Safe running and shoe selection
Physical fitness, especially cardiovascular stamina, is a major factor that optimizes Warfighter performance. Running greatly increases aerobic stamina, which in turn decreases the risk of physical injury. Running can be done in virtually any environment and location and is an excellent way to achieve cardiovascular fitness.
The Army has a long history of running for physical fitness and for unit cohesion. But running, like any other activity, should be done appropriately. Various studies of recreational and competitive runners have estimated that between 27% and 70% of runners sustain overuse injuries during any 1-year period. Be alert for signs of overuse (pain in your knees, shins or feet) and modify your program or seek help right away.
FM 7-22 has training schedules (Chapter 5) that include examples you can follow.
- Run for 30 minutes, 3 days per week. Cross train to build strength, endurance, agility, balance, and coordination. Running more than 30 minutes, 3 days per week has been shown in military studies to increase risk of injury without continued improvement in fitness.
Selecting a running shoe
Typical running shoes and heel strikers:
- Most running shoes have a standardized design: they have an elevated heel to help you move forward, cushioning material to soften the impact, and a supportive heel cup area.
- These shoes are designed for the most common type of running pattern: landing on your heel first (called rearfoot striking or heel striking).
- A running shoe that fits you well and is comfortable when you run is most important. If the shoes are not comfortable—they won’t become more comfortable with time!
- While some runners prefer cushioning or motion control shoes, the typical stability running shoe works for most runners.
Minimalist running shoes and forefoot strikers:
- Minimalist running shoes (MRS) are lightweight, low to the ground, flexible shoes with very little cushioning and support.
- Typical MRS have no elevated heel, little if any cushioning material, and a very flexible heel cup area.
- These shoes are thought to simulate barefoot running and promote a different running pattern, landing on the middle of the foot or the toe area (called midfoot striking or forefoot striking).
- Some shoes are in-between MRS and regular shoes and they are sometimes called transitional shoes:
How to use minimalist running shoes safely
If you are thinking about trying MRS, there are a few things you should know about running in these shoes.
- Switching from traditional running shoes to MRS does not necessarily mean you’ll automatically change your running pattern from a heel-strike (landing on the heel) to a forefoot-strike (landing on the toe area). There are studies that show that over 50% of runners switching to MRS still heelstrike despite over 6 weeks of training.
- Some studies have shown an increased injury rate in runners wearing transitional minimal shoes compared to traditional shoes. An increased risk of injury may be due to:
- The lack of cushioning in MRS relative to normal running shoes
- Failing to transition from a rear-foot strike to a mid-foot strike (which may cause stress on the lower extremities)
- “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” If you are not having any issues with running and you are happy with your performance, then continue running in your normal shoes.
- If you are having pain when running and are considering changing your running form, see a physical therapist first! Some injury patterns may benefit from changing running form, but doing so will most likely require running analysis and retraining. If you are having running issues and pain, make sure you see a healthcare provider.
If you do decide to try running in MRS, do so slowly and carefully by following the steps below. Be alert for injury warning signs during the transition phase to MRS.
- Run in MRS before you buy – choose the shoe that feels the best.
- Avoid blisters by wearing synthetic blend socks.
- Run only 10 percent of your normal distance in MRS for your first 2–3 weeks. For example: If you run 10 miles per week, run only 1 mile per week in MRS.
- Land softly on the middle or ball of your foot, and then let the heel down gently.
- Increase your distance 10 percent or less each week for at least 8 weeks.
- It may take up to 6 months to get used to running in MRS.