Minimalist shoes gained traction as a popular choice for athletes in the early 2000s, in part because of the increased popularity of barefoot running. Generally speaking, a minimalist shoe is any shoe that mimics barefoot running. According to Runner’s World, the official definition of a minimalist shoe is any “footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.” As with any shoe, there are both pros and cons to consider before deciding if a minimalist shoe style is for you.
According to the Complete Runner, “Minimalist shoes force you to run properly, as you will do most of the running on the mid-foot [or] the forefoot, then dropping back on your heel.” Minimalist shoes are great for strengthening your feet, which in turn helps to prevent injury. They also offer a wider base of support for your foot, allowing for more stability, maneuverability, and adaptability to various terrain.
Aside from preventing injury, minimalist shoes also weigh less than their traditional counterparts. This translates into less energy expended, which in turn translates to a runner who is able to move faster, longer, and more comfortably.
There is some evidence to suggest that minimalist shoes increase the risk of injury for runners who weigh more, and whether that weight comes from a higher body mass or from height doesn’t seem to matter. Minimalist shoes also provide less protection from sharp surfaces or bumped toes than traditional running shoes. According to Backcountry, “recent research demonstrates an increased risk of bone marrow edema, the accumulation of fluid in the bones (similar to bruising), in minimalist runners.”
Runners currently suffering from injury may find that minimalist shoes are not the best choice for them. Traditional footwear is built in a way that acts almost like a protective splint or cast, keeping the foot and ankle from rolling or twisting in a way the may cause or further injury. Since minimalist shoes do not offer this support, they can do an injured runner more harm than good.
The most common mistake people make when deciding to use minimalist footwear is making the switch too abruptly. “Going out too quickly or spending too much time on hard surfaces can create problems for the minimalist runner that will prevent them from enjoying any benefits,” according to Active. The most important thing to remember if you decide to make the change to minimalist footwear is that change takes time. You need to let your body and your feet adjust to the difference and build up strength. Otherwise, you will end up with the injuries you changed shoes to avoid.
In the end, the choice between minimalist or traditional footwear is largely a personal one. A runner’s own biomechanics can strongly affect the decision to go minimal or stay with traditional, motion-controlled shoes. “Common wisdom states that a runner runs best in a shoe that fits-variables in personal stride, foot shape, and biomechanics run such a wide range that probably the best advice for any runner is to run in shoes that fit well, and avoid those that don’t,” according to Backcountry. As with many things in life, the best approach is to examine your options from all angles, and take things one step at a time.