Are Minimalist Running Shoes for Me?
When talking about running shoes, is less really more? Minimalist running shoes have been at the center of debate for years, and many runners are still scratching their heads trying to learn whether they should make the switch. Regular running shoes incorporate different types of cushioning and support devices; they’re designed to offer comfort, support and stability for people who run with heel or mid-foot landings. Minimalist shoes are exactly what they sound like—they’re extremely light and don’t have many of the cushioning and support inserts found in standard shoes. Advocates of the minimalist approach say a mid- or forefoot landing is healthier than the alternative, and that minimalist shoes encourage this approach. Is that true, and does that mean you should switch?
First of all, finding high-quality minimalist shoes is easy. Nike, New Balance, Adidas, Brooks and numerous other brand-name athletic shoe companies make them. Even though minimalist shoes are built from less, expect to pay more for these specialty models. Original minimalist shoes from several years ago were little more than soles with mesh and fabric tops, doing little more than shielding the bare foot from scraping against rocks or pavement. In fact, barefoot running was in style as minimalist shoes first hit the market. Since then, minimalist shoes have mostly adopted some of the features of standard shoes, although to much more gentle degrees.
Standard running shoes are built similar to how they always have been. There are shoes for neutral runners, over-pronators and under-pronators, and each offers a unique feel. Some people with neutral gaits prefer pronation-prevention shoes for their support and stability. It’s much easier to find these shoes at affordable prices.
So is stylish or affordable better? Is there something to the logic that minimalist shoes are superior?
Many health experts say no, there isn’t—that the best choice varies from person to person. Minimalist shoes have much smaller heels than regular running shoes, which can cause calf muscle strains in people who switch to minimalist shoes without dramatically scaling back their mileage. Also, recent research shows that a faster, tighter running cadence is more important for preventing injuries than your choice of footwear. Yes, heel striking is generally bad, but a tighter cadence results in a mid-foot landing regardless of your footwear.
If you’re feeling beat up from pounding the pavement, but you’re torn on whether to buy minimalist running shoes, you might want to think about changing your running surfaces. Find a track or trail in your area and work that into your mileage for a couple of days per week, or join a local gym so you have access to a treadmill. Most people can get the relief they need on softer surfaces without needing to change their entire running shoe strategies.