the biofeedback from the ground. Don’t push through the pain, listen to what the pain is trying to tell you. Tendons take 6-12 months to adapt to new loads on the body, so take the long term approach.

As your feet and lower legs get stronger, you can choose more minimal sandals. The Earth Runners Alpha sandal (12mm) are a great option for beginners as they offer a little more cushioning, allowing you to venture outside without fear of rocks. Continue to increase times and mileage with your feet free, and if you want to step up the transition to (more) minimalist footwear, you can go down in sole thickness with the Circadian (9mm) or Elemental (8mm) models.

proper barefoot running sequence

Bonus Tip:

For all you aspiring minimalist runners out there: developing proper barefoot running mechanics is KEY!

Since minimal sandals don't offer a thick wedge of cushion between you and the ground, good biomechanics is very important to injury prevention and overall enjoyment.

Most people walk and run with a heel strike. This is an adaptation to wearing padded shoes with a lifted heel. Heel striking relies on the shoe to absorb shock instead of the lower leg muscles. Walking and running barefoot while still heel striking will force your bones and joints to absorb the shock, resulting in foot, knee and lower back pain. Running in minimal sandals is a very different experience. Read more about proper barefoot running form here.

A word of encouragement:

Going from zero drop footwear to elevated heels elicits clumsy and disintegrated biomechanics, but on the other hand, transitioning to minimalist footwear from elevated heels is pleasurable and proprioceptively affirming.

While we promote transitioning slowly to allow for a painless transition, you may find that trading out heeled footwear with narrow toe boxes to footwear that allows for natural range of motion & splaying of the toes to be a much more enjoyable experience than wearing conventional shoes.

With these 5 tips in mind, and a little patience, you’ll be prowling the world like your ancestors in no time!

 

walk minimalist builds strength

References:

https://www.apma.org/files/APMA2014TodaysPodiatristSurveyAllFindings.pdf

 

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