When it comes to running, the shoes keep getting lighter and the soles keep getting thinner. But going full throttle in minimalist shoes may put you on the fast track to injury—not personal records, according to a study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
In the 10-week study, 10 of 19 recreational runners who transitioned to doing some of their mileage in barefoot-style Vibram FiveFingers showed signs of foot bone injuries, compared to only one of 17 runners who continued to wear traditional running kicks.
The key to saving your feet: a gradual segue from conventional running shoes to more minimalist styles. Avoid disaster by following these tips for a smooth, safe transition.
Besides putting the bones in your feet at risk, switching to a forefoot landing or minimalist shoe can also stress your Achilles tendon. The Achilles and calf muscles take on a greater load with forefoot strikers than heel strikers, who transfer more of their landing energy to muscles like the quadriceps, found researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. That’s about 7,000 extra pounds of force over a mile for a 150-pound runner.
Wear minimalist shoes for only 10 percent of your mileage at first. If you typically run 20 miles a week, run just 2 miles in minimal shoes. Do it at the start of your run, before you tire. Then continue in your other shoes, says Nick Campitelli, D.P.M., a podiatrist in Akron, Ohio. Increase by only 10 percent a week.
PERFECT YOUR FORM
Elite runners do form drills all the time, and so should you. Form drills can help fix imbalances as you recruit muscles needed for minimalist running.
Standing tall, raise one knee 90 degrees to hip height and swing your opposite arm as if in a running position. Keep your other knee slightly flexed. Do fast "switches" of your legs—drive each knee up but don't bounce. Lean forward slightly and keep your head and center of mass still. Performing this drill for one minute prior to running teaches you to bounce less, easing the force of impact, says Ray McClanahan, D.P.M., a podiatrist based in Portland, Oregon.
STRENGTHEN YOUR FOOT
Your lower calf and the muscles surrounding your toes are underused with a heel strike, but a forefoot landing forces them to work harder, says Campitelli.
Take a minute and do 20 standing calf raises in your bare feet. Concentrate on distributing the weight on your entire forefoot, forming an arch and gripping the ground with your toes. Do 100 calf raises throughout the day to strengthen your calf and foot muscles.
This article originally appeared in Men's Health US.