A primer on minimal running shoes and how to decide if they’re right for you
By now I’m sure you’ve seen someone running the streets in “shoes” that look like gloves for their feet, complete with crepe-thin soles and individual toes. No, they aren’t part of a frog costume, though they might tie one together nicely. They’re called minimal or “barefoot” shoes and are part of an increasingly popular less-is-more mentality in the running world.
Rather than your typical thick-soled, well-padded athletic kicks, many runners are opting for the back to basics approach, claiming all sorts of benefits from the change in footwear. Could changing your running style from the ground up help with weight loss in Chandler and Scottsdale? Here’s the lowdown on minimal shoes and some pros and cons to help you decide if they’re the right fit for you.
A Minimalist History
Obviously, the idea of barefoot running is nothing new, as running has been around significantly longer than shoes have. But up until the mid-70s, when our modern-style running shoes became more dominant, the majority of runners used light-weight shoes with little padding. Feeling uncomfortable in the shoes he was provided (and having trained without them all along), famed Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila even won the 1960 Olympic Marathon completely barefoot.
Improved Technique, Increased Strain
To many, the main benefit of wearing minimal shoes, or no shoes at all, is that it drastically changes the style in which you run. Runners who wear regular, cushioned running shoes tend to land hard on their heels, which can slow the body’s momentum considerably. Barefoot runners, on the other hand, land and push off with the front of their feet, directly underneath the body’s center of gravity. This kind of technique is more efficient, as it takes advantage of the body’s natural momentum and uses up less energy. Here are some additional benefits barefoot shoes have:
- More efficient. Minimal shoes take advantage of your body’s natural movement, while carrying less weight around with you will always contributes to faster, more efficient running
- Better balance. Studies show that minimal shoes improve your proprioception, or perception of how your individual body parts are positioned and employed in space.
- Work your muscles. Minimal shoes require you to use muscles that regular shoes won’t and make all your muscles work harder.
Despite their advantages, here are some drawbacks:
- Requires adaptation and caution. Acclimating your body to minimal shoes takes time and training to avoid injury. Reduced padding also means you’ll need to watch out for sharp or hard objects that may hurt the bottoms of your feet while running.
- Shoe odor. After running in them barefoot a few times, they certainly aren’t going to smell like fresh air and roses. Some models have odor control technology, but some stench seems like an unfortunate inevitability, especially after frequent and continued wear.
- Style. Though shoe companies are putting out more and more varied styles of minimal footwear, some consumers may be scared away by the hobbit-from-the-future look of many popular minimal shoes.
Going minimal also requires a good deal of adaptation—most of our bodies aren’t used to the kinds of stresses that barefoot or minimal running entail. To effectively run minimal, your leg muscles need to lengthen, and the whole process will use muscles that your body may not have used before. If you decide to join the barefoot craze, you’ll need to ease into it slowly. Don’t just toss out your old running shoes and sign up for the next 10k.