For decades, running shoe companies have traveled down a path of developing and selling shoes with the latest and greatest technologies. Different shoe models through the years have focused on cushioning, stability, motion control, and other functions that most runners considered desirable, if not downright necessary, or some combination of those features.
But in the last few years, a new running shoe philosophy has also taken hold of the philosophy that less is more.
This has come to be known as the minimalist running philosophy.
In short, those who follow the minimalist running line of thinking will point to the fact that humans have been walking and running for thousands of years, and for all but just the last few decades we’ve been doing it in basic footwear or no footwear at all. Because humans have been walking and running for so long without running shoes, our feet, legs, knees, hips and virtually every other part of our bodies that have to do with forwarding motion are already designed or evolved to work optimally.
The thinking is that by putting our feet into running shoes that protect us, we’re actually doing harm to ourselves in a couple different ways. First, by the shape and height of most running shoe soles, running shoes actually teach us to run improperly. That is, by putting lots of cushioning in the heel, and making the heel higher off the ground than the front of the foot, the shoes encourage us to strike the ground with our heel, with the foot landing far ahead of the body’s center of gravity. Recent studies have shown that heel striking puts a dangerous amount of stress on the joints, even if the strikes are cushioned with running shoes.
Runners who adopt a more minimalist approach to their running shouldn’t expect to maintain their prior work out levels when they switch to a new type of footwear.
In contrast, when people run barefoot, they naturally gravitate towards a stride that has them striking the ground with their midfoot first and having their feet land almost directly under the body’s center of gravity.
As far as form goes, the closer to barefoot, the better.
In fact, some writers do prefer to run a significant portion (or perhaps even all) of their workouts barefooted. Clearly, this will require a period of adjustment as a runner’s body and form adjusts to the new technique. Furthermore, using common sense and listening to one’s own body is essential. If you like to run on gravel paths or roads, then going entirely barefoot isn’t probably the best idea.
Investing in minimalist shoes is a better choice than instantly transitioning to shoeless running.
A related claim in the minimalist running philosophy is that by putting so much cushioning material between the foot and the ground, it becomes virtually impossible to listen to the body’s own feedback about whether the ones running form is efficient and smooth. Besides, traditional running shoes that have many different motion control features are thought to prevent the body from running in the way it naturally wants to.
Most individuals who follow the minimalist running philosophy would not claim that the best or safest course of action is to merely find the simplest, lightest and thinnest pair of running shoes (or just go barefoot) and start running a dozen miles a day because of it’s natural.
We’ve spent practically all of our adult lives in thick and inflexible shoes, so a period of adjustment will be necessary.
Runners who adopt a more minimalist approach to their running shouldn’t expect to maintain their prior work out levels when they switch to a new type of footwear. But with time they may be able to reap the benefits.
>> Further interesting reading: Why I Shifted Toward The Minimalist Philosophy