A Primer on Barefoot Running Shoes

Running in minimalist shoes can make you stronger and faster, but it also involves changing your gait. Here's how to get started.

Jan 19, 2011
Outside Magazine
ASICS's 10-ounce Gel-DS Trainer 16

ASICS's 10-ounce Gel-DS Trainer 16

Pick the Right Shoe
Go to a specialty running store (find one at runningnetwork.com) and ask the salesperson to point you to a shoe that's a bit lighter, less cushioned, and built with a slightly lower heel than your current one. Don't make any drastic changes. Dropping cushioning too rapidly can, for example, leave you with a stress fracture, and switching to a shoe with a dramatically lower heel puts extra strain on your Achilles. Here's a good, gradual progression:

To begin easing into lighter shoes, look for a traditional running shoe that's been put on a diet, like ASICS's 10-ounce Gel-DS Trainer 16 (left; $110; asicsamerica.com). The heel is a bit lower to the ground than a traditional shoe's, and there's a little less forward slope to the insole, so it won't come as a huge shock to your feet.

Once you're accustomed to sparer shoes, it's easier to transition into midfoot running. Besides being even lighter and closer to the ground than the ASICS, New Balance's 8.2-ounce Minimus MR10 (see page 85; $100; newbalance.com) has a relatively flat midsole, which helps to discourage heel striking.

Strong, well-conditioned feet need very little shoe at all (witness Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic marathon barefoot). Vibram's six-ounce FiveFingers Bikila (see above right; $100; vibramfivefingers.com) has just a hint of padding and an almost completely flat midsole, so landing softly on your midfoot is just about mandatory.

Easy Does It
You need to adjust to your new shoes very gradually to avoid straining your muscles, tendons, and joints. The first week, run a mile in them every other day, using your original shoes on all other runs. For the next two weeks, run about 10 percent of your mileage in your new shoes. Bump it up to 20 percent for the next two weeks, and so on (see "Make the Switch," right). Repeat until you have no problems running all of your mileage in the new shoes, then repeat with another, slightly lighter, lower-to-the-ground pair.