Despite the significant developments in shoe technology providing greater stability, traction, shock absorption and varying type of material, minimalist shoes have become popular due to ‘less is better’. However please take care in determining whether minimalist is appropriate for you, and also if they are suitable for you then transitioning appropriately into them. Below explains the reasons for their recent attention, and if minimalist shoes suit you then how to best transition into a pair.
What are the benefits of a minimalist shoe?
Minimalist shoes are light weight and provide far less support to the ankle; meaning that the foot, ankle, lower leg and hip have to actively support and stabilise the body while in motion. While theoretically this means that more forces are placed through the lower limb, foot contact proprioceptive feedback is increased and the body can move more naturally. This results in an increase in foot activation and appropriate foot positioning on landing and not overstriding (avoiding significant heel strike and braking forces). Furthermore, the runner can increase their cadence and running efficiency.
Why wouldn’t I run in minimalist shoes?
Running in shoes with a greater level of cushioning and support delivers a number of benefits that minimalist shoes cannot provide. This includes reducing the ground reaction forces of rear-foot heel striking on initial contact and also benefits those with poor lumbo-pelvic stability, knee or ankle weakness or a poor gait. Furthermore, running long distances will result in fatigue and most likely decline in appropriate gait: a more stable shoe will assist with stability and expectation of the muscle to stabilise, reducing the risk of injury due to poor form.
What is best for me?
- Running experience & gait – if you have been running consistently for over 2 years and feel that your gait is acceptable, then a more minimalist shoe may be suitable
- Duration & Intensity – minimalist shoes are more suitable for short, speed training. Longer training runs would suit a more stable shoe
- Running style – if you are a heel striker then you are going to need cushioning and stability, a more minimalist shoe will suit mid-to-forefoot runners
- Current shoe type – if you are currently running in a supportive shoe, then it is recommended that a gradual reduction in heel drop and cushioning is carried out
- Time – it’s going to take time and patience to adapt to a minimalist shoe. If you’re not patient or have a race coming up in the following couple of months then a minimalist shoe is not appropriate for you
- Distance – if you are running longer distances (e.g. +15km) or overweight, you will need a greater level of stability shoe to reduce the amount of loading.
Overall, in my opinion all runners will benefit from transferring to a less supportive running shoe, provided their gait, gluteal and core muscle strength are reasonably activating, and the transition is gradually carried out. At Capital Clinic Physiotherapy, a Run Assessment can help determine if a minimalist shoe is right for you, and our practitioners can assist you transition to new footwear with training advice and specific exercises.