Are you a runner looking for ways to build foot muscle strength and guard against injury? Consider making the switch to minimalist shoes.
Unlike traditional footwear, which can restrict the movement of key muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments, minimalist shoes are designed to recreate the experience of natural barefoot movement while protecting your feet from any hazards on the ground. A recent study indicates these shoes can help runners build foot muscle strength to the same degree as regular exercise.
Minimalist shoes have soft soles, allowing you to feel the ground conditions more accurately with your feet. They also let your toes move to a much greater degree than most running shoes do. Over time, this may boost your stability when running thanks to a widened platform.
Additionally, these shoes have a low heel to toe drop, which is used to describe the distance between the heel and the toe. This helps prevent injuries related to heel striking and is one of the things all runners should look for in their footwear.
That said, not all minimalist shoes are the same. While you may be used to wearing supportive sneakers for running, they should be worn less frequently. Choosing the right minimalist or barefoot shoes for your goals requires keeping certain factors in mind and knowing your own running style. These tips will help.
Determine Where You Run Most
Different types of minimalist footwear are ideal for different types of running. Decide how and where you typically run when considering your options. For instance, if you run on off-road trails, you need shoes that have strong traction. Look for soles with grips. On the other hand, if you tend to run on roads or a treadmill, it’s best to find something with a smoother sole and a more fashionable appearance.
Again, running in minimalist shoes is supposed to mimic the experience of running barefoot. That’s why you should prepare to make the switch by starting to run barefoot some of the time.
Don’t try to completely switch to barefoot running, though. Odds are very good you won’t be comfortable (or safe) doing so. However, you may consider beginning the transition by walking barefoot. As you get more comfortable with barefoot walking, you can bring your sneakers with you when running, trying to go half a mile or so before putting them on.
Gradually work your way up to running longer distances in your bare feet. This helps you prepare for the differences you’ll notice between traditional and minimalist footwear.
Try Different Styles
Remember, when choosing minimalist shoes, you want to pick those which are designed for your style of running. You wouldn’t run in even your most comfortable sandals, would you? Make sure to research what shoe type fits your running style and needs best.
That’s not to say those are the only ones you should buy. There are also minimalist shoes that can be worn when walking around town, the house, or even at work in some cases. Consider buying a few pairs so you can wear them in different situations. The more you wear minimalist shoes, the more you’ll benefit.
Runners who’ve made the switch often find these types of shoes improve their gait, strengthen their muscles, and help them avoid injuries. This makes sense when you consider people have been running barefoot for most of human history. If strengthening muscle and remaining injury-free appeals to you, use these tips to choose the perfect minimalist footwear.
Running, as a collective sport and passion, is a regular source of clashing ideologies and approaches to training, but one observation has generally endured across runners and coaches of all experience levels: active warm-ups almost always trump static stretches as an effective means of pre-run preparation. Also called dynamic warm-ups and drills, these exercises enrich the body through light motions aimed at key running muscle groups, ensuring that runners are loose and less prone to overuse injuries.
If you are new to active warm-ups, here are a few basic, yet crucial exercises to get you started.
Striders are about as easy as it gets with active warm ups. Simply pick a straightaway and stride to the end, making sure to stretch your legs out with each step. This exercise not only helps with running form, it generally helps flush out sore legs and increase speed for last minute kicks.
The A skip technique essentially merges high knees with basic skipping form, resulting in a series of quick burst drills that help to loosen the hamstrings, hip flexors, and glutes. The exercise helps runners get into a lighter, more nimble state of mind, exaggerating the running motion to make the actual run or race feel less taxing on the legs.
Butt kicks are self-explanatory in execution, but their effectiveness and purpose in running preparation has been a topic of debate in recent years. Generally, the exercise has been found to condition the legs for a running-based range of motion while also helping to strengthen and loosen up the hamstrings and glute muscles.
Not to be confused with its weight-based counterpart, the single leg deadlift stretch follows a similar motion, but is focused primarily on loosening and conditioning the hamstrings. Focus on going down as far as you can while maintaining your balance, trying to do a stretch with about every other step.
Like striders, leg swings are fairly easy to execute; simply find a wall, establish balance, and swing your leg out in a lateral motion, keeping it as straight as possible in the process. This exercise will do wonders for tight iliotibial bands, glutes, and quads; they are perhaps one of the most popular active warm-ups due to their simplicity and their convenience (they can be completed almost anywhere).
As I explored in a previous blog, mindful thought has been increasingly linked to stronger running performance (and sports-based performance in general), and this notion is unsurprising, given the common observation that running is 90 percent mental.
It is true; thoughts and emotions play a significant part in a run or race — in most cases, as we are toeing the threshold between finishing and quitting — and that said, if you find that you are deficient in this regard, it is important to shore up your thought process sooner than later. Otherwise, you may find yourself getting frustrated and even disillusioned to running as a whole.
Visualization is a great avenue for both mental run or race preparation and for general mental muscle memory, so to speak — the process of embracing a negative thought or emotion, then allowing it to fade away in favor of a mantra or repeated positive impulse.
Knowing the course
It is probably easiest to visualize a run or race when you have a clear mental picture of the course. Maybe this is a consistently challenging loop that you like to do on the weekends, or perhaps it is an annual 5k course on which you hope to run a new personal record. Whatever the case, take time to find a quiet location, relax into your breath, and imagine the course from start to finish; walk yourself through it, simulate how it will feel when the run or race begins — the sound of the starting gun, the cheer of spectators, the pulse of adrenaline that sometimes accompanies the first beep of your watch. Going through these motions now will only make them easier to process in the moment; put simply, if you keep telling yourself you can do it, you will eventually believe it.
Knowing what scares you
Typically, we turn to running-based visualization when we are nervous about an aspect of an upcoming run or race. You might be aware of a particularly painful hill in the latter half of the course, or maybe the mere concept of competition frazzles you from the start. At times, weather can also contribute to these feelings — usually extreme cold or hot conditions.
Like the previous section, use visualization to construct these elements or obstacles before they are even in front of you. If needed, exaggerate your thoughts so they fit a worse case scenario (just make sure to avoid psyching yourself out), and determine how you would handle yourself in this state, let alone a milder one. This process will usually harden you to these potentially nightmarish aspects, and in the end you may find that they were not worth the stress to begin with.
About Allen Curreri
Dr. Allen Curreri is a pharmaceutical professional, a researcher in clinical decision making, and a consultant. But first and foremost, Allen is a community member.
Allen Curreri is proud to call Atlanta, Georgia home for the past two decades. He cares deeply about his hometown, and after seeing how much his city gave to him as a young man, Allen is dedicated to giving back tenfold to the community he loves.
Allen considers it a personal responsibility and a privilege to serve his community in every way he can. Plus, Allen knows how to have fun getting his hands dirty for a good cause! As a family man himself, he is particularly drawn to the work of United Way, where he has been a loyal volunteer for over fifteen years, and counting. With United Way, Allen focuses on creating self-sustaining progress and strong communities. The mission? Filling the most vital gaps and providing for the most fundamental unmet needs: health, income, and education.
A long-time running and marathon enthusiast, you can often find Allen on the paths and tracks around Atlanta training for his next challenge. Nothing is more satisfying than taking care of yourself while working for others, and Allen Curreri is a great believer in getting out on the streets and running for a good cause in fundraisers and charity marathons.
Allen’s Current Project
All across America, thousands of students are denied the federal student aid they need to fund their dreams of a college education. Why? A one-time mistake. Few people know that teens with one-time drug offenses on their record are made ineligible for student loans or work study, even if they never re-offend again.
The kids affected the most are often underserved, underprivileged, and lacking support systems — kids who already fought every odd to get a quality education. Kids who’s dreams are crushed without the federal support they need to tackle tuition.
These kids aren’t looking for a handout, just an education. Allen Curreri’s mission is to give them a fighting chance to reach their goals. He is currently working to build an organization that will offer scholarships to youth with one-time drug offenses. Those who pass the rigorous essay and interview process will live out their dreams of attending college, right there at home in Atlanta, GA, where they’ll enrich the local community and economy.
Allen is currently seeking support and partnerships of all kinds to turn his vision — and the vision of hundreds of students — into reality.
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Allen Curreri studied pre-pharmaceutical work as an undergraduate and soon tailored his focus to the business side of the medical industry. In 2003 he entered the College of Business Administration at Georgia Southern University. As he worked toward his Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) Allen balanced his studies with an entry position in medical sales. One year later, he joined GE Healthcare as an ultrasound equipment sales professional.
For the next eight years Allen worked with GE Healthcare, spending much of his time inside hospitals and ERs and cultivating the wealth of medical industry experience that guides his work to this day. When he left GE Healthcare in 2012 he sought out a role in pharmaceutical sales. He accepted a position as Director of National Sales at Prestige Medical Solutions Limited, and would eventually work his way up to Chief Operations Officer of Prestige.
Allen’s experience in pharmaceutical sales has allowed him to travel around the world and to network within diverse pools of professionals at industry conferences. A resident of Atlanta, Georgia, Allen has traveled everywhere from parts of the U.S. and Canada to England, France, South Korea, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. He attends conferences to track the expansion of different institutions or pharmaceutical companies; over the years he has observed some of the largest and most influential conferences attended by pharmacists, technicians, and Congressional health care policy writers.