Minimalist running is still controversial as ever. It’s either the best thing you can do for strengthening your lower legs and feet, lowering impact and improving your stride, or it’s how to get injured quick. But there’s one thing all agree on: you can’t just jump in full swing. It takes training and time, and then some more of both.
According to Principles of Natural Running Director, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, the switch shouldn’t begin with running at all, but developing coordination and movement. To be able to absorb impact and maintain a smooth gait, the elasticity of your plantar fascia (calf muscles), Achilles tendons and soleus must first develop range of motion through exercises like heel raises, squats, stretches, and then, until you develop enough strength, walking with minimalist shoes or barefoot. The Director of Chi Running, Danny Dreyer, echoes this, writing, “the caveat of one of Chi Running's main tenets [is] gradual progress.”
Once you do begin running with minimalist shoes or barefoot, Cucuzzella says the essential features include running tall with a proper posture, having a stable inner core, mobile hips and strong glutes. All this leads to a natural stride that avoids heal striking and enhances a low impact, forward propulsion. Start with short runs and gradually increase the distance each week as you give your muscles and tendons time to strengthen.