Zero Drop, Minimal Shoes: Ups and Downs

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My custom zero-drop boots.

Over the last year and a half I have written several posts about making the switch to minimal and/or zero drop shoes.  There have been some ups and downs, but the upshot is, if you’re over 50, I don’t recommend you try to make the switch. Regardless of age, if you decide to try it, go way slower than you think you need to.

Beware — You Might Get Hurt

Although I tried to make the transition from traditional shoes to minimal ones gradually, it didn’t prevent injuries.  I strained my right Achilles over a year ago and I am only now 95% healed.  I’m pain free, but I sometimes get a twinge after some workouts.  Thanks to the Alfredson Protocol (which is 12 weeks of hell, but it works) I can run a couple of miles at a moderate pace without discomfort, but I’m nowhere near being able to attempt any hill climbing sprints.

About a month ago, while doing lunges, I started experiencing pain in the joint where my left big toe attaches to the foot.  It got worse and worse.  Looks like I’m in Stage 1 of Turf Toe.  I had to stop all exercises that involve bending back or springing off the toes (no Lunges, Mountain Climbers, Jump Squats, etc.) and I’m wearing my boots pretty much 24/7.  I’m probably going to have to buy a set of shoe inserts to wear until it heals.  This injury is directly related to wearing thin shoes that allow greater range of motion in the toe joints.

What I’m Wearing Now

I have gone back to traditional shoes for workouts.  For hiking and long walks I sport my zero drop boots.  For work and casual wear, when the load is light and there’s no ballistic movement, I’m wearing very low drop shoes (Chuck Taylor’s around town, and to work a pair of very flat, black leather Keds-like shoes from Aldo’s).

The Final Analysis

So how do I feel about the entire experience, start to finish?  Injuries aside, my feet feel better overall.  The frequent arch pain and foot cramps I used to get are gone.  But I think that is attributable to (a) gradually going from a very high arch support to none, and (b) going up a half size in shoes to allow my feet to spread out.  If I had my ground to go over (pardon the pun), I would have stopped at that point and I would not have tried to make it all the way into minimal shoes.

My Recommendation

My recommendation is that you stick with traditional shoes for workouts.  Consider gradually reducing the amount of arch support to allow your feet to spread out and fill up a larger traditional workout shoe.  This will allow them to do their job more naturally and effectively.  When I say gradually, I don’t mean over the course of a few weeks or months — I mean over a couple of years.

Maybe if you start when you’re in your teens or twenties you could get into minimal shoes without the kind of problems I’ve had.  But if you’re over 50 like I am, stick with functional footwear.

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2 responses to “Zero Drop, Minimal Shoes: Ups and Downs

  1. Turf toe is not something to play around with. It might sounds minor, but it can be very painful if not taken care of at the beginning stages.

    • Robert Mitchell

      Thanks Caleb. Yeah, I’ve been reading about it. If the pain doesn’t subside within a week I’ll be headed to the podiatrist!

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