Tips for Running in Vibrams

Yesterday was 4th of July. The day when hundreds of San Diegans flock to the beaches, lakes or parks with a carload of food, drinks and games to endure a long sweaty day with friends and family. And the cherry on top, an hour long firework display.

Me? Oh, no. I do not like crowds, long waits, traffic if I don't have to. And with 4 children under 7 years old, my husband and I have decided that we are okay with forfeiting the normal holiday bustle for now.

But anyways, I took the opportunity to do an outdoor workout while my husband was at home with the kids during nap. I've done about 2 easy post-partum runs, with my normal Asics tennis shoes. It's been going well, so I decided my body was ready for some  minimalist footwear integration. So I grabbed my Vibrams and headed to the lake...where I quickly had a SMH moment when I saw the traffic, crowded parking, and blaring music.... LOL.

 As I slipped on my old purple Vibrams, I realized it had been just over 5 years since I started running in them. I remembered the changes I had felt in my feet and body, and how I had learned that you really need to be prepared in order to avoid injury. So I decided I would write out a few things that I've learned along the way, just in case YOU are thinking about taking the toe shoe plunge. :)

1. Practice a mid/toe strike stride BEFORE you switch over.

 Most people strike the ground with their heel much heavier than they ought to. Your foot is (ideally) the first point of contact with the ground, and therefore is designed to absorb the shock and your weight. Your foot was designed to absorb shock and transfer weight through the middle of foot via the plantar fascia, to the toe, not the heel of the foot.

This is important even with "normal" running shoes. Many repetitive injuries can be avoided just by improving your stride. But it is IMPERATIVE that you run differently with minimalist shoes. Traditional running shoes have much more material, and this helps with some of the shock absorption, even if you are running incorrectly. Minimal shoes offer very little shock absorption, so it's really on your feet to do the job, and if you don't, you can end up with stress fractures, tendinitis, and other repetitive injuries (not fun! I know!).

So how does one "run correctly"? I am no expert in this area...but there are several different schools of thought. I'm not one for reinventing the wheel, so I will let you do the Googling. But essentially, in order to strike the ground with more of your mid foot, you need to have a shorter stride. Pay particular attention how it feels to push the ground away with your toes. You may need to run much slower to play around with this.

2. Consider your weight

As I mentioned above, switching over to minimalist shoes increases the chance of injury if not handled carefully. If you are just beginning  your weight loss journey, or are still significantly overweight, hold off on switching over. I actually don't think running is ideal for people who have a significant amount of weight to lose. But if you are at the point of running, focus more on losing the weight and improving your foot work before trying these shoes. Slow and steady wins the race, you won't be doing yourself any favors if you injure your feet/legs because they were not ready.

3. Strengthen your feet

Because your weight will be more evenly transferred to each of your toes, the little muscles will be used more. Your runs will be more enjoyable if you aren't constantly stopping because your feet get tired. Do foot exercises in between your minimal shoe runs. Also, increasing the soft tissue in your feet will assist in shock absorption. I will be posting a video soon what I do for strengthening my feet. ***UPDATE*** HERE is that video :)

4. Take stretching seriously

This tip naturally follows the above tip, because, anytime you are contracting your muscles, there is the chance they will lose elasticity and range of motion.  Can you say PLANTAR FASCIITIS??? A healthy muscle is strong, yet has the ability to release. If you do not take the time to stretch not only after your runs and other workouts, but also other days of the week, you may very well get plantar fasciitis. I have had this more than once (and have overcome it)- it sucks, and is preventable. I have my own method of stretching and dealing with plantar fasciitis, I will also be posting this soon.

5. Don't use minimal shoes exclusively

Keep running with your normal shoes also. As with any workout program, you want to keep things varied. Your body will appreciate a break from the extra work that minimal shoes require, and you will be using your body slightly different with normal shoes, which will assist in your overall strength and fitness. You may also find that some minimal shoes are not really suited for say, trail running or hiking. Or for running in the rain. Take those opportunities to wear your traditional shoes.

6. Take care of your shoes

Like I mentioned above, my shoes have lasted me 5 years. There is some degradation of the glue, but hey, it's not that bad! Keep your shoes in room temp places (NOT IN YOUR BURNING HOT CAR). Air them out. Don't put them in the dryer.

7. Pay attention to (and address) your body

This is an all across rule to health and fitness. Have you been having painful heels? Does your back hurt the day after a run? Are you experiencing plantar fasciitis? In my experience, most people don't respect their bodies. And they pay for it. Don't make this mistake- you are better off stopping and addressing an issue than ignoring it so you can do that 5k you paid for. It may be the difference between being able to run when you're 60 or sitting it out.
Hopefully you are not neglecting the other areas of fitness such as strength, flexibility, good nutrition, and stress management. Treating your body with respect in these areas can help avoid injuries across the board, and you're more likely to have success with trying out minimalist shoes.

Well, that's all I've got! What about you?
Have you made the switch? What changes have you noticed?
Please leave a comment and share if you found this post helpful!


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