Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Are You Ready To Go Minimal?

If you're a fan of Amanda's over at Miss Zippy (and who isn't?), you know she's written about how much Dr. Mark Cucuzzella from Two Rivers Treads has helped her out. Like minimalism or not, it's definitely part of the discussion nowadays and definitely impacting shoe design. For a relatively well-balanced look at minimalism and running injury-free, check out the book Tread Lightly.

From the Two Rivers Treads website: "Mark Cucuzzella, M.D.: The founder and owner of Two Rivers Treads is Mark Cucuzzella, M.D., who is a Family Physician at Harpers Ferry Family Medicine and Associate Professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine. As a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves, he is coach and captain of their marathon team and designing programs to reduce running injuries in military personnel. He is the chief medical consultant for the Air Force Marathon ( His passion for health extends beyond the walls of the clinic into the medical home’s “backyard”– the trails and open space that create the arena for optimum wellness. He is also the Director of the Natural Running Center. Mark has been a competitive runner for nearly 30 years, completing over 60 marathons and ultras, and continues to compete as a National level Masters runner. His marathon best is 2:24 and has run in 23 Boston Marathons; in 2011, he went 2:37 at the age of 44!" Dr. Cucuzzella attributes his longevity at the highest level to good running form and espouses minimalist running.

The April 2012 issue of Running Times has some feature articles about minimalist running, including one on the best way to know if you are ready to move from a cushioned, supportive shoe, to one that will allow you to run in a more natural, minimalist way. Dr. Cucuzzella has 4 simple self-tests to asssess your readiness: Dorsiflexion of the Ankle, Dorsiflexion of Big Toe, Isolating the Big Toe, and Single-leg Balance.

Dorsiflexion of the ankle

Test Number 1: Dorsiflexion of Ankle
Sit on a chair so that your knee and ankle are both bent at 90 degrees. Keeping your foot in the same place on the ground, slide your hips forward so that the front of your knee is just past your toes. If you can't keep your heel on the ground in this position, your Achilles is too tight.
Dorsiflexion of the big toe

Test No. 2: Dorsiflexion of Big Toe
Keeping your body in the same position as the end of test No. 1, reach down and grab your big toe. While keeping the ball of your foot flat on the ground, raise your big toe up (keeping it straight) until it's 30 degrees above the ground. If you can't raise it to 30 degrees, or find that the ball of your foot comes off the floor while trying to raise it, your plantar fascia is too tight.

Isolating the big toe
(like how my cat snuck in for this photo?)

Test No. 3: Isolating the Big Toe
While standing, drive your big toe into the ground (plantar flexion) while slightly elevating your other toes (dorsiflexing). Make sure not to roll your ankle in or out to compensate. If you find that you tend to bend the joint in your big toe so that your toe curls, it's a sign that you're dominating with muscles up in your shin and not able to isolate specific muscles inside your foot.
Single-leg balance

Test No. 4: Single-leg balance
Get in good posture and balance, then lift one leg and balance on the other foot. Try not to shift to the side. A triangle between the inside ball of your foot (first metatarsal), end of your big toe, and outside ball of your foot (fifth metatarsal) should remain in solid contact with the floor. Good balance means you can stand on one leg for 30 seconds with full foot contact and a quiet upper body. Taking any part of your foot off the ground makes you less stable. Flailing arms and a wobbly trunk mean that you're using other strategies to get control, ones you can't use when running effectively.
Are you ready for minimalist shoes?
Take the tests and find out!

For the original article and tips on how to improve, check out the magazine or the Running Times website.

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  1. Really interesting post!! I hadn't heard there was a pre-test for minimalist shoes. I moved to Brooks minimalists a few months ago and didn't take this test, but I just did. I did well on 3 or 4....guess my achilles are a bit tight! Thanks for posting!

    1. Michael, these are so simple and the best part of the article is it tells you how to improve the areas you are weak in. Probably a good idea even for those who have no interest in minimalist running!

  2. Thanks for the shout out. You know I think Mark is tops--his knowledge is incredible and his untiring efforts to help people are inspiring. I love these tests and think it's great that there's now a way to measure whether or not someone is ready to take the leap.


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