January 10, 2014
Should you be running with minimalist shoes?

One of the most convenient and simple ways to exercise is to walk, jog, or run. You only need shoes, running clothes, and time. There is no need for a gym, park, or specific equipment. You can just put on your shoes, step outside, and run. If you are familiar with running at all then you know that there are a ton of shoes out there to choose from. In the past, most popular running shoes had all of the padding, support, and style that you needed to run fast and look great. Take a look at these Nikes.


Wow! Look at the support, and check out those spring looking things on the sole. Those must be for added support. With these, you can get great support and also run in style. I am trying not to sound too sarcastic because I used to own a pair of these and I loved them. But after learning about biomechanics, my taste in running shoes has changed dramatically.

Over the last few years, there has been a big swing in the running world moving away from added support and towards minimal support. Why it that? Let’s discuss.

Your foot is an amazing result of evolution. It is a perfect implement that serves as a landing and launching pad while you are running. However, this perfection is only apparent when you use your foot appropriately. While running, your foot is meant to strike on the ground at the area we call the midfoot. This is a location just behind the ball of your foot.


This allows for the ground reaction force to be dispersed through the arch of your foot and into your calf muscles before dissipating through the upper leg. If your heel strikes the ground first, the ground reaction forces are not transferred through the arch and calf muscles, but instead through your bones and small anterior leg muscles (located on your shin.) The latter version of running may contribute to many overuse injuries, including shin splints, stress fractures, and tendinitis. Unfortunately, this is how most individuals run due to the type of shoes they wear. Shoes with thick padding under the heels allow us to comfortably heel strike and make a mid-foot strike feel awkward. Sprinters have always used shoes (which they call spikes) that are nothing but a thin sole with sharp cleats on the bottom. These shoes allow them to strike the ground on the midfoot and therefore make them more effective sprinters. Endurance runners can benefit from this as well. Enter minimal shoes.

Track and running coaches have long utilized barefoot running as a method to teach proper foot strike technique. The same foot-strike can be effective with a pair of shoes that is not very supportive, as supportive shoes can lead to one relying on the support for function. Also, the book, “Born to Run” helped to popularize minimalist running (it is a great read and I highly recommend it.) In it, the author Christopher McDougall describes a tribe of people in Mexico that run unimaginable miles and they do so wearing little more than rubber pads on their feet. They were fast, healthy, and injury free, and hey, if they can do it, why can’t we? American runners everywhere dropped their old supportive running shoes and started cranking out the miles in a new pair of minimalist shoes. Look at these pairs:


These are beautiful shoes. And they are great for ensuring you run with a midfoot strike. But all of a sudden, everyone started getting injured. Runners were getting shin splints, tendinitis, and every other condition that this method was supposed to fix. What was going on? The jumped-to conclusion was that minimalist running was actually bad and caused injuries. Meanwhile, many trainers and running coaches were advising their clients, “Listen, you have been running with a lot of support for many years. Your feet have relied on that support and will need to be strengthened. Before you start running a lot of miles in your new minimal shoes, you should start slowly. Walk in them, lift in them, jog for brief intervals in them, but do not go out for a long run. In time, your feel will adapt and get stronger so you can start increasing your volume.” In this situation, runners were able to slowly adapt to different stress on their feet and avoid injury completely.

If you like running and have thought of going minimalist, no matter which shoe you choose, start slowly! Give your feet time to adapt to the change. Your feet have been using the crutch of supportive shoes for a many years. It will take them more than a week to adapt to your new running style. One thing is for sure: if you can learn to strike on your midfoot and allow your legs to adapt, you can run faster and safer than before.

Happy running.

Photos courtesy of:



Written by Clark Masterson

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