Barefoot/Minimalist Walking – Transition to Barefoot/Minimalist Running

Jan 9th, 2012

Comments: 11
Category: Barefoot Running

Barefoot/Minimalist Walking – Transition to Barefoot/Minimalist Running

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 I got a phone call from a friend last week asking me about minimalist running. This is what she said: 

“I want to run. I feel great when I run. But every time I try to start back up with running, after a few weeks, my calves are killing me. I take a break that ends up lasting a month or longer, then I try again with the same results. What am I doing wrong?”

I have this similar conversation every week. There are a ton of online programs designed to train you to run races, but very few that introduce you to the art of running pain free. Pain free is the key. It is at the beginning, while learning how to run properly, that you will develop great form which will prevent pain and injury down the road.

What I am presenting in this blog is the protocol that I recommend to my clients. It is what I followed myself.

First things first: transition out of your running shoes and either go barefoot (ideal) or purchase a comfortable pair of minimalist shoes. I’m not going to go into the details of why barefoot or minimalist is the ideal way to run in this article. If you want to learn about that, you can read about it here and here.

You have to learn to walk before you can learn to run.

In my life I have had my share of injury and pain.  A lot of it came from doing too much too soon.   I understood that running, or even walking, barefoot was completely different than how I had been training – and living – for years. So when I decided to transition to a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle, I knew I had to take it slow… very slow. I spent the first six weeks just learning how to walk. What I’m showing you below is the program I followed.

Learning to walk

When you walk, listen to your body.  When I re-taught myself to walk, I paid attention to how my body felt. Since my foot was in direct contact with the pavement, when I walked with a poor gait pattern, I felt it immediately at my foot. This allowed me to make immediate adjustments in my gait so that I walked without pain.Once you place a cushion beneath your foot, you are disconnected from this very important line of communication with your body.  It allows you to continue to walk with dysfunction instead of feeling pain immediately at your foot.  The pain allows you to make immediate adjustments. No immediate pain, no immediate adjustments.  Rather, you feel that pain weeks, months or even years later in your knee, hip, back, shoulder or neck.  By this point you are completely disconnected from the original source of the problem.  As you learn to walk again remember, every step is an opportunity to make immediate adjustments in your gait.  Your each and every step is a teacher.  Listen and learn. I followed each walking session by spending between 30-60 minutes performing self massage on the foam roller and stretching. If my body hurt the day after a walk, I would skip a day and spend extra time on the roller. Note: This program is a guideline to transition your body to barefoot or minimalist walking and running. For some people, depending on current conditioning level and injury history it may take longer than six weeks. Also, this program will not guarantee all of your current injuries will disappear, or you will never experience a walking or running injury in the future. The simple truth is that everyone experiences pain or injury at some point. The goal is to reduce the risk of a devastating injury, significantly reduce the frequency between pain and injury, and to speed up the recovery time during an injury so that you spend more time active instead of inactive.
How to Walk
Week 1
Day 1: Walk for five minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for five minutes. Followed by 30-60 minutes of Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for five minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for five minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for five minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for five minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

 

Week 2
Day 1: Walk for 10 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for 10 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for 10 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for 10 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for 10 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for 10 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

Week 3
Day 1: Walk for 15 minutes
Day 2: Walk for 15 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises
Day 3: Walk for 15 minutes
Day 4: Walk for 15 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises
Day 5: Walk for 15 minutes
Day 6: Walk for 15 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises
Day 7: Rest

Week 4
Day 1: Walk for 20 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for 20 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for 20 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for 20 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for 20 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for 20 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

Week 5
Day 1: Walk for 25 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for 25 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for 25 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for 25 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for 25 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for 25 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

Week 6
Day 1: Walk for 30 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 2: Walk for 30 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 3: Walk for 30 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 4: Walk for 30 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 5: Walk for 30 minutes: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 6: Walk for 30 minutes: Followed by 30-60 minutes Corrective Exercises: 30 minutes foam roller therapy
Day 7: Rest

At this point you might be thinking…. wait a minute, when do I get to start running?  Patience my friend, every journey begins with a single step and we’ve not reached running yet. The goal is injury prevention so you can run pain free for the rest of your life. If you’re like me, that means another 40-50 years of running. Keep it in perspective. What is a few months training your body to move more efficiently if it means you significantly reduce the amount of time you are lame with chronic pain and injuries for the rest of your life?

It takes eight weeks for your muscles to adapt to a new conditioning program. It takes years for your fascia to adapt. By incorporating self massage using a foam roller, deep tissue massage therapy, flexibility training, corrective exercises and functional movement into your training program, you can significantly speed up this process, while decreasing the amount of time dealing with chronic pain and injury.


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DISCUSSION 11 Comments

  1. Annelies January 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Jesse- This is PERFECT timing with the weather being so nice and Capitol 10,000 being just a couple of months away! I’ve been itching to get back into a running routine but hesitant to plunge into old movement patterns that I now know cause and exacerbate injury. But I’ve been having a hard time with the advice to take things slowly- instead I do nothing, waiting for a time when I’m “ready.” There’s something about a schedule that makes things seem more do-able. Thanks for helping me give myself permission to move forward!

  2. Twelve Week Running Program For An Injury Free Barefoot/Minimalist Transition | The Art of Fitness - Austin Deep Tissue Massage Therapy January 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    [...] January 15, 2012 Leave a Comment TweetLast week I posted a six week program to help you slowly transition towards minimalist/barefoot walking and, ultimately, running. This weeks post is a 12 week program to slowly transition you into minimalist/barefoot running in [...]

  3. Tracy February 22, 2012 at 6:08 am

    My experience has been when generally deconditioned people start running, there is usually a weak link that causes a problem. For the person with calf pain, I would suggest that the rest of the leg and hips are weak, so to develop the quads, hamstrings, etc…with general leg strengthening moves. Squats, etc…not too heavy, but build some muscle to balance your legs as a muscle GROUP. The calves are working too hard. thoughts?

    • jjreth February 22, 2012 at 11:08 am

      Hi Tracy,

      Thank you for the question. My experience is that we all have weak links, especially if we have worn structurally supportive running shoes for much of our lives. Even a conditioned runner will have some kinks when they make the transition to barefoot/minimalist.

      The calves hurt due to the change in landing pattern from heel strike to forefoot strike. With a forefoot strike, the calves are engaged way more than with heel strike. Each mile of running with a forefoot strike is the equivalent of doing 1000-1500 calf raises per mile. Of course the calves are gonna be screaming.

      There will be weak links in the hips. I begin with foot, ankle, hip, and shoulder mobility work to increase functional range of motion. Most people are stuck in these areas. I follow mobility work with stability work, basic postural core work. This would be a good place to add in posterior chain work. I find the posterior chain is the weakest link. Most people are anterior chain dominant so they don’t need as much strength training in the quad as they do for the glutes and scapula. Everything begins with light weight and higher reps, but once the body becomes more functionally conditioned, all levels of intensity need to be challenged.

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

  4. The Art of Patience: Preventing Barefoot Transition Injuries | The Art of Fitness - Austin Deep Tissue Massage Therapy February 27, 2012 at 9:54 am

    [...] Follow the program I lay out here and spend at least six weeks retraining your body to walk barefoot or minimalist. [...]

  5. Kip June 28, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    While I transition to my barefoot style can I continue the do my regular runs with my conventional sneakers?

    • jjreth July 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm

      Hi Kip,

      This is a great question. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer other than what works best for YOU. Much will depend on Why are you transitioning?

      Personally, I don’t recommend it. Barefoot running is a totally different form than shod running. Improving form is the best way to prevent long term pain and injury, and lengthen your running life. You cannot train form and conditioning at the same time. I discuss all of this a little bit here:

      http://tao-fit.com/injury-recovery-the-grand-return-plus-bonus-12-week-running-program

      Running in shoes will reinforce your old running form making it harder to develop a new, healthier, bullet-proof form. If you have made the decision to transition, I recommend taking a few months off running for conditioning to focus on form. Anything you lose will be quickly regained.

      Good luck.

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

  6. Amy Buckles July 30, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Jesse! I’ve been making the transition to a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle now for a couple of months. I decided to start the process after the mini marathon in May. I’ve been doing the corrective exercises, stretches, foam roller etc. When I began the actual training…I started out with the walk/run routine completely barefoot. It was amazing what I could feel. Then I got a cadence tracker to help with my tempo. (that really helped!) I was strolling along, doing pretty well…and now I’m getting really frustrated. I’m having that “top of the foot” pain that I was warned about, and I’m feeling it in my arch as well. This pain is only on the left foot. I have a raised right hip, giving me that awesome functional length difference. I’ve tried many different things to balance or realign, but just can’t make any progress. (including chiro, massage, yoga, egosque method) Because of this…when I walk, I feel like my left foot is landing harder and has the tendency to heel strike. Because of this…I’m trying to walk, lifting my knees and feet and trying to land toe to heal. This ends up looking and feeling so unnatural, almost like a horses gait:) haha I’m not incorporating any running in right now because of the pain. I did get the vibram 5 fingers a couple of weeks ago and have been wearing them or going barefoot. Will my length difference eventually correct on it’s own after my body adjusts? Should I add any exercises to strengthen one side? I also feel my waist shift on my left side slightly as I walk/run…my right side stays neutral for the most part. Uugghh….I’ve watched a ton of youtube videos on technique that I don’t see how I’m not getting it! Do you know of any barefoot running coaches in the Indianapolis area? I need help! I want to run again! Help!!! :)

    Thanks Jesse!

    ~Amy

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