Written by Paloma Quevedo on July 13th, 2020
When we think of prehistoric times, do we picture our early ancestors running after woolly mammoths wearing softly-cushioned running sneakers? Prehistoric humans, Roman gladiators, Olympian Greek athletes, Mayan and Aztec warriors, all conducted their wars, hunting, gathering, and basic survival while barefoot or wearing some form of flat sandals made of whatever material was available to them.
Minimalist and barefoot running has seen a surge in popularity within the past few years; it is based on this idea that humans have been running barefoot or with minimal foot support for hundreds of thousands of years. More intricate and specialized running shoes were invented until the late 1800's; this means that for the better part of history, humans have physically conditioned their bodies to be able to run most efficiently while barefoot or with very minimalist shoes.
Because humans have physically evolved without specialized running shoes, minimalist/barefoot running is safer and more efficient. Contrary to popular belief, minimalist shoes reduce the impact on your joints, muscles, and bones— it also allows for a more productive transfer of energy.
When there is minimal interference between the ground and your feet, you are forced to land on the balls of your feet (forefeet or mid-feet), instead of your heels. Landing on your heels causes forced impact on your joints and muscles, which is what leads to different types of running injuries.
Barefoot runners also suffer fewer injuries because, with less help from a shoe, your feet are forced to use all of their muscles and grow more robust—a stronger foot is less likely to suffer an injury.
More significantly, landing on the balls of your feet facilitates a faster pace, as your legs can push up higher and more quickly while using less energy. It’s common sense when you think about it; less weight on your feet allows you to go faster.
Minimalist shoes are measured on a scale of 0-100; 0 being the least minimalist and 100 being the most minimalist in terms of enforcing your feet’s natural motions and most contact with the environment.
Let’s move away from the idea of running in chunky platform sneakers and embrace more sandal-like footwear, like the Tarahumara tribes in Mexico who use thin sandals to compete and win countless marathons.
In order to begin the transition from running in regular shoes to minimalist shoes/barefoot running, gradual precautions must be taken in order for your body to adjust accordingly and avoid injury. The idea is to slowly ease your body into using minimalist shoes by allowing the feet to get comfortable with little interference with the ground and practice their natural movements.
Start by using your minimalist shoes around the house for a few hours a day and on long walks in order to get accustomed to them. Once your body and feet feel more confident in their new foot gear, begin to use them on short, easy runs. Gradually add time and distance to your runs as your feet grow stronger and more accustomed to minimalist running.Some people decide to use only their minimalist shoes in their barefoot running journey; however, some decide to go with zero interference and transition to completely barefoot running. Just as the transition from regular shoes to minimalist shoes was gradual, so should the transition to fully barefoot in order to allow your feet to grow calluses to protect themselves. Once you have mastered running with minimalist shoes or fully barefoot—or both!—you can enjoy the swift and effortless nature running the way your body was built to run.