The best shoes to transition: no shoes.

Blog entry posted by trevize1138, May 22, 2020.

I'm seeing a lot of questions on here lately about the "transition" process going from padded, structured shoes to minimalist and barefoot. For those of you who've already posted that question you may have noticed a lot of answers saying "take the shoes off." Here's why so many of us say that:

How to transition with minimalist shoes
  • Take it slow
  • Increase your distance by a small % each week
  • Read up on running form and watch videos on it really devoting time and attention to them
  • Focus consciously on form with every run
  • Go slower than you think you should
  • If you push yourself too much you could end up with calf pain, top of the foot pain, achilles tendon pain and all kinds of pain
  • How do you know you're pushing yourself too hard? Usually because you got one of the types of painful injuries above
  • Rest up for weeks or even a month or more if you get any of those injuries (however long it takes) before trying again and repeat this whole list from scratch
How to transition with no shoes at all
  • Run barefoot on concrete as far and as fast as you want
  • If your form is off the skin underfoot will really hurt and force you to stop
  • Next time run more gently on your feet so they don't hurt
Notice how much simpler the unshod method is. I'm terrible at knowing what "listen to your body" means for everything except unshod running because it can't be more obvious: your feet will sting if you're doing something wrong. It's crystal clear communication saying you're done running for the day.

The damage you could sustain going unshod will be quite literally skin-deep. Blisters heal remarkably fast underfoot (that's evolution for you). Your skin will force you to stop way before you're allowed to continue bad habits that over the long-term can cause worse damage further up the body.

You don't have to worry about going slow or keeping your miles low: the skin underfoot will instantly and perfectly limit you. Do you want to run more miles and faster? Learn how to be more gentle to that skin underfoot so it'll allow you to do that.

You don't need "tough feet" to do this. In fact, I always appreciate the opportunity in the spring to get a form refresher after a winter in shoes softening my feet. That extreme sensitivity will teach you more about fast, safe, efficient running form than any text description (this one included) or video. Your feet will get tougher over a long period of time. I'm talking a year or more. If you pound your feet hoping to "toughen them up" in a shorter timeframe you'll gain nothing but beat-up feet.

If you're able to run many miles on concrete totally barefoot without skin discomfort you will have learned how to run your best. It's that simple. There will be no doubt that you're running with optimal efficiency and safety. In any kind of shoes no matter how thin or flexible it's always guesswork. If I've been doing a lot of training both in footwear and unshod and feel like I might be developing an injury I switch to 100% unshod. It's now my "safe" mode because my skin will alert me immediately of damaging/inefficient movements like a canary in a coal mine.

This is also why I post a weekly Friday thread encouraging people who haven't gone unshod yet to try it. My main regret is I also "transitioned" using that first method in minimalist shoes. I wasn't getting injured as badly as I was in padded shoes but I was still getting injured and my running wasn't improving at all. Once I took off the shoes and learned how to be gentle with the ground focused on finesse not force the long miles unlocked. That's what I want for everybody else: to find those running cheat codes that allow you to go do long miles so effortlessly you'll wonder why you ever tried so hard in the past.
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