Lighten Your Stride: How to Transition into Minimalist Sneakers

Peter Ardito/Fitness MagazinePeter Ardito/Fitness MagazineBy Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie

Running in superplush sneaks may baby your feet, but they give your legs a beating, experts say. "When you have cushioning in the heel, you tend to land on your heel because it's comfortable to do so. This strike increases the force of the impact on your body," says Irene Davis, PhD, the director of Harvard Medical School's Spaulding National Running Center. To keep you on (the balls of) your feet, try Davis's simple steps to going low-foam in a more minimal sneaker.

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Lose your shoes.
To nudge yourself into the right strike zone -- mid to forefoot rather than heel -- spend a few minutes at a time running barefoot on a firm surface. A smooth stretch of sidewalk is ideal for this, Davis says.

Tone below the knees.
Subtracting support from your shoes means the muscles in your feet and calves have to take on more work, Davis says. Build them up with single-leg calf raises and arch domes (while barefoot, press your toes into the floor without curling them, then raise your arch). Do 30 reps of each exercise per leg every day.

Think small.
Shorter strides help you land with your foot under you rather than way out in front, reducing the tendency to heel strike. Aim to increase your number of strides per minute and you'll naturally take shorter steps: Count how many strides you take in 10 seconds, then, maintaining the same pace, try to gradually increase the number by two.

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Make the Switch
Before you toss your old kicks, ease into minimalists injury-free with Irene Davis's trod-and-true guide.

Week 1
Follow your usual running routine in your regular shoes, but go barefoot around the house for at least 30 minutes a day and practice calf raises and arch domes.

Weeks 2 and 3
On day one, walk 30 minutes in your minimalist shoes. Day two, divvy up the 30 minutes by alternating 9 minutes of walking with 1 minute of jogging. Rest on day three. Repeat two days on, one day off, taking 1 minute from the walking portion and adding it to the jogging portion until you're walking 1 minute and jogging 9. If you feel any pain, take a day of rest and pick up where you left off.

Weeks 4 and 5

Run easy in your minimalist shoes every other day, starting with 12 minutes. Then add 2 to 3 minutes every other run until you're up to 20 minutes.

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Week 6
Run easy four times this week; start at 25 minutes for the first two runs, then do 30 minutes for the next two.

Week 7
Run up to five times this week, increasing total distance by as much as 10 percent. So if you ran 30 minutes in week six, go for 33 minutes this week. Continue until you're running as much as you can while feeling comfortable in your minimalists.

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