Gradual progress is a key ChiRunning principle which allows the body to adapt to changes in stimulus so that greater skill, distance and/or performance can be achieved safely. This principle applies to any change in running and in life. A tree knows to change gradually with the seasons to limit risk.
This concept is very important in shoe type transitioning as skill increases. Typically a transition moves toward more flexible, flatter and lighter shoes. The suggested approach is to focus on technique first; and allow that to signal when less shoe is possible for each individual. As technique improves your current shoes may start to feel stiff, restrictive and heavy.
Up until around 2008 running shoe classes where fairly straight forward (from more correction/protection to less): Motion Control, Stability, Neutral Cushioning and Racing Flats. Since then Minimalist shoes have come to market followed by Lower Heel Cushioning and just recently Maximalist shoes. Here is one possible transition summary diagram:
As you move down the diagram:
- There is less “correction” in terms of attempting to stabilize the foot/leg.
- There is less “protection” in terms of attempting to cushion against impact.
- There is likely greater ground feel.
- Greater levels of alignment are needed to limit risk to injury; either alignment/stability on stance or cooperation with the force of the approaching ground. With greater alignment, greater levels of relaxation are possible.
As you move across the diagram (L –> R):
- There is less heel height or ramp which can affect posture/stability up through the body. This can also affect balance and therefore relaxation specifically in the lower leg.
- There is generally greater flexibility in the shoe sole allowing the foot to move freely.
The dotted lines represent transitions that might take a more conservation approach. In these cases, both support and heel height are changing at the same time.
Ideally, any transition from “more” shoe to “less” shoe occurs slowly across the shoes classes to allow the body to adjust. If you are currently wearing Stability shoes, then a test of a Neutral (Cushioning) shoe might be your next step. Again, a transition to a lesser shoe class occurs with less risk if done as a result of technique improvements in alignment/stability, relaxation and balance.
My Shoe Transition 2006 to Present:
My running shoe transition when through the following steps:
- (Pre-2006) NB 1221 Motion Control shoes: injured on and off for 2-3 years. It is almost painful to look at the support and medial arch support in these shoes.
- (Early 2006) Started to learn ChiRunning and continued with the NB 1221s until about April. These shoes soon felt very heavy and stiff as I was learning how to relax my feet and lower legs. The bonus was that all my previous foot and lower leg injuries had quickly melted away.
- (April 2006) Introduced Mizuno WaveRider Neutral Cushioning shoes: typically this is too big of a jump from Motion Control to Neutral however in the previous 4 months my alignment/stability had improved dramatically; and I no longer needed motion control/stability to attempt to externally correct misalignment.
- (May 2006) Very gradually introduced the NB 790 Trail shoes. These were less cushioning but still a Neutral shoe with some heel to toe drop. I used them for short distances and mainly on dirt trails at first, then progressed to longer distances.
(Large transition time … 15 months! using the WaveRiders and 790s)
- (Aug 2007) Ran my first event since learning ChiRunning … a 50K ultra marathon … in the NB 790.
- (Sept 2007) Started to slowly introduce a NB RC152 and later NB RC800A Racing Flats for a limited number of training runs and events. These were lighter shoes with very limited heel to toe drop.
- (Oct 2007) Stopped wearing the Mizuno WaveRider Neutral shoes and shifted almost completely to the NB 790 Trail shoes for all surfaces and distances. The WaveRiders felt like too much shoe at this point.
- (Nov 2007) Ran my first Marathon in the NB RC 800A Racing Flats.
(Huge transition time … ~33 months!! using the 790s)
- (Aug 2010!) Started to slowly introduce the NB MW10 and MT10 Minimalist shoes. These shoes were light, flexible and had a minimal 4mm heel to toe drop.
- (April 2011) Introduced the NB 110 Minimalist shoes. These shoes were also light, flexible and again had a minimal 4mm heel to toe drop.
- (Aug 2011) Started to slowly introduce the NB MR00 Minimalist shoes. These shoes had a 0mm heel to toe drop (“zero drop”). I did not really care for these shoes so they only got minimal use.
- (Jan 2012) Introduced the Inov-8 F-Lite 195 Minimalist shoes. These shoes have a 3mm heel to toe drop; and again very light and flexible. These quickly became my go-to shoe and I ran in them exclusively for almost 2 years.
(Large transition time … ~23 months! using the 195s)
- (Dec 2103) Introduced the Inov-8 F-Lite 232 Minimalist shoes. These shoes have a 0mm heel to toe drop, and very light and flexible. I currently wear them for about 30% of my training. The remaining 70% is still in the F-Lite 195s. I wear either pair on all surfaces, all distances and all run types.
As you can see the transitions were slow and deliberate with some large gaps of time. Over this timeframe 20+ Marathon or Ultra Marathon distance events were completed.
- Start where you are. Assess your running form before making any changes. Aligned? Stable? Relaxed? Balanced?
- Introduce slowly. Trust, but verify. How do you feel during?, after?, the next day?, on the next run? Pay very close attention to *any* indications that you need more time to adjust.
- Less distance, less speed, and more body sensing.
- Patience. There is no rush to get to less shoes; the key is to get there safely and consistently.
- Add small increments of time in new shoes. You might just use new shoes for casual wear at first, then start by wearing them over a short distance at the end of a run/walk.
- Add extra Ankle Rolls Body Loosener for relaxation and Calf/Achilles stretching for flexibility.
- Focus on the main ChiRunning principles of alignment (feet/knees/legs pointed forward), stability (over stance), balance, relaxation and overall impact.
For more information on choosing shoes see the following blog posts from ChiRunning Founder Danny Dreyer:
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David Stretanski is a holistic health, fitness and wellness coach and Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor. For more information on David, please see his About Me, Contact page or his website at http://www.eChiFitness.com.
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