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Episode 184: Going Minimalist

Video Highlights

- Minimalist shoe specifications.
- Benefits of going minimalist.
- How to make the transition.

Today we’re going to talk about the potential benefits and progressions for going minimalist.

If you’ve been around Z-Health for any period of time or actually most modern fitness movements, you will see a lot of people wearing shoes that are kind of like this. All right. They’re called minimalist or barefoot shoes, and so today what I want to do, is take a little bit of time and explain to you the rationale, a little bit of the research behind this, and also talk about a progression that you can use if you’re considering making the shift. All right. The first thing I want to talk about is why go minimalist?

I’m going to talk a little bit about what qualifies as a minimalist shoe in a minute, but here’s some things that we see experientially and also some research that’s starting to show up. When you look at the formation of a traditional running shoe or a typical athletic shoe, there are a lot of things about it that do not coincide with great foot biomechanics.

What we are starting to see is that as people transition out of their more traditional footwear into shoes that allow more freedom of motion, more mobility, and help build foot strength, these are some different benefits. Number one, better gait. All right. Whenever we watch people walk and we watch people walk all the time at Z-Health, because it’s one of our key assessments, we are interested in a highly efficient walking gait. Why that is revolves around what’s called force transfer.

Every time your foot hits the ground, you are transferring into your body probably between 1 and up to 1.3, 1.4 times your body weight per foot strike, so if you’re one of those people who’s trying to get 10,000 steps in per day, you can do the math on that. If you weigh 200 pounds, every single step you’re going to be generating maybe 240, 260 pounds of force that your body has to deal with and you multiply that by 10,000 per day.

All of the sudden, the numbers start to add up.

Poor gait mechanics can equate to long-term biomechanical issues and pain issues, and actually decrease performance, so we’re really interested in improving gait all the time, because it improves force transfer. The next reason that we’re really interested in this is barefoot or minimalist shoes often allow you to improve your foot and ankle mobility. We also see affects up into the knee and hip and low back, so if you struggle with foot issues, ankle issues, knee issues, hip issues, a lot of times, again, transferring to something a little bit more minimalist makes sense.

Finally, I’m going to talk about stronger feet, ankles, and legs, because again, I was looking at a study this week and it was a comparison study where they took runners who had been running in traditional running shoes, and they transitioned them. They gave them a self-governed transition into minimalist shoes and they followed them over six months.

Now the test was actually MRIs of the leg musculature and the foot musculature to see what would happen when they made the transition from traditional shoes into minimalist shoes. What they found was an 8% to an almost 12% improvement in muscle density, both in the muscles of the foot and the muscles of the calf. Now that may not seem like that big a deal, but it’s actually a really big deal, because what they found was that there was increased muscle density, equated to stronger muscles, which equated to healthier feet and these subsequent benefits, so we know that transitioning out of traditional shoes actually makes you stronger.

It makes your feet stronger, it makes your ankle stronger, it makes your leg stronger, and in this particular study, they were recommending that a transition to minimalist shoes be considered as a primary therapeutic option for people that have foot, and leg, and ankle issues because of muscle weakness.

Now that also equates to some other studies that we’ve seen in the past that show transitioning to barefoot or minimalist shoes also improves knee symptoms, so this is a really big deal for us. Just because it is a wide-reaching issue.

Finally, and I did say finally before, but now I really mean finally on this slide, and this one feels great.

This is one of my personal opinions, that one of the things that you find when you actually make the transition, the ability to feel the ground, feel what you’re walking over, it gives your brain a lot of stimulus. One of the things that we’re about in Z-Health is brain stimulus, so what you’ll find, as I said, if you make the transition is the shoes feel really, really good. It provides a lot of relaxation and input to the rest of the body.

Now let’s talk about what makes up a minimalist shoe. Classically speaking, what we’re looking at is what’s called first of all a low heel to toe drop. Now minimalist shoes, they’ll say they qualify if they have somewhere between a 0 and 8 millimeter. Now what that means is that you measure the height at the mid-foot, or sorry. The middle portion of the heel and then you also measure the sole at the middle portion of the ball of the foot, and you look to see how much drop there is. Meaning is, it completely flat and level, or is there a heel that’s now sloping down to a smaller sole in the front of the shoe?

In general, as I said, this is the typical qualification for a minimalist shoe, 8 millimeters all the way down to 0. Obviously, this would be a 0 millimeter drop. It’s just a flat sole with nothing to it.

Most people that we work with eventually try to transition to that 0 millimeter drop, but if you’re new to this we say, “Hey, start a little bit higher and work your way down.” The next thing that we look for in a minimalist shoe is mobility. In general, we’re looking for a shoe that we can bend in the middle, not at the toe, but bend in the middle, not at the toe, but bend in the middle and also twist. It should have some level of give to it, so that your foot can move more naturally.

Finally, the other thing that you’ll often see is thinner and thinner soles. Soles that are maybe down to 3 millimeters, 2 millimeters of thickness. Now if you’re going to go that, you have to spend time conditioning, and that’s what I’m going to talk about progression.

The number one reason that people fail to make a comfortable transition to minimalist footwear is they try to rush it, so the first thing I’m going to tell you about transitioning to these shoes is, you need to plan on going slowly, and if you see there, it says “3 to 12 months.” Particularly if you’re a runner. You need to take your time, because you’re going to have to strengthen and recondition all the tissues of your lower body, and it’s also going to impact the rest of your body through the gait cycle, so don’t rush it.

A lot of people, as I said, give up on these because they go out, they try to wear them just like normal shoes, and all of the sudden, they’re having foot pain or heel pain or something, and they go, “Oh, forget it.” Then they miss the eventual benefits, so go slow.

As you’re considering making this transition into minimalist shoes, you need to work on you foot mobility, ankle mobility, and your foot strength, and foot mobility. Now I’ve done other blogs on this stuff in the past. What we’ll do is put a couple of links to some training progressions that you can think about to build foot mobility and strength, work with a Z Trainer.

1. https://zhealtheducation.com/episode-125-foot-strengthening-exercises/
2. https://zhealtheducation.com/episode-112-improving-balance-and-strengthening-the-feet/
3. https://zhealtheducation.com/episode-127-ankle-pain-relief-exercises/

This is a big deal. You have lots and lots of joints in the feet. They need to be mobile. The musculature needs to be strong. The soft tissues need to be strong, so normally, we start people going, “Hey, let’s spend a couple of weeks really working on your foot mobility and strength. You will continue that over time.”

We then need move into balance progressions. A lot of people are unaware that if their shoes are off and they try to hold their balance, they stand on one foot with their eyes closed, they fall over because they have not trained their balance system without the added support of a shoe, so we start off foot mobility, foot strength, and then train your balance progressions.

Next after you’re starting to make some progress in rebuilding those systems, the next thing I recommend is barefoot walking in grass or sand. I know this seems kind of weird. You got to go find a park or in your back yard, but working up to 30 minutes of walking barefoot in grass is fantastic. Just make sure that you check the environment, no snakes, no scorpions, if you’re here in Arizona. If you live elsewhere, make sure there’s no gopher holes, stuff that you’re going to fall in. Just make sure it’s nice and safe and just spend time walking and moving comfortably, building up to about 30 minutes.

As you’re doing all that, you can also begin wearing the shoes in your daily life. Now the way that I have our clients do this, generally, as I say, start with 30 minutes to an hour, take them off, switch back to your other shoes, so you do this off and on progression throughout the day. Ultimately, I’ve found that once you can work up to wearing them 3 or 4 hours a day and you’re not having any soreness or any problems from them, you’re now in a position you can start wearing them all the time.

The great thing is, things have really changed in our world, where you can now find dress shoes and stuff that is work appropriate also in the minimalist format. You just have to look around.

Now finally, if you’re a runner, here’s my last suggestion in terms of progression and I didn’t put it up here, because again, transitioning people into minimalist shoes for running is a little bit more problematic. Particularly if they’ve had a lot of foot injuries, so the way that I start with runners, I say, “Listen. What I want you to do is you’re going to start off with a 5 to 10 minute run, but let’s start off, let’s say conservatively 10 minutes, assuming that on the weekends you’re capable of running 5, 10 miles comfortably in your traditional shoes.” Your running in your new minimalist shoes is going to be composed of 1 minute of running, 2 minutes of walking, 1 minute of running, up to 10 minutes, and you’re done. All right, and then you just start progressing from there.

In general, we try to keep the running and walking ratios in that 2 to 1, 3 to 1 ratio. Even up to 5 to 1, depending on how compromised they are and then over the course of 10 to 12 weeks, you just start increasing the running time and decreasing the walking time. Now I know that sounds like a lot of work, but I want to take you back to this particular slide. If you could choose something that you could do basically that you’re going to have to do anyway, wear shoes, and you can wear shoes that have a tremendous impact in everything that you do. They’re going to change how you walk. They’re going to improve your gait. They’re going to make you stronger. They’re going to make you fitter. They’re going to make it more possible for you to play in the grass and do all kind of things with your kids.

To me, it’s a no-brainer, so if you have any questions about this start off, check out the other blogs that we’re going to connect to this, so you have some ideas about mobility, and strength, and balance. Then if you have additional questions about shoe choices or anything, you can let us know. Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed this. Thanks for listening. I know this was a long one, but good luck.

I really think if you take a look at this, it’s absolutely worth the effort.

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