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Marshmallows and Minimalism: Take Your Time to Slowly Transition to “Less is More” or You Might Get Injured

Two weeks ago, Jay Dicharry wrote an interesting piece on his blog that was reposted on the Natural Running Center. Jay, who heads up the Speed Lab at the University of Virginia, wrote, "The switch to minimal footwear can pay off in the long run, but you need ensure you’ve got what it takes for a successful transition. Obviously any time you make a change to your body, there is an adaptation period that needs to occur.  A lot of 'experts' say that it will take six months to a year to fully transition to a minimal shoe. I’d like to think that this is overly cautious, and like to discuss why using the anatomy.  Here at our Lab, we’ve found great success using the following three criteria for runners looking to run with 'less."

Jay then went on to describe these conditions (which Zero Drop is summarizing here):

1. Mobility: Traditional running shoes have about a 10-13mm drop from the heel to the forefoot. This creates a 'rocker' effect in the shoe. Take a look at a shoe from the side and you’ll see that the curve from the ball of the foot to the tip of the toe rises up. Since your foot is flat, you need to ensure that you have enough mobility (called dorsiflexion) of the big toe to allow the foot to roll over. Additionally, since the heel is higher in a traditional running shoe (think a small high heel) the heel chords are used to operating in a shortened position. You need to ensure that you’ve got the mobility needed to allow the heel chords to operate form their slightly lengthened position.

2. Single-leg Standing Balance: normal balance has been identified as standing on single leg for 30 seconds with a still upper body and full foot contact. Since the midstance phase of running is essentially a single leg squat, it is essential that the runner is able to maintain the foot in contact.

3. Ability to Isolate the Flexor Hallucis Brevis: a key factor that distinguishes humans from primates is our medial longitudinal arch. This arch is actively stabilized by the flexor hallicus brevius (FHB). While standing, try to drive the big toe (1st MTP) into the ground (plantar flexion) while slightly elevating (dorsiflexing) the lesser toes. Make sure not to roll the ankle in or out. This test enables screening of muscles inside the foot that stabilize the arch.

Jay adds, "When your foot works it can actively stabilize the transfer of forces through the foot. If you don’t pass these three tests, no worry  -- simply get to work on improving your limitations." He then offers some recommendations about what to do to improve one's mobility, balance, and foot health. But what happens if you rush into minimalism too fast? If your feet and body are not ready for the change?  Chances are you will get injured.

Near the outset of his article, Jay cited a famous behavior psychology experiment from the 1960s with children, marshmallows and delayed gratification to make the point that patience pays off in the end. "Researchers put a kid in a room with one marshmallow on the table and tell him/her that they can eat it and they’ll get another one.  But, if they don’t eat it right away, they’ll get two marshmallows later. The tester walks out of the room and the kids go into panic mode when sitting in front of this stellar, delicious marshmallow. Most eat the single marshmallow for instant gratification. They fail to see the merits of waiting patiently for a better result."

It can be the same with minimalist running shoes. So watch this contemporary video that replicated the study and ask yourself, "Am I a one or two marshmallow runner?" As for the original study, it was conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University. Researchers then followed the development of each child into adolescence, and showed that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted emotionally and scored far higher on intelligence tests.

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Love it. so true with everything today.
    Mark Cucuzzella MD

  2. Hey, all I know is I want to try the marshmellow test out on my kids! Ha!

    Great point to the “things come better to those who wait.” How true for all things in life. -TJ

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