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I got a pair of Vibram Bikila and Saucony Mirage to give minimal shoes a shot and so I wouldn't have to rely on second hand experiences when discussing them.

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I've heard some conflicting opinions about minimal shoes and how to use them. My own idea would be to slowly introduce them into my training program, so I don't get any overuse injuries due to using different muscles when running with these shoes.

Currently I'm still at the beginning of a marathon training program, which means I run 5 times a week of which three are 'short' 30-min relaxed runs and the other two a long run and a threshold training.

Since I've got both the Vibram and the Saucony shoes, I can shift more gradual. I can also wear them during the day, given I don't have to comply to any dress code, which means I don't necessarily have to get used to them through running alone.

So now I'm wondering what would be the best way to get started with minimal running shoes?

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  • Is there an answer that suitably answers your question? If so, could you please accept. Thanks. – csi May 15 '11 at 19:10
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    @Christopher, no worries about my accept percentage, I generally like to give others a chance to pitch in before I accept, because questions with accepted answers are often as good as closed. But no fear, I like your answer most :-) – Ivo Flipse May 15 '11 at 19:54
  • ha ha! No worries on my end either. That makes a lot of sense as accepting does sometime stunt the conversation. – csi May 15 '11 at 20:00
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In my opinion (backed by scientific evidence), there is a lot more to healthy minimalist running then shoe marketers want us to believe. Here is what I would recommend after LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of research.

1) Strengthen the most effected areas using these Barefoot Running Exercises. Barefoot / Minimalist Running increases torque to knee flexion, knee varus and internal hip rotation.

2) Wear them for walking as often as possible - office, home, neighborhood.

3) Work them into a workout 1 day a week. In my experience there are 2 great places to introduce them.
a) in a short cool down after a workout
b) during form drills (if you do any) and right before a short tempo run. That helps to reinforce the muscle memory.

4) Slowly increase their usage in your workouts. I believe a 1 year patient plan is the best for maximum adaptation.

Barefoot running / minimalist running has been shown to cause 2 positive changes when introduced correctly. It should increase cadence / turnover and also increase VO2 max. I am not sure the V02 max changes and would be interested in opinions on that.

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    I reckon the VO2max is more a natural selection effect, those who couldn't run with minimal shoes are probably less fit as well and have more risk to get injured. – Ivo Flipse May 12 '11 at 16:41
  • "It should increase cadence / turnover and also increase VO2 max." source or just opinion? I have read about increased $O_{2}$ intake...which studies have you read? – user2598 Dec 29 '11 at 0:28
  • @hhh Plenty of sources quote increasing cadence and turnover but I don't have any to reference on the web. Your body naturally takes smaller, faster strides, bringing the weight down directly on the balls of your feet, thus the higher likelihood for injury. Jay Dicharry of UVA Speed Clinic validates this as well. – csi Jan 3 '12 at 12:58
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    @IvoFlipse Not natural selection... VO2 Max is actually increased by consistent barefoot running according to experts. I will look for more proof for this. – csi Jan 3 '12 at 13:00
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When I first got vibrams, I was running several times a week in preparation for a half marathon. I started by wearing them around the house for a while, and I liked them a lot, but I got the false impression that I could go straight to running because I was feeling no pain. So I jogged around the block, 400 meters or so, and went home. No problem, except the next day I could barely walk because of muscle and foot pain.

If I was to start over again, I would start with 100 meters or less on the first day and very slowly work my way up. It did not take long to adjust, but the initial adjustment period was difficult and not completely obvious during the run.

I would also suggest starting by running on grass. The lack or protection can lead to stone bruising at first. I don't know if your feet get tougher, or if you just learn to step differently, but this problem also goes away over time.

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  • This is the same experience most of my friends have had with their Vibrams and would recommend this others who are starting out. I on the other hand did not have this issue. I put mine one, went out for a quick mile, and felt great the next day. I guess I'm just lucky. – awithrow May 11 '11 at 17:14
  • Or you have ridiculously strong calves :) – michael May 11 '11 at 17:49
  • I had pretty much the same experience... I put on mine and went for a run the next day... no problems until about a week or two later when I started having some serious problems with my ankles – Nathan Wheeler May 13 '11 at 17:57
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It’ll take 18 months to 2 years to adjust or strengthen the inner muscles of the foot and lower leg. Vibram is also the nearest to barefoot, there are models ( Saucony Kinvara and Mirage, Brooks Pure etc..) that you can use before Vibram…

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I mostly agree with csi's answer, but wanted to add some nuances; also their link is broken and I want to add some of what I guess would be described in the link.

Applies to all kind of unpadded/undamped shoes, shoes with comparatively little padding/damping, or going completely barefoot (but in the latter case there might be some additional concerns).

  • Slowly increase the amount of running done with them over a long period of time.
  • With minimalist shoes (and forefoot running form), the amount of steps you take correlates much better with the amount of fatigue you should expect than the distance, time or speed that you run.
  • That's why you should first use the shoes for short training types (consisting of few steps), and slowly start using them for more types of training.
  • Wearing them around the house or in daily life might be a good idea, but completely unpadded shows are unsuited for quick walking in my opinion. Walking slow, basically every technique works - forefoot, middlefoot, hindfoot/heels, just step lightly and it should be okay. Walking fast doesn't work because you can't make large steps, and if you increase cadence to make up for that, then you would be better off just running.

I suggest introducing them like this:

  1. Do some form drills and general warm up exercises 3+ times per week (before your regular training, and possibly on other days just on its own) and first introduce the minimalist shoes here. For example:

    • high cadence (180+) slow speed intervals with walking breaks
    • stand on one leg (optionally with one of those unstable balance discs below the feet)
    • running backwards
    • running sideways
    • rope skipping
    • max cadence (250+) silent on the spot running
  2. Then once you always do all of your warm up with them, start practicing sprints (50m/75m/100m). Sprints are a harsh teacher, either you do it right, or it hurts. But standard shoe sprint running form is a lot like good barefoot running form, unlike standard shoe endurance running form, which is very different. That is why I suggest starting with sprints. Occasional sprints are a good idea even if you usually do endurance. For example once per week, 10 times 50m sprint with 1 minute slow walking breaks, incorporate into your training for 5-10 weeks before going to the next step.

  3. Then add your high intensity intervals to the minimalist shoe part of your training. At the beginning, switch back to normal shoes after the first/few intervals.

  4. Last add your long distance runs, but not all at once. Instead bring a backpack with your normal shoes, start with the minimalist shoes, and switch to the normal ones after 1km the first time, the second time after 2km, 3km, etc., adding around 1km every two weeks.

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