by T.J. Murphy
The argument for adopting a minimal shoe is an attractive one. Less injury, more natural power, awakening long-lost capacities in the feet and toes by subtracting the mass that makes up the better part of a motion control or stability shoe.
But the rage for minimalism/barefoot running seemed to nose-dive when runners flocked to Born To Run-esque shoes like Vibrams without adequate preparation. Going from an Asics Gel Kayano to a 4-ounce flat shoe and heading out for a longish run did not end well for many folks.
Whether or not a triathlete adopts a zero-drop minimalistic running shoe, there’s really no arguing against doing the work to make sure you have strong, supple feet and toes. Regardless of the shoe you’re in, that’s going to be a win. Possibly more power and speed and greater resilience.
A great read on the subject is by Jay Dicharry, MPT, SCS, who has worked with the likes of Linsey Corbin on issues of mobility, power and mechanics. In A Runner’s Anatomy, near the end of the book, he outlines a course of work for the reader. Dicharry emphasizes that to make a deep change in mobility/flexibility where it counts, you need more than a few days or even few weeks. He suggests that you’ll need at least 12 weeks of consistent practice to make good, strong change.
Where do you start? When it comes to strengthening feet and toes, knowing where you’re at is is probably the best step one.
Dicharry’s advice on how to assess feet/toe mobility—framed within the question, “Are you ready to go minimal?” is offered in this 7-minute video.
Another resource for assessing your body’s readiness for running (minimal or otherwise), is Kelly Starrett’s Ready to Run. An easy starting point toward regaining natural foot strength is by committing to spending time during the day simply being barefoot. Get home from work—get the shoes off fast. When summer comes around, convert time playing in the backyard with your kids to barefoot time. That kind of thing.