The Minimalist Approach – Running and Walking Shoes Re-Invented

Richard Pine is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004, and currently coaches the MRW Training Programs.

Richard Pine is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES), has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004, and currently coaches the MRW Training Programs.

Feel More With Less …

Less = More …

Gravity, Meet Your Archenemy …

Step Into Minimalism …

Free Yourself …

Since the arrival of those “barefoot” shoes known as the Vibram Five Fingers, this minimalist approach to both the sport of walking/running and to the design and technology of walking/running shoes has expanded exponentially.  Popularized by new methods such as natural running, Chi running, Good Form Running, POSE, and Evolution running as well as the book, “Born to Run,” the common denominator throughout is to return to nature’s original anatomic design of the foot in its natural state, which is fully equipped to handle the stress of running and walking without any help (namely traditional running shoes).  Proponents of this minimalist approach propose that because of the traditional running shoe, running form and economy is allowed to become sloppy as the shoe compensates for those inefficiencies.  Those consequences are later felt in the all too common plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, and all the other “-itis” conditions felt by runners.  So, the idea is that by re-teaching the foot to do what it was originally designed to do, the risk of injury will decrease as the body automatically adjusts to become more efficient, and as a result, injury and pain free.

As the trend has evolved, the options are expanding and the shoes themselves are diminishing.  Brooks has recently released the Pure Project, which is a series of four shoes – minimal neutral, lightweight neutral, lightweight stability, and lightweight trail.  New Balance is expanding their Minimus series, which includes minimal crosstrainers, road shoes, trail, and life models.  Nike has the Free; Asics the 33 series; Saucony the Kinvara and the Hattori; and don’t forget the Vibram Five Fingers to name a few.  So how to navigate with all these choices?

Let’s begin with the common factors – lightweight, flexible, and a lower heel.  These three factors are all designed to facilitate a natural foot motion.  Depending on the shoe, weight will range from around 4-10 ounces, which is really light.  The flexibility of the shoe provides no support but does encourage the foot and lower leg muscles to build natural strength as it is forced to stabilize itself.  As opposed to the elevated heel of traditional shoes, a lower heel mirrors the natural biomechanics of the foot and does not allow for an unwanted heavy heel strike, as it is simply awkward and painful.  Improving these inefficiencies in running form all work to reduce injury and increase strength.  As a result, all of these shoes are great options if you are interested in trying out a minimal shoe.

To add variation, the options arise in how much or little cushion you prefer in the shoe and whether you would like something more rugged for a nature excursion, more tame for heading to the coffee shop, or something in between.  For a truly barefoot experience, some shoes have little more than a few millimeters worth of rubber between you and the ground and for those preferring a little more cushion, there are a number of options depending on how much cushion you would like.  Despite these options, the structure, function, and subsequent impact on walking and running form are all the same.

With that said however, it wouldn’t be smart to donate all your current running and walking shoes to Africa and completely replace them with a minimalist shoe or go completely barefoot.  Unlike the people groups who have spent many years “barefooting” it, the western culture is not too familiar with the idea or the practice and so our feet and bodies are not quite ready for the shock.  If you decide to give the minimalist approach a shot, integrate it slowly into your training and start off with once a week running the distance of a length or two at the local track.  Don’t expect to hit the road with your regular mileage right at the start as it will take time for your body to adjust and it may even be several months before you are able to resume your normal mileage safely.  Your feet have to adapt to not having a nice thick layer of cushion to compensate for fatigue or inefficient form.  Muscles have to develop to redistribute the impact safely.  Your running form needs to adapt to become more efficient in order to handle the impact appropriately.  All of that takes time and if done improperly, it can lead to other injuries.  In addition, if you are a beginner runner or even if you’ve been running for a while, it would be a good idea to take a running class that emphasizes and teaches proper running form and technique so as not to develop any bad running habits and to reduce the possibility of injury while working into a minimalist running shoe.

Is using a minimalist shoe for walking and running for everyone?  No, however the habits emphasized are definitely beneficial for everyone.  For some people, a little adaptation is all that is necessary to be able to simulate barefoot running and for others, physically and biomechanically, using a minimalist shoe isn’t an option at all.  As a middle ground, it’s a great training tool to in order to practice and get the feel of running with proper form.  That muscle memory and increased leg and foot strength will then serve to improve efficiency while still using traditional running shoes for the longer runs.  In addition, some people have found that workouts outside of walking and running, such as CrossFit, are performed more efficiently in a minimal shoe.

So, with a greater number of minimalist shoes on the market to choose from, whether you decide to go with a shoe that has more cushion, less cushion, no cushion, or a trail shoe is all personal preference.  However, regardless of shoe, fit in terms of width and length are extremely important.  Be sure that the shoe is a comfortable fit and don’t sacrifice the fit simply to get a minimalist shoe.

Run … Walk … Live – Minimalist or Not!

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6 Responses to The Minimalist Approach – Running and Walking Shoes Re-Invented

  1. Pingback: Old Running Shoes – New Uses? « A Veteran Runnah

  2. Pingback: and the Fashion Betrayal goes on… « Rica Rants & Raves

  3. After the race finish, I had a few conversations with people who were curious about barefoot running and racing.

  4. I can not thank you adequately for the posts on your web site. I know you’d put a lot of time and effort into them and hope you know how much I appreciate it. I hope I’ll do exactly the same for someone else at some point.

  5. Pingback: Minimalist running – my thoughts so far …. | FitChutney

  6. Pingback: Minimalist running – my thoughts so far …. - News and information about barefoot running - Minimalist Running

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