How to transition to minimalist shoes

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If switching to minimalist shoes is something you’re considering or you’re in the process of doing so, it helps to have an understanding of how you can transition to minimalist shoes while minimizing potential injuries.  Avoiding injuries is, of course, a more enjoyable process, but in doing so, you’ll be much more able to tell if going more minimalist is something you’ll benefit from.

Feeling extremely sore or injuring oneself is a real possibility when you are going from a shoe that acts almost as a cast that requires minimal usage of intrinsic foot muscles to a shoe that offers relatively much less support and now requires those muscles to work in order to support the foot and ankle.

To elaborate on the cast metaphor, imagine having a cast on your arm for 6 weeks, and then removing it. Compared to your non-casted arm, that arm will be much weaker, and it’s going to require some use over time without the cast to regain its previous strength.

Now, imagine you’ve been wearing that cast your entire life. Do you think you would be able to take off that cast and have full function and strength to do all the things you do with the other arm? I’m guessing you’d say no.

This holds true for rigid, thick-soled shoes that cramp your toes as well. Stripping away the support of the shoe leave a foot and ankle that has some adjusting to do before it feels strong and secure in the more streamlined footwear.

In my opinion, having this understanding can set you up for a much more enjoyable, less uncomfortable experience as you move away from conventional footwear to more minimal or closer-to-barefoot shoes.

This brings me to my first big tip…

Have realistic expectations

In anything we do in life, we set ourselves up for success when we have realistic expectations.

Expect that switching to more minimalist shoes may be a process and journey that is unique to you. There are rules that can be used to guide you through the process. However, ultimately, you’re not going to have the exact experience of your friend or the person that told you that you should try more minimalist shoes.  

Read the recommended rules, but know that it will be an exploratory process. If you’ve been shod in restrictive shoes for much of your life, removing the shoes is going to be a reacquainting experience as you begin to move your feet in ways that may be a little foreign at first.

Know that changing your footwear isn’t an “either-or” scenario.  You aren’t a “minimalist shoe wearer” or not. There are degrees of minimalism when it comes to shoes. You may find that you prefer highly minimal in certain situations and less minimal in others. Or, you may discover that you like more minimalist shoes than you used to wear, but your preference isn’t the most close-to-barefoot shoes out there. That’s okay.

As with most things in life, you find what works for you. I think going into this process with this mindset can allow for a more enjoyable experience.

Listen to your body

You can follow all the rules out there, but the best rule of thumb, in my opinion, is to listen to the information your body is telling you.

While we don’t like to feel pain, pain is our teacher. It’s our feedback that tells when we’re doing too much and when we should stop, slow down, or find some other modification.

If you’re following some 22-step guide (or how ever many steps) and you’re not able to do the recommended steps without feeling a good amount of pain, that is a sign that you need to modify that plan to suit you and where your body is at.

We don’t get medals for being the fastest to transition to minimalist shoes.  However, we do gain benefits from strengthening our relationship with our body by listening to what it tells us.

Go barefoot as much as possible

A big reason it is believed that people enjoy and benefit from closer-to-barefoot shoes is because, well, the shoes are closer to being barefoot.

We’re trying to allow our feet to strengthen and move in ways more similar to being barefoot. What better way to do that than to actually go barefoot.

If you don’t already spend time being barefoot, consider increasing the amount of time you spend each day without shoes.

The amount of time you’re used to being barefoot oftentimes likely is associated with how much time it takes you to adjust to more minimalist footwear.

Like with switching to more minimalist shoes, start gradually and listen to your body if going barefoot is not the norm for you.

Expect it to take time

As alluded to above, the process to transition to more minimalist shoes is not going to happen overnight.

If you’ve been wearing thick, inflexible-soled shoes with an elevated heel  and motion and stability control technology for years or decades, your feet have adapted to those foot “supports”.

Removing those supports abruptly will be a shock to the system.  If you’ve used external devices to support your feet, the feet have not developed and strengthened the internal mechanisms that allow the foot to stand on its own and function without the external supports.

So, give yourself the time. How much time exactly? Well, that’s different for each individual based upon their own circumstances. Time spent barefooted, types of activities, health and foot ailments, and degree of minimalism change in footwear are just some of the factors that can influence how much time it takes an individual to transition to more minimalist shoes.

Without saying an exact amount of time, as a general guide expect it to be a process of multiple months.

Dr. Ray McClanahan, creator of Correct Toes toe-separators, recommends a two-month transition period.  He recommends to gradually increase the number of hours in minimalist shoes on a weekly basis. During week one, you’d wear the more minimalist shoes an hour each day. Week two, two hours. This would continue until you make it to 8 weeks, when you’d be in your minimalist shoes for 8 hours.  

We can also look at the recommendations of another clinician and researcher, Jean-Francois Esculier. He is specifically speaking with respect to runners, but his recommendation is based upon the Minimalist Indexes (MI) of the shoes you’re transitioning from and to. For each 10% points of difference, expect to allow one month for transitioning. For example, were you to switch from a shoe of 20% to 70%, you could expect (approximately) to take five months to fully transition to the new shoes.

These are two different recommendations, but they can be useful guides for you to have an idea of the timing you might experience as you adapt to your more minimalist shoes.

Choose your footwear

This is an important step in the process of transitioning to minimalist footwear. Obviously, you need to choose some new shoes.

However, the shoes you choose will influence your overall experience and the process of transitioning.

As alluded to above, the degree of minimalism of your shoe will influence how long it will take you to adapt.

Consider your health and current shoes

You want to consider factors about your personal health and movement when deciding how minimal you want to go.

If your norm is to wear highly non-minimal shoes (think low MI) and you wear shoes a good percentage of the day (ie, very little barefoot time), going very close-to-barefoot (high MI) may possibly be a much more drawn out transitioning period.

Conversely, if your typical shoes are more of a mid-range MI and you are barefoot a good amount of your day, the transition may be shorter and going more minimal may be a reasonable choice for you.

You’re going to want to determine the MI of your most-used shoes. You can read more about the MI here, and here’s a worksheet to help you figure it out.

Next, you’ll want to compare the MI of your old shoe to your new shoe.

Now, the MI as a tool to determine degree of minimalism of a shoe is relatively new. We don’t have the MI calculated for all the available shoes. There are some sources out there that are gathering this information. As we review individual shoes, we will be calculating these values and updating our catalog with this information.

While we don’t have values for all the shoes (yet), you can get three of the five criteria (weight, heel thickness, and heel-to-toe drop) from most of the product descriptions you’ll find in our catalog. Also, many times, highly minimalist shoes will provide images with the shoe flexed, which gives you an indication of how flexible it is.

Although, the information we have on all the shoes, with respect to MI, is not complete, we can get a sense of how minimal a shoe is relative to others. It’s not perfect, but hopefully, we’ll have more data in the future.

Consider what activities you’ll be using the shoes for

You’ll want to think about how you intend to wear the shoes as well when choosing the shoes.

If you’ll be wearing the shoe on rocky trails, you’d be more likely to consider shoes made with soles intended for trails. However, you might choose thicker stack heights in this instance than you would if you were wearing the shoe mostly on muddy, soft trails. It’s not to say that thinner stack heights can’t be worn on rocky trails, but it will likely take you longer to adjust than with a thicker stack height.

Similarly, if you were wearing a shoe for casual settings, you may be able to tolerate a greater degree of minimalism faster than were you wearing the shoe for running or other physically-demanding activity.

Suggestions for filtering the catalog

It was mentioned above, but if you haven’t seen it yet, we have created a catalog of many of the minimalist shoes on the market.

You can filter through to narrow down your shopping options.

To begin, choose whether you’re interested in “Men” or “Women” options. From there, I’d suggest narrowing it down by type and/or best use.  Let’s say you want a sneaker for trails, choose “Sneaker” under Type, and “Trail” under Best Use.

Type FilterBest use filter

You can explore the sneakers best used on trails, or you can narrow it down further. Let’s say you only want sneakers with stack heights 19 mm or less. Click on the first three options under “Stack Thickness”, to filter out anything outside of those ranges.

Stack thickness filter


Trail Sneakers Example From the Catalog

In this example, you’re left with eight sneakers best used for trails with stack heights of 19 mm or less.

You can click on each on to see the product descriptions. From there you can click a link to take you to the product page on the company website and, in some instances, the Amazon page where you can explore further and purchase if you decide upon that shoe.

You can of course play around with your criteria and consider other features to filter by to explore other options.

Your minimalist shoe preferences may change over time

This post, hopefully, gave you some good insight into how you can go about transitioning to minimalist footwear. As previously mentioned, it’s a journey to switch to more minimalist footwear, and your preferred shoe may very likely change over time.

However, now that you know what to expect, you can help ease yourself into the process of transitioning and enjoy the journey of adapting and adjusting to life with more minimalist shoes.


What do you think? Do you have any other questions about transitioning to minimalist shoes? Do you have tips you’ve found helpful in your journey to more minimalist shoes? Let us know in the comments, or feel free to send us a message! We’d love to hear from you.


Amanda Richardson-Meyer

Amanda Richardson-Meyer

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DID YOU KNOW you can use our filterable catalog to find the minimalist shoes with the particular features you're interested in!

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