By allowing your feet greater range of movement, minimal footwear is an important part of a natural movement lifestyle. However, if you have always worn very structured shoes, it can take a while to transition to walking in minimal shoes. Here are some tips for making the transition go smoothly.
1. Stop BEFORE your feet hurt
Everyone’s feet cope slightly differently with the transition to walking in minimal shoes. You might have no problems at all. You might find that your just feet get really tired. Or the minimal shoes might highlight weaknesses in your feet or elsewhere, with the potential to cause injury if you do too much, too soon.
But you won’t know which one of these you are until you have either made it through the process with no issues OR you end up with an injury.
It might be frustrating to build up so slowly, especially when you are excited to bring this new form of movement into your life. But it is much much harder, not to mention very demoralizing, to try and reverse an overuse injury than it is to prevent one.
2. If in doubt, stop, rest and rewind
If you experience any issues at all (foot pain, heel pain, blisters, ankle pain, knee pain, hip pain, back pain, neck pain headaches… need I go on?) follow this procedure:
- STOP wearing the shoes, and start wearing your normal shoes again.
- REST — take a few days break from the minimal shoes and reduce other activity if that is also giving you trouble.
- REWIND — go “back in time” to whatever stage you were at a week ago (before you started having issues) and start the transition again from that point.
3. Start around the house.
Walking barefoot around your house is a good way to get some barefoot time, but it can also be a good way to get used to a new pair of minimal shoes.
Pick a time when you will be up and about doing chores (it’s not much good if you are sitting on the sofa the whole time!). Wear the shoes for fifteen minutes of gentle around the house movement, then take them off – even if your feet don’t hurt.
Add five minutes every day until you are wearing the shoes for an hour at a time with no issues. Throw in a couple of “rest days” where you don’t wear the shoes at all. This step should take about two weeks.
4. Take your shoes out for a short walk
Notice I said “take them out for a walk”, not “go for a walk in them”. It might sound silly, but when you are first starting out with your transition to walking in minimal shoes it’s best to think of them as your “subs” (the players that sit on the bench). Leave the house wearing a pair of shoes that you have had for a while (they are your “starting players”) and only give the minimal shoes playing time at the end of your walk (and only if all is going well, i.e. you aren’t too tired and don’t have any other aches and pains).
It might seem more logical to wear the shoes at the start of the walk, when you are fresh. And you CAN do it this way but only if you are disciplined enough to take them off BEFORE you start having issues. It is very tempting — especially if you are not feeling any discomfort — to just keep going. But if you wait until you are ten minutes from home, you are less likely to overdo it.
Start with the last ten minutes of your walk. Do this for a week, taking a day off where you don’t wear the shoes at all. Then increase to fifteen minutes the following week. Add five minutes each week with one rest day per week until you are walking for an hour. This will take about almost three months.
5. Incorporate your minimal shoes into the rest of your life
Try adding the following things gradually. If you experience any discomfort see tip number two.
- Wear your minimal shoes as your “starting players” for a normal day (assuming you are not a lumberjack or something). Have a different pair with you as a back-up in case you notice signs of fatigue.
- Wear your minimal shoes for a low-impact workout such as weights in the gym.
- Try wearing your shoes for something slightly more vigorous like a hike or a short, high-intensity workout session, again have your old, comfy shoes as “subs”.
6. Avoid running at this stage.
I have another article about transitioning to running with minimal shoes with more detailed information, But I believe it is unwise to start a barefoot running program until you have completed your transition to walking in minimal shoes, and have been walking in them for a considerable amount of time.
7. This is just a guide, not a set of rules
These tips are intended to give you an idea of just how gradually your feet need to be built up. These are not a set of hard and fast rules. If you have spent time barefoot over the years it may take less time. If you have a history of foot issues it may take even longer.
The key is to listen to your body. You’ll get there in the end.
Here is a link to an article where I review and compare four pairs of minimal shoes.
The post is about running but these shoes are all great options for your transition to walking in minimal shoes.