10 Tips for New Minimalist Runners

In line with the current trend, many runners I meet are making the change to running in minimalist and ‘barefoot style’ footwear.

Although there’s still a lack of solid research backing up the claimed long term benefits of making the change from traditional footwear to a zero (or close to) drop footwear option, the theory is sound.

As any running focused Physiotherapist will probably tell you: for every runner who has a life-changing positive experience when changing to minimalist or ‘barefoot style’ footwear, there are loads who end up with calf pain, stress fractures, achilles problems and other injuries.

In an effort to help you make the transition from traditional footwear to your new minimalist or ‘barefoot style’ shoes, I’ve made a list of my top ten tips for making the change safely.

Ten Tips For Minimalist Running Success

1. Take It Easy

The biggest mistake I see runners make is falling into the trap of doing too much, too soon. This is true both in terms of running milage and frequency.

In a job I previously had in running retail, we used to tell runners to hold back on milage for the first six weeks until the body becomes accustomed to the shoes. The problem was that for a 70mile per week marathoner, this might (to them) mean cutting back to 40miles per week, while we actually meant only run for 10mins a couple of times per week in the first couple of weeks!

Here’s a simple running plan I put together which will help to save you from yourself in terms of running too much too soon!

2. Transition in Stages

I really like the way in which some companies are structuring their minimalist ranges to enable runners to gradually move towards zero-drop footwear. For example Inov-8 have their 3,2,1,0 arrow grading system, and Nike have their Free Run 5.0, 4.0, 3.0.

As with most runners, if you’re coming from a traditional running shoe with a big heel-to-toe drop, it makes sense to go for a minimalist shoe which provides a sensible middle ground between what your body is used to, and absolutely flat, zero-drop shoes.

3. Tools For The Job

Treat your new minimalist shoes as tools for a specific purpose, rather than immediately running all your milage in them. A great approach is to save them for your shorter runs, your tempo efforts or your track sessions, rather than your long steady ‘Sunday run’.

Use them as training tools to enable you to work on improving your overall running form during more technical sessions.

4. Learn to Love Stretching

Chances are, no matter how dedicated you are about holding back on your milage as you take time to get used to your new shoes, your calves will still feel a little tightness and extra work. To an extent, this is normal and ‘par for the course’. You’ll definitely benefit from regular calf stretching to help ease any tightness.

5. Build Calf Strength

I blogged recently about exercises and drills you can do to prevent calf pain and tightness by building up the muscles of the lower leg. Many runners transitioning from the classic over striding, heel striking technique underestimate the importance of calf strength as they move to more of a mid-to-forefoot strike.

6. Develop Your Whole Technique

I’m a big advocate of “Form Before Footwear“. What you put on your feet can influence how easy (or otherwise) it is for you to run with good form. In other words, good shoes can facilitate good form. However, it’s important to remember that running with good technique is a skill to be developed through conscious practice. New shoes alone will not fix fundamental flaws in your movement patterning.

Use your new shoes to work on improving running posture, cadence and other similar areas of technique.

7. Look After Your Feet

Watch the following excellent video from Jay Dicharry, MPT. He provides some great self assessment tips, and exercises to work on the function of the foot and ankle.

8. Walk Around Barefoot

A common tip you’ll hear from barefoot runners is to simply spend more time barefoot. Sounds too simple to be true.

Well, there’s sense to it. If you spend all day in built up shoes, then try running in flat shoes, the muscles and tendons around the foot and ankle will be worked into ranges they are unfamiliar with, increasing risk of injury. To build foot strength, ankle mobility and allow the body to get used to the increased range dorsiflexion during stance phase, try simply walking around barefoot more while at home.

9. Hit The Gym

Minimalist running has it’s potential benefits as a tool to enable you to improve overall running form. However, it’s effect will only be as powerful as your body’s capacity to remain strong, stable and coordinated in it’s movements. Spend time working on exercises to improve core and hip strength and stability, as well as improving proprioception.

A good example of a great strengthening routine is the workout from Coach Jay Johnson below:


10. Listen To Your Body

It’s a clichéd statement to finish with, but vitally important all the same. Make sure you do listen to your body!

If your running plan says to run 10miles, but your calfs, or other body part aches, allow it to rest! Better miss one day through caution than one season through injury!

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