So, you’ve found a pair of barefoot shoes you want to try, but you’ve heard you have to “transition” first. Or maybe you’ve been reading up on the health benefits of barefoot shoes, but you’re unsure where to start!
It can be overwhelming trying to break in to what seems like a whole culture of footwear. But we got you! We’re going to cover the whole process of smoothly and safely transitioning from conventional footwear to minimalist footwear.
Every Path is Unique
Firstly, it is important to note that weaning off supportive footwear will look differently for everyone. If you spend most of your days barefoot and active, then you might just need a couple of weeks to get used to barefoot shoes. On the other hand, if you rely on foot orthotics and your feet have never seen the light of day, then you may need longer to fully adjust. Also, a more active lifestyle supplemented with foot exercises can affect the process.
Ask Your Doctor
Now is a good time to mention, if you’re thinking of transitioning to barefoot shoes, we recommend you have a chat with a health professional to see if barefoot shoes are right for you.
Healthy Feet Alliance has a global directory of health professionals who are keen on opting for strengthening and mobility work before surgery and injections. You can check it out here to find a health pro near you.
While having a wide toe box shoe would be beneficial for everyone, wearing a zero drop shoe with no arch support or cushion may not be suitable for everyone.
Jumping into barefoot shoes without properly building up your foot strength is like running a marathon without training! There are a few adaptations your body will undergo when you stop using overly cushioned and supportive shoes.
Firstly, you will be demanding more mobility from your foot to keep up with the flexibility of a minimalist shoe. Also, your muscles will be more active when wearing shoes that mimic being barefoot. So, expect some strengthening to happen naturally!
Last but not least, you may feel some stretching happening at your Achilles tendon and calf muscle. When you've worn a lifetime of heeled shoes, your calf will be in a shortened position or in other words, TIGHT. So, you will need to gradually build on your flexibility and strength to avoid injury.
Another consideration is that you may have gait patterns you’ve developed from a lifetime of conventional footwear and chair sitting. Typically, this restrictive and heeled footwear creates muscle and alignment imbalances. So, switching to barefoot shoes should lead to some gait pattern changes. Sometimes this happens naturally upon switching footwear. Sometimes it requires training.
Step one actually has nothing to do with shoes! So, if you’re not ready to invest in barefoot shoes, no sweat. Just going barefoot is the best way to prepare your feet for barefoot shoes.
If you go barefoot all the time already, this transition will most likely be a breeze! If your feet are always shod, even in your home, then this process may take a little longer! The important thing is to take it slow and to listen to your body.
Start by simply taking your shoes off while you’re at home. If this is uncomfortable for you, just do this a little at a time. Start with 10 minutes, maybe even just while you sit and eventually while you stand. Then, increase your time barefoot in a way that you are comfortable with.
Find the Right Shoe
Once you are ready, it is time to introduce a less supportive shoe! There are two schools of thought when it comes to picking your first barefoot shoe.
One option is to jump straight in to a purely barefoot shoe. The other option is to use a transitional shoe, like Altras, that are still zero drop with a natural-shaped toe box, but that offer a bit more cushion than purely barefoot shoes.
Jumping in to Pure Barefoot Shoes
The benefit to jumping into barefoot shoes straightaway is that there is no extra padding to buffer any parts of your gait patterns that need to change. Having a thin sole will make those inefficiencies a lot more obvious.
You will be getting direct feedback from the ground to let you know if you’re landing too hard on your heel, or you are spending too much time in pronation. If you’re ready to mindfully work on changing these gait habits, jumping in to a thin sole is a great path.
Starting With a Little Cushion
The benefit to starting out with a slightly cushioned minimalist shoe is that you have a little bit of wiggle room for your untrained gait errors. While cushion is not recommended as a longterm solution, it can be helpful in softening your landing and protecting your fat pads.
So, if you’re used to landing hard on your heels, and you don’t have time to be mindful about a change, then this is an easy way to transition in. Check out our Lems Primal Pursuit Hiking Boot for a minimalist option with some cushion.
Otherwise, finding the right shoe is a matter of finding a good fit. Look for a shoe with a toe box that matches the shape of your toes. Take a look at our shoe line up and find a shoe that fits your style and purpose. All of our shoes are zero drop and flexible.
Walking or Running?
It is important to acknowledge that there is a difference in transitioning to walking or living in barefoot shoes versus running in barefoot shoes. We don’t recommend immediately jumping into running in barefoot shoes.
Instead, a better route is to transition into wearing natural footwear every day. Once your feet and your body have adapted to less shoe, then you can consider if you’re ready to transition into running in barefoot shoes. Which is a whole different ballgame!
So, you’ve got your new shoes. You've prepped your feet. What now? The short answer is to slowly ease in to wearing them for longer periods of time, a little at a time.
A good starting point is to wear them for just 30 minutes. This isn’t 30 minutes of running time. Just 30 minutes around the house or for a short walk. Slowly increase that time over the course of a few weeks and pay attention to how your body is feeling.
If you experience pain in your feet after increasing the time spent in your barefoot shoes, back off a bit. Pain is your body’s way of communicating with you. It might be saying, too much, too soon.
You can decrease the time you spend in them until your feet have adapted to that period of time. Also, a word to the wise, a little soreness is natural, as you will be building up those foot muscles that have been dormant for some time.
Add in Some Exercises
Additionally, a great way to build enough foot strength when weaning off foot support is to add in some daily exercises! You can throw these exercises in to your routine quickly and with no extra equipment needed. Try these exercises shown here by our friend Anya.
Texture walking is another helpful practice for not only transitioning footwear, but also just for healthy feet in general. Walking on a variety of textures helps stimulate the nervous system. The soles of your feet have over 200,000 nerve endings and are designed for taking in information from the ground. These signals being sent to your brain are what build your proprioception, knowing where your foot is in space.
The thicker the cushion of your footwear, the less sensory input you get from the ground. Contrarily, the thinner the shoe, the more feedback you get. And, the more feedback, the more you can sense how to tread lightly in your new footwear.
Bridge Soles are designed specifically for helping you transition from traditional shoes to more natural, zero drop footwear. They are great for pulling pressure off the lower calves and give just a little bit of support to the foot. There is a 4-week protocol for using them, starting with wearing them full-time to gradually wearing them only when needed.
North Soles' sole purpose is to provide cushion. There is no arch support, no heel lift; just plain, unadulterated cushion! So, if your feet are feeling discomfort from the sudden loss of cushion, consider trying these out. They range from 3mm to 6mm in thickness.
Whole Body Barefoot By Katy Bowman
Whole Body Barefoot is a phenomenal resource if you are just beginning your barefoot journey. Katy Bowman is not only a biomechanics wizard, but she also has the gift of explaining things in an easy-to-understand way and with a sense of humor to boot. This book is chock-full of exercises and tips to help you on your path to healthier feet.
You Got This!
TLDR: ease in slowly, listen to your body, and add in some exercises. You got this! And we'll be here to cheer you on. Tag us @shopgroundwork on your social media posts about your progress!