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How to Transition Into Barefoot Running Shoes

Prep Yourself to Run Barefoot

Summer seems like the perfect time to experiment with barefoot running, but remember it doesn't have to mean going sans shoes (see our review of five barefoot and minimalist shoes here). Completely flat barefoot running shoes are designed to protect the sole of the foot, so we recommend wearing shoes for your barefoot running, however oxymoronic that may sound.

Making the transition away from traditional running shoes, which have an eight to 12 mm rise from toe to heel and a whole lot of cushion and support, should be done slowly to avoid injury. Your body, especially your feet and lower legs, needs time to acclimate to running without shoes. Here are some tips to soften your landing into the world of barefoot running.

Walk Your Talk
Spend some time, one to two hours daily, walking around completely barefoot. This begins to strengthen the small, often unused muscles of your feet and helps fine-tune the many nerves in them, which haven't been stimulated much lately covered up in shoes. Begin to wear your barefoot shoes, running errands in them, before actually running. Pay attention to your walking stride and feel how it changes while wearing these barely there shoes.

Keep reading for more tips.

Strengthen Your Feet
The benefits of barefoot running include stronger, more flexible feet. But help your weak feet out by strengthening and stretching them before you take off running. Here are four exercises to incorporate into your training schedule.

  • Heel raises and toe walks strengthen the calves, which will get worked more running without shoes. Do three sets of 10 heel raises on a stair to increase the range of motion of the exercise. Walk 20 to 40 steps on your toes, three times.
  • Use toe scrunches to strengthen the soles of your feet and make your toes more articulate and flexible. Learn how to do the toe scrunch exercise here.
  • Sitting with your leg crossed, write the cursive alphabet slowly with your bare foot to build the small supportive muscles in the arch of your foot, which you will need since you won't have any arch support coming from a shoe. Learn more details on this alphabet strengthening exercise here.
  • Jumping and skipping without shoes will help prepare your joints for the impact associated with running.

Start Slowly
After walking around in your barefoot shoes for half a month or so, start running! But don't wander too far from home during your first couple of weeks wearing your new sneaks. Only run 10 percent of your normal mileage in your barefoot shoes for your first two weeks. You might even want to start with workouts where you alternate walking and running. And take time building up your mileage, adding 10 percent distance every two weeks. This may seem like a slow pace, but you need to build up your barefoot endurance to avoid strain or other injury.

Avoid back-to-back barefoot training days too. Think of the first weeks of barefoot running as strength training for your feet, and respect rest days just as you would with weight lifting. Most importantly, listen to your body. If your feet or calves ache, you might be doing too much.

Go Soft
Running on asphalt can be a bit too hard for the beginning of your barefoot running life, especially when you're figuring out your new stride — like landing midfoot rather than on your heel. Run on well-groomed dirt trails if you can (rugged hiking trails might be too bumpy, rocky, and full of roots that are difficult to navigate while focusing on your gait). Softer surfaces will be more gentle on your feet, since they are more similar to wearing cushy shoes.

Running in barefoot shoes doesn't have to be all or nothing. Rotating barefoot shoes into your training plan on short runs is a great way to keep your feet and calves strong. Running in barefoot shoes once a week can help you keep a check on your form, too.

Do you wear barefoot running shoes? How was it when you started?

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