Defining Minimalism and Running
Blaise Dubois is a physiotherapist and founder of the Running Clinic from Quebec
City, Montreal, whose multi-day course on the prevention of running injuries has
attracted the interest and attention of health professionals, coaches and running
enthusiasts around the world. Blaise also tells it like it is, as readers of his bilingual
blogFrench and English blog know quite well. Hes unafraid of questioning the
status quo, and in the area of running footwear, thats a large, unfinished task.
This need is especially true in the several-year-old $500 million footwear category
called minimalism. Yet the term minimalism has been egregiously co-opted by
marketing footwear pooh-bahs, which has contributed to a welter of confusion
among runners as to what actually constitutes a minimalist running shoe. In order to
bring some sanity to the madness, Blaise has recently come out with a minimalist
shoe formula on his site, so that you can rate your running shoes on a scale from 1
to 100 (100 being extremely minimalist (bare feet) and 1 extremely maximalist).
He explains why theres a need to quantify matters:
What is the relationship between the FiveFingers, Brooks Pure Connect, the Nike
Free 4.0 and the Adizero Hagio from Adidas? All are considered minimalist running
shoes. However, their drop ranges from 0 to 12 mm, their thickness is between 3
and 23 mm while their respective weight and flexibility vary considerably. In my own
opinion, the best definition for minimalism bears a qualitative connotation: The least
amount of shoes you can safely wear now. Given its qualitative nature, we are
bound to define tighter parameters in order to quantify the minimalist definition for
The criteria that he selected for his formula are: comfort (subjective), stack (total
thickness at the heel), drop (forefoot and rearfoot differential), flexibility (longitudinal
and torsional), weight, and price.
Will the Running Clinics minimalist shoe formula gain traction among runners? Will it
be widely used by running stores and the industry? What are its positive features?
Are there any inherent limitations? To help answer these questions, heres a
preliminary evaluation from several of my Natural Running Center colleagues. Bill
After working on a rating system on and off with many other runners on my own site
and the NRC, its refreshing to see a new approach. But my first impression is that
The Running Clinic algorithm has too much weighting on the stack height (heel) and
comfort (which is subjective as noted). Anything that is subjective should be
weighted less in my opinion.
Stack height (heel) is not a major factor for midfoot and forefoot strikers. This should
only come into play if it changes your running gait. Stack height on the midfoot and
forefoot area might be more precise but here, were also subjective as some runners
like firm outsole and some like cushioning. So height is not necessarily correct.
In any case, I took your formula through two shoes that are on the top of my list as
the best minimal shoes to date: Adidas Adipure Gazelle and Skechers GObionic.
Your scores for these two are 75% and 82% respectively.
Another factor is running terrain. Thinking more, a road shoe versus a trail shoe
needs some way of distinguishing as minimalism does not always mean less
protection? Is a minimal trail shoe with a rock plate rated the same as a traditional
trail shoe with higher stack height but no rock plate? Firmness of the sole is another
thing that we can (one day) integrate to the formula. But at that point it become very
complicated for consumers, retailers, health professionals, and coaches.
Yes, having the definition/classification coming from a non-footwear manufacturer is
best but only if they all agree to use it.
The variable that seems to have the most effect on running form is the drop, with
flexibility being the second most important. Ive seen many runners who run midfoot
when barefoot, but switch back to a heelstrike once they put back on traditional
running shoes. There are even some runners who run heel first when barefoot, but
they have all come out of traditional shoes. On the other hand, there are some
people who will run with a midfoot landing when in a traditional shoe. In my
experience none of the runners in this group switch to a heelstrike when running
All traditional shoes are relatively inflexible, some more than others, and this
characteristic does not allow the foot to work naturally as the first absorber of shock
nor can it function as a responsive and adaptable base. Weight influences form less,
economy more. The stack is important because a thicker shoe will be less stable
and reduce afferent feedback.
If you look at someone who is barefoot standing next to someone wearing a
traditional shoe, its remarkable how unnatural and bulky the shoes look. Even
lighter weight traditional shoes tend to overwhelm and control the movement of the
foot. There are certainly problems associated with running barefoot, but theyre not
related to biomechanical issues. Because of terrain, the surfaces on which you run
and climate, a minimal shoe, such as the Merrell Road Glove, New Balance
Minimus Road 00, Terra Plana Evo, or the (new) Newton MV2 should be sufficient
and preferable for almost all runners.
To me the underlying goal of minimal footwear should be to allow the body to move
with the least restriction from the most neutral/natural body position. So, a shoe with
a heel drop automatically puts the body in an unnatural position and a stiff shoe, or
any shoe that doesnt allow the total range of motion needed to run without shoes,
would not be a minimal shoe. There would be gradations for heel drop and
stiffness/flexibility. A 12mm drop is worse than an 8mm, but the goal would always
be 0mm. A shoe as stiff as the Beast is worse than the Adrenaline, but neither allow
the range of movement necessary to move in a biomechanically natural
way. Transition shoes are just that, transitions on the way to a preferable outcome.
I think many of these factors inter-relate. For example, drop will have different effects
in a soft vs. firm shoe, and in people with different foot strikes. For me, drop, stack
height, cushion firmness, flexibility, fit, and weight are all important, but its the
specific combination that matters in a given shoe. Im not a huge fan of trying to
quantify shoes with a single number; instead, just get the shoe companies to provide
all of the info on stack height, drop, durometer in a consistent manner and Id be
happy. So much of it is subjective and based on the individual.
Complimenting Your Foot With The Right Shoe
The Foots Function Can Be
Complemented With The Right
Running or Walking Shoe
Recently, Dr Mark Cucuzzella (www.thenaturalrunningcentre.com) wrote about the
need to properly assess your own foot size when buying running shoes. And judging
by the number of emails I continue to get from readers on this topic, I feel its
important to address these concerns once again.
First, abandon the notion that you have a shoe size. Instead you have a foot size.
Wearing an ill-fitting shoe offsets the benefits of going to a minimalist shoe.
A proper fit accounts for the natural expansion of the foot upon ground contact.
Excess waste is eliminated, along with everything that inhibits your foots natural
motion. So your foot is free to move and work the way nature intended it to. Call it
When I look at what is an ideal shoe, I base it on what is ideal to complement natural
foot function. Lets start with the hypothesis that the foot is designed to work on its
own without the need of modern bracing, cushioning, and motion- control
technology. One may deviate some from this to compensate for a specific structure
or foot-strength issue. The goal is progressive rehabilitation toward the ideal and
getting the walker or runner in the least amount of shoe that is safe for them while
they work on the functional corrections. To me this is the definition of minimalism.
So what are the four simple features of an ideal shoe:
1. Level Heel to Toe (zero-drop) and close to the ground. Our arches are designed
to be supported at the ends, and that means heel, ball, and toes in level and
balanced contact. This facilitates stability and balance in midstance. A shoe should
not have toe-spring either. This upward curving of the shoe places toes in extension
and contributes to extension deformities (hammer toes). Level shoes also
complement a proper posture.
2. Flexible Last. Your foot naturally bends in all directions as should your shoe. Most
shoes are stiff in the middle and stiff where your toes bend at the ball of the foot
3. Wide Toe Box. When the big toe is compressed to be out of alignment the front end
of the arch does not work. The big toe is not allowed to aid in balance, stability, and
4. Not too soft or too thick. The thinner and firmer the shoe the more ground feel
(proprioception) you have. The increased ground feel allows your body to adjust to
the forces of running in a more efficient way and is optimal for learning natural
running form and technique. Without a firm message to the nervous system our body
does not know which muscles to use, how hard to turn them on, and how long to
keep them on for. To get a clear message in thick/soft shoes we are forced to strike
the ground harder and drive the foot onto a firm surface to give us the feedback we
Bottom line here: You need to let your feet come and splay. Obviously, given a
lifelong addition to poor-fitting shoes and designs, an addiction that is not necessarily
the fault of the consumer but is the result of media and market manipulation, many
runners and walkers arent always ready to go straight to minimalism.
At our Edinburgh store, Footworks, we see many customers who have a structural,
strength, or mobility issue that does not allow the ideal foot function.So we give them
specific corrections with exercises they can do all day. If they have the hallux valgus
deformity we suggest they use Correct Toes. Metatarsal pads are useful for toes
held high in extension as the client works on getting toes down on the floor through
the toe-yoga exercises.
Does this mean they cannot get into a minimalist shoe? Absolutely not. Walking
and running are two different activities with very different forces. Running has 2.5
times your body weight 1200 steps a mile while balanced on one foot. Walking
involves at most 1.1 times your body weight balanced on both feet. This is why it is
rare to see a walking injury.
If a runner is strong in single leg stance, has anatomically correct foot, nice flexible
heel cords, and a good gait already, he or she is ready to roll pretty quick and does
not need much transition to minimalism.
For almost of us, get in a flat shoe all day for walking and standing. Wear the
thinnest and most flexible shoe you can to aid in foot retraining.
Should We Be Running on Pillows Like Hoka One One
by Jim Hixson.
Most runners have been taught that softness and cushioning are positive
characteristics when looking to buy a new pair of running shoes. Each year, running
companies spend millions of dollars, euros, and yen in an attempt to create shoes
that have a comfortable step-in feel when customers first put them on their
feet. When customers describe a certain model of shoe as making them feel like
they have pillows on their feet, a shoe company knows that it probably has made a
very popular shoe.
Was it always this way? Lets travel back in time several decades.
In a land not so far away, Mizuno used thin and inexpensive insoles in the
manufacture of their running shoes, so as to maximize the connection between the
runners foot and the ground. This policy made good sense for runners who wanted
responsiveness and less loss of energy. During the same time, in the same land,
other companies had begun to use cushioned insoles and customers were reacting
quite positively. They often exclaimed that they felt as if they were walking on
clouds, and in fact one company even named some of their shoes after some of
these well-known airy entities.
One day a Mizuno footwear sales rep visited my running shoe store in St.Louis. He
was showing the new models to us and he tearfully revealed a company
secret. With a trembling voice he told us that Mizuno was finally giving in to peer
pressure and would now also use extra-cushioned insoles in all their more popular
models. Their reasoning was simple and based purely on economic
reality. Although they truly believed that Mizuno shoes were actually better than
those of other brands, they also knew that the first experience a potential customer
has with a new pair of shoes is critically important in determining which shoe will
eventually be purchased. Mizuno had been losing customers because their insoles
made their shoes feel firmer than those of other brands. By providing customers
with a more comfortable initial feel, Mizuno would be able to recapture lost market
share. They made the change and their market share increased.
Although Mizunos strategy worked, soft shoes are not especially good for
running. It could even be argued that overly cushioned shoes have allowed millions
of runners to develop poor form, because the information necessary to notice
biomechanical errors that can lead to common injuries are not interpreted correctly
by sensory receptors in the feet and throughout the body.
Yet, the main goal of shoe manufacturers should be to develop and sell shoes that
encourage health and reduce the chance of injuries, but these arent the goals for
most companies. For every pair of Vivo Barefoot, Merrell Barefoot, Altra, Skora or
VFF shoes that are sold, probably one thousand comfortable shoes by the big
brands make their way onto the feet of runners.
| .............................................................The Hoka is a "maximalist" running shoe|
But as the evidence supporting, er, non-supportive shoes with less cushioning
rapidly accumulates, forcing even most mainstream companies to offer more minimal
(or less maximal) models, one company boldly stand defiant and doubles down:
Hoka. This French company, named after the Maori words: Now is the time to fly,
recognizes that they are moving against the grain. On their website they write:
While much of the early focus of this new era of shoe design has been around
minimalism and less cushioning, Hoka One One has pursued innovation in an
entirely different direction.
Hoka One Ones maximally cushioned midsoles offer superior protection, comfort
and propulsion. The distinctive rockered geometry creates a platform for optimally
efficient natural running mechanics. The oversized outsoles which have fifty
percent more surface area than the typical running shoes allow for maximum
stability, traction and connection to the ground.
Call me a skeptic but I tend to question Hokas claim that their shoes allow your feet
to move freely and naturally. They also state that:
The foam in the midsoles of Hoka shoes is 30 percent softer than the material used
in traditional running shoes, and there is 2.5 times more midsole volume than in most
running shoes. The extra cushioning dissipates up to 80 percent of the shock
associated with heel-striking when running and allows for as much as 20mm of
compression in the heel.
These numbers strike me as a bit off. Their typical shoe has a stack height of 35mm
in the heel and 29mm in the forefoot. If youve seen or tried on a pair, those figures
appear to be equivalent to approximately 18 in the rear and 16 in the front. Hokas
are very big shoes, although relatively light.
I did try on a pair of Hokas at the Boulder Running Company last year, but only
because I needed a couple inches of growth in order to experience the feeling of
being 6 in height. The shoes certainly did not make me want to compare them to a
Porsche 911, which Hoka does on their website, but I was able to do the Moon
Walk, almost as if I was a combination of Neil Armstrong and Michael Jackson.
The one group of runners that seems to rave about Hoka shoes are ultra
marathoners.Specifically they note that they have less muscle fatigue, almost no
negative sensation with the ground, and the ability to maintain form after the point
where they would already be tired running in other shoes. I believe these claims are
partially true, but are dependent upon the nature of ultra marathons themselves. For
example, it is unlikely that ultra marathons are actually physically beneficial for any
runners, elite or (sometimes) pedestrian, because the combination of the distances
run and the time on the feet is actually beyond the natural capacity of humans.
Over the course of many hours it is certainly possible that a shoe with an extremely
forgiving midsole will, at a certain point, reduce the negative effects of impact, but
the distance covered is already too far. After running for many miles a runner
wearing the Hoka might be able to maintain form, but the manufacturers actually
assume that humans run naturally by contacting the heel first. Only the softest
pillows will prevent heel pain from impact in the 50-100 miles range!
The components of the Hoka midsoles touch on another problem associated with
modern cushioned shoes: EVA, or ethyl vinyl acetate. This substance truly has
many positive qualities, including light weight, softness, flexibility, and resistance to
low temperatures, but used in the midsoles of running shoes it does not transmit
information well from the surface to the sole of the foot. EVA also deforms
dramatically over time, and since the pressure is not uniform, neither is
deformation. The softness of the material is actually a liability, not an
advantage. Incidentally, other names for EVA are expanded rubber and foam
Running should be enjoyable, but it should be experienced as fully as
possible. Most companies want to make running seem easy and comfortable, so
they provide customers with cushioned and stable shoes to create a sense of
comfort and security, but these advantages are illusory. Despite the research and
development that has been invested in improving running shoes, the original design
of the modern PCECH (pronation control elevated cushioned heel) shoe is inherently
flawed. Its as if you developed a car with square wheels and tried to improve shock
absorption by making better shock absorbers.
Although a transition to minimal shoes requires some time, these shoes will actually
provide more comfort, because the foot will be able to receive more sensory
information while being protected from sharp objects, rough surfaces, and extreme
weather conditions. The flexibility of minimal shoes will allow the foot to move
without restriction and become stronger and more balanced by developing internal
stability. The zero-drop from heel to toe will place the body in its natural and optimal
anatomical position. Other essential characteristics of good running shoes
include: ample room in the toebox, few overlays, lightweight material, and no added
stability. These should be the characteristics of comfortable shoes.
The only time you should need pillows is when you are sleeping. Not running
You Dont Have to Run in Pain
You Dont Have to Run in Pain: Second Installment of Voice from the Running Shoe Store Floor
An early adopter of minimalism, Jim Hixson was the former general manager of an independent running retail store in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to currently being a running retail store consultant, Jim now writes a regular column for the Natural Running Center called Voice From the Running Shoe Store Floor. NRC
by Jim Hixson
Not too long ago, I helped a customer who appeared to be in dire straits. My first impression of Melissa, (not her real name), was that something had gone seriously wrong in her life. She was unhappy and almost cried with frustration as she told me her recent medical history. For the past year she had been plagued with plantar fasciitis in both feet, Achilles tendinitis in the left, and a stress fracture in the right. Both feet had been in casts for six weeks and she had only recently begun to walk without the assistance of a cane. Although she was only in her mid-30s and still relatively fit, she seemed worn out by her ailments. She asked me if I could heal the lame. I told her she might be in the wrong building, but I would try. First I needed to know if any of the commonly prescribed remedies had worked.
Well, Ive tried everything, she said. Ice, anti-inflammatory drugs, the Strassburg Sock, orthotics. I guess I just need more support for my feet.
Or less support, I replied.
She shot me a look of complete surprise. Well, I know that I pronate, so my feet must need more control.
Or less support, I again replied. I can be stubborn at times, as my wife always keeps reminding me.
What do you mean? Can you explain further? asked Melissa.
Before I answered her, I had one of those vivid flashbacks. I remembered one of my first encounters with a podiatrist by the name of Dr. Radelman (his real name). After suffering from plantar fasciitis for several months and trying the same steps Melissa had tried to alleviate this insidious condition, it had seemed time to turn to a trained medical professional. As expected, I was hoping for that sudden cure. Heres what the doctor said to me:
The nurse tells me you have a serious case of plantar fasciitis. She also told me that you were a runner.
Yes, thats true, I replied. It just never seems to go away. The plantar fasciitis, I mean.
Perhaps you should think about giving up running, he said.
I cant do that.
The doctor seemed like a stubborn fellow as well. You would be following sound medical advice if you did. After plantar fasciitis there will come knee deterioration, hip problems, and then back pain. You will end up crippled for life.
I silently thought of that passage from Ecclesiastes that begins For the lot of mortals and the lot of beasts is the same lot: The one dies as well as the other. I was almost at a loss for words.
So what do I have to do to get better, if I want to continue to run?
You must wear a stability shoe, a custom orthotic, and never go barefoot.
And how long do I need to follow this program which, incidentally, will change my lifestyle?
The doctor paused, before saying, As long as you run. He said this with a self-satisfied grin, like a judge handing down a life sentence without the possibility of parole. I got the feeling that he thought all runners were outlaws who needed punishing.
As I left his office it was clear that I needed to chart my own path and listen to my own body instead of someone with a podiatry school diploma hanging on his wall. Furthermore, I realized how odd it was that so many runners, including me, were being told by so called medical experts that they could not support their bodies on their own feet.
I thus began my own search for answers. The first stop in my search for personal enlightenment was the running shoe store where I worked at the time. The owner had suffered from many foot and leg injuries during his athletic career. I asked him what he would do in my situation.
Have you had a steroid injection? he asked.
No, I replied. I did a little research and found that steroid injections in the plantar fascia can lead to atrophy of fatty tissue and rupture of the tendon itself.
He seem unconcerned: Steroids work. Or why dont you just have the fascia surgically released? I preferred not to have my anatomy altered permanently so I changed the topic and mentioned that a new shoe shipment that had just arrived.
Next I serially asked some older runners who regularly came in the store for advice. These were guys who had been racing for over 30 years. How I could alleviate my pain? I demanded to know. They all told me that plantar fasciitis was just part of being a runner. It was suggested that I take as much Advil as possible. Or make pain my friend.
At that point I concluded that my circle of friends and acquaintances was too small for me to acquire accurate information about the subject. I had no choice but to look on the Internet. This was 2003, so there werent many sites devoted to the subject of biomechanics of running. (Although today I can type this phrase into a Google search and find hundreds of articles.) Fortunately there were two very good articles then available: Why Shoes Make Normal Gait Impossible , by William A. Rossi, and Take off Your Shoes and Walk, by Simon J. Wikler, both progressive podiatrists. Some years later there would be two more excellent articles to complete the four pillars of the gospel of healthy and strong feet: You Walk Wrong by Adam Sternbergh, a features writer for New York magazine, and Athletic Footwear and Running Injuries, by Joseph Froncioni, an orthopedic surgeon. What hidden knowledge did these authors reveal?
The main secret, which shouldnt have been a secret, is that there is no such thing as a neutral shoe, one that does not interfere with the natural movement of the foot. In the world of running shoe companies, neutral means a non-corrective shoe, as opposed to a stability or motion control shoe, but shoes from all three of these categories significantly change the way one naturally moves. These changes lead to the weakening of the foot and lower leg muscles, muscular imbalance, and inefficient biomechanics. The unnatural gait that follows can lead to an increase in injuries and abbreviated running careers. The shoes that dont force these changes were the ones I should have been wearing. These shoes have a low drop from heel to toe (a zero drop is even better), a flexible sole, and are lightweight.
There werent many alternative shoes at that time, but the Nike Free had just made its way to the market after a long period of incubation in the Nike Sport Research Lab, and through my research I had become fascinated with these shoes before I had even seen a photograph. When I put the first pair on my feet there was an odd sensation, as if I was wearing slippers. I wore them at the store for eight hours the first day and when I left for home my feet werent at all sore, but they were very tired. All the muscles that should have been used for stability and balance had been prevented from accomplishing these tasks by the nature of rigid shoes with high heels and they had now been released. Over the next few weeks I could feel my feet become significantly stronger and more flexible. The pain of plantar fasciitis diminished rapidly until it was gone. I was cured.
As my feet became stronger, I felt more balanced and my running became enjoyable again. At first I kept my experiences to myself, perhaps worried that some malevolent spirit would become aware of my good fortune and introduce another plague into my running life. Slowly I began suggesting the Nike Free to customers who were suffering from plantar fasciitis and other ailments of the foot and lower leg. Later other minimal shoes like the Saucony Kinvara, New Balance Minimus, and Brooks Pure Series shoes expanded the selection and Newton Running offered another alternative. I had become convinced that freedom of movement was the key to avoiding many running injuries and encouraging better form. Most of the cases that had walked in the door had been relatively simple, and the results had been almost uniformly positive.
Now here was Melissa whose sense of desperation encouraged me to consider desperate measures. She continued to listen to me carefully as I explained how immobilizing her feet would not lead to any permanent alleviation of her pain. Beginning with her feet, she needed to be able to move through a full range of motion to recover the strength and flexibility necessary for her to function naturally. After we discussed different options she decided to purchase a pair of Nike Frees and a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Sprints. As always I gave a thorough explanation of the necessity of a transition period that could take weeks, if not months, and what sensations she might expect.
Three days later, I received an email from her thanking me. To her relief and astonishment, the pain in her feet had vanished. She mentioned that her calves were quite sore, but otherwise she felt great. Incidentally, she added that her soreness had not been caused by walking, but by running six miles through the streets of St. Louis! I asked her about the transition phase of her recovery. She replied that even on the first day she wore her new shoes she had to try a short jog. The jog had felt so liberating that it quickly evolved into a run. She was convinced that her calves would feel better in a few days.
Three weeks went by. Shewalked into the store wearing the VFF Sprints and bought another pair of Frees. She seemed a different person, smiling, happy and ready to resume an interrupted life. Despite her experience I still recommend a transition period!
Anecdotal reports from the many runners, like Melissas, who have made the transition to minimal shoes, have been overwhelmingly positive. If the runner has suffered from patellar tendinitis, shin splints, or IT band syndrome, the pain always diminishes or is eliminated when the runner switches to a minimal shoe and a midfoot strike. These customers might have difficulty selecting a specific shoe, but they soon have no interest in wearing the traditional shoes that have dominated the running market for so long. When I ask them if they ever rotate their new minimal shoes with their old pair of over-supportive running shoes, they look at me a bit oddly and say, Why would I ever do that?
The Transition Shoe for Minimalist / Natural Runners
The Transition Shoe for Minimalist
and Natural Runners
As we enter or transition into natural running, it often means aligning
our personal goals with training and racing in the coming months. So now is also a
good time to summarize some of the basics about transitioning to minimalism,
especially for those new to natural running and who what to find out more about why
less shoe is better.
Making the transition to minimalist running shoes is different for everyone. There isnt
a set formula that can be applied to all situations. The most important question to ask
is whether your body is prepared to set your goal as running in a barefoot-style or
minimalist shoe rather than a set amount of mileage per week.
If you as a runner are strong and well-balanced in a single leg stance, have an
anatomically correct foot, nice flexible heel cords, and a good gait, then you are
ready to roll pretty quick and do not need much transition. The opposite is true for
someone who fails all these parameters. You might need lots of supplemental work
and need to get in a flat shoe all day.
Walking barefoot and in thin and flat street shoes is very helpful for the running
A transition over a week or two is possible if one already has strong feet, is
committed to form training and understanding structural issues, and is able to ease
in with slow running and body awareness. The only way to really learn good form is
to chuck the traditional shoes and do some running and drills in bare feet. There are
lots of common sense gradual progressions but no clear science. Here are a few
· Add a mile every day or two until you are doing all running in minimalist shoes
· Add 5 minutes every day or two in minimalist shoes
· Add 10% a week in minimalist shoes
Now lets look at what is meant by a transition shoe. In the following FAQ, I have
provided a brief guide to help runners.
Which shoe should I start off with?
A Transition Shoe is the ideal shoe for most runners taking their first step towards
natural running. It has a lower heel to toe drop and less cushioning than a traditional
Ive started the transition but now my calves and feet ache. What have I done
This is a symptom of doing too much, too hard, too soon. Like any training effect, the
load on the structures cannot exceed our capacity to adapt. In more minimalist shoes
your feet, calves and Achilles tendon must work harder to control the landing, which
requires stronger muscles and more flexible tendons. Alternate your previous
traditional shoes for some of your training and adopt a more cautious approach. (see
intro at top).
What can I do to alleviate sore calves and feet?
As with all training, some soreness is normal so allow sufficient recovery. A program
of stretching and strengthening for your feet and calves will help also. Foam rolling
and Trigger Point Therapy can help align and restructure the fascia collagen of these
tissues and it highly effective.
Should I change my running form if I am not hurt?
Well it depends. Have an expert assess your gait. If you are running injury free in a
nice forefoot/midfoot landing there is no need to change anything. My opinion is if
you are loading heavily into the knee and hip joints in an overstride pattern then you
should fix this, even if it does not hurt now. Remember joints do not feel pain until
there is significant degeneration, and then it is too late. Muscles and tendons feel
discomfort immediately. So trade a little short term discomfort as you transition for a
lifetime of pain free running.
Should everyone aim for the most minimal shoe?
No, the goal for all is to run pain free and with enjoyment. Everyone is different and
very few runners will be able to make the full transition for all their running and even
fewer are strong enough or desire to run barefoot. We suggest a gradual reduction in
the cushioning and drop of your shoes until you are at your individual goal; be it
more enjoyable running, better performance, or for some experiencing the joy of
Does becoming a natural runner mean relearning how to run?
For some yes and we have assisted countless runners in being reborn to run. Your
current running style is deeply embedded within your muscle memory. Short barefoot
sessions allow you to concentrate on your form and are safe. The trick is maintaining
your new running form when in shoes and fatigued. A metronome will cue you. A
lengthy transition period seems to be common with many runners. I am still getting
stronger and have been in minimal and flat shoes for 10 years now.
Ive been recommended supportive, motion control shoes. Can I still try
There is little to no evidence on why over the last 30 years a process for selling
supportive, heavily cushioned running shoes has developed. Injury rates amongst
runners are unchanged. We believe that the majority of runners can make a gradual
transition into more minimal shoes by strengthening the chasis and adopting a
natural running style and avoiding overstriding. The work of Jay Dicharry, Irene
Davis, and Dan Lieberman are giving us the research base to support our way of
Will arch supports or orthotics work with minimalist footwear?
Yes. A minority of runners have such a serious structural flaws that they require
correction by custom rigid orthotics forever. Many gradually wean off the support
mechanisms as the feet become healthier and stronger. Seek advice from a trained
running specialist for an assessment.
How long will it take to become a natural runner?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that permanently changing your running style takes at
least 12 months. In as little as 30 days you begin to rewire the movement patterns by
using minimalist shoes and focusing on form. The more focus and effort you put into
the transition, the smoother and safer it will be.
Do minimalist shoes help me run more naturally?
Overly cushioned and supportive shoes change the way their feet feel the ground
and allow you overstride. Minimalist running shoes provide less protection and more
feedback, but one can still overstride in a minimal shoe. Some true barefoot running
allows your feet to coach you, then put the thinner and firmer shoes back on.
Why cant I just start running in minimalist shoes all the time?
If you suddenly change from cushioned footwear to minimalist footwear you are likely
to get injured due to the new stresses on your body. Developing a more natural
running style requires a gradual transition to increasingly minimalist shoes.
Any brands or models that youd recommend as a Transition Shoe?
Most of the main manufacturers are now introducing a few minimalist shoes to their
range. Brands such as Brooks and Asics have completely rebranded their minimalist
ranges with a new name Brooks Pureproject and Asics Natural Running 33 series.
This makes some folk wary of the minimalist models and shy away from them but for
us at Footworks/Barefootworks it gives more clarity to the ever expanding market.
We carry, instore, a selection of minimalist / barefoot style footwear that covers
virtually every base. Brands such as Vivobarefoot, Vibram fivefingers, Altra
Zerodrop, Sockwa, Xero, Luna Sandals, Inov8, Merrell, Pearl Izumi and then we
have all the mainstream brands such as Brooks, Saucony, Nike, Asics and more.
With this kind of array and a system of 4 cameras we can help you to the right
decision when ready to transition or if you just want to see where you are in the shoe
market. We also carry a full range of conventional shoes that let you carry on
running as you have done before thinking about the point at which to go NATURAL.