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How to start with natural running

Tips that help you to ease into minimalist running shoes

natural shoesInspired by Christopher McDougall's book 'Born to Run', lots of runners are going back to basics and are running barefoot, or wearing a minimalist shoe.

Midfoot strike

The majority of runners are heel strikers. Landing on your heel first has a braking effect, making it inefficient, and it also produces a jarring impact on your body. Advocates of the natural running style claim that landing on your mid- or forefoot causes less injuries. Not everyone will be able to run barefoot successfully though. For instance: if you have plantar fasciitis (jogger's heel), tendonitis, flat feet or hammertoes, it may not be for you. And if you've never experienced injuries, altering your running style may not be beneficial. Give it a try to figure out if it works for you

Natural-shoe shopping

There are trail-specific and road-specific natural running shoes, but also cross-training or multi-sport shoes.
Basically there are two types: the barefoot style and the minimalist running shoe. Barefoot shoes offer the most natural feel and have a zero drop (height of heel compared to the height of the forefoot) from heel to toe. Most have no cushioning and a very thin sole (2-3mm). The most popular shoe of this type is the Vibram FiveFingers, already an iconic design, characterized by its five individual toes.
Minimalist running shoes are a cross between barefoot style and normal running shoes. A minimal heel height of 4-8mm encourages a natural running motion and a midfoot strike, but they also provide some cushioning in the rear and forefoot. Popular styles of minimalist shoes are Nike Free, 33 by ASICS, Brooks PureProject, New Balance Minimus and Puma FAAS.

How to make the switchshoe

If you abruptly switch from cushioned shoes to natural style shoes, you're likely to experience achilles tendon and calve muscle soreness. It is common for new minimalist shoe runners to run too fast or too long, which can lead to poor form and injury. So take it easy. Ease in the shoes in and around the house the first week and spend time strengthening your feet and ankles. Walk around barefoot; do balance drills on one foot and barefoot heel dips on a staircase for example. The first couple of weeks run 1 or 2 km, two or three times a week. Your best coach is your own body. If you are doing something incorrectly, you will experience discomfort. If your form does not feel right, try various adjustments like taking smaller steps until you are able to run comfortably. After two weeks you can increase the distance by 10 percent per week. Most runners alternate between natural running shoes for short runs and normal running shoes for long runs.

Are you a natural or barefoot runner? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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