Three Reasons To Try Minimalist Running Shoes

by GuestPoster on November 5, 2011

The majority of runners, especially recreational runners, wear traditional running shoes which usually have enormous amounts of technology built into them. Most of the advances in the designs of these shoes deal with the provision of padding and shock absorption in the heel sections. This inevitably leads to people heel-striking when they run. They will generally have a longer stride, combined with a slower leg turnover rate – or cadence – and will land heavily on their heels. This can potentially be quite damaging to the knees and hips, and many runners these days are beginning to make the switch to a more sustainable method of running which relies less on the shoes themselves, and more on proper form and technique. This has led very rapidly to the development of minimalist running shoes.

If you make the change to more minimalist style shoes, it is important to work on your technique also, because these shoes have far less cushioning; if you continue to heel strike, you will get injured quickly. So remember to shorten your stride length, increase your cadence (aim for about 180 footfalls per minute), and land closer to your center of mass with a slightly bent leg. And most importantly, try to land on your midfoot rather than your heel.

Once your form is sorted out, getting a pair of minimalist shoes can provide three advantages, which all assist in improving your speed and performance as well as reducing the risk of injury.

Minimalist running shoes are far lighter in weight than most regular shoes, with very little cushioning and light uppers, all of which will allow you to conserve energy while increasing speed.

Another reason to opt for the barefoot-style shoes, as they are sometimes called, is that your feet can feel the ground better, and this sense of proprioception will help you to strengthen the muscles and tendons of your feet, while also allowing you to use elastic recoil to run more efficiently. Normally the thick, deep midsoles of regular shoes will absorb the impact energy, meaning you will have to expend extra energy to push off for the next stride.

Almost all standard running sneakers have a raised heel and there can be a large difference between the height of the heel compared to the midfoot. This will alter your center of balance when you run, and can interfere with your landing when trying to use a midfoot strike rather than a heel strike. So many of the more minimal shoes will have a smaller heel-toe drop, enabling your foot to relax at a more natural angle in the mid-stance. If you already wear racing flats or running spikes for the track, you will have an advantage as these shoes generally have a small heel-toe drop already.

It is critically important that if you are a heel-striker with a built up regular running shoe, that you make the transition to a more natural running style very slowly. Reduce your mileage as if you were just coming back from injury, so just one or two miles to start off with. Build up over three months, and only then consider the running shoe change to something more minimalist. If you go from heel-striking and a 16mm heel-toe drop to a more natural midfoot strike in a zero drop shoe like the Vibram Fivefingers, you can expect to get injuries in your calves and Achilles, and if you are still striking the ground too hard, you can even begin to cause stress fractures in your feet.

So be careful to make the change very gradually, and if you do, you should see fantastic results, running much faster for far longer and feeling fresher afterwards.

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