Advantages and Disadvantages of Minimalist Running Shoes

Minimalist Running Shoes

Minimalist running shoes are having quite the moment right now, with new brands entering the market each year. The main idea of minimalism is for a runner’s footwear to help mimic barefoot running as best as possible, providing a wide toe box and low heel to toe drop. These shoes are often lightweight and highly responsive. But, are they truly better than traditional running shoes? Listed below are the advantages and disadvantages of the most popular running shoe trend.

Proponents of minimalist running shoes argue that the advantages of barefoot mimicking shoes far outweigh any potential disadvantages. From improved form, muscle strengthening, and body awareness, the advantages make these shoes appear very tempting.

Strengthens feet, Achilles, and calves
When a foot is placed in a traditional running shoe with a lot of support, cushioning, and a high heel to toe drop, the foot is not able to move as naturally as when barefoot, which can cause atrophy of certain muscle groups. Minimalism running shoes promote a midfoot strike which helps to strengthen feet, Achilles tendon, and calves. Flexibility among the ankle and foot also improves.

Provides greater awareness of feet
When your foot moves more naturally you are better aware of how you use your feet when running. The absence of motion control helps you understand exactly how your body functions, which can lead to a better awareness of your body for improved performance.

Improves Posture
A low heel to toe drop is most natural because it mimics the way humans stand when barefoot. Traditional running shoes place the heel above the foot which can lead to problems with lower back or hip alignment.

May reduce injury risk
When runners improve their posture and also strengthen weak areas such as feet, calves, and Achilles they are theoretically less likely to become injured.

Improves uphill running
When running uphill a runner should be leaning slightly forward and landing on his or her toes. Minimalist running shoes naturally place the body in this position which can improve hill running performance. Additionally, minimalism helps strengthen the muscles that are required for effective hill running, which improves power and stability.

Expend less energy

Minimalism running shoes weigh less and promote a more natural foot strike which ultimately leads to better efficiency due to the decreased expenditure of unnecessary energy.

Despite the numerous proposed advantages of the minimalism movement there are also plenty of potential disadvantages for their wear which should be considered as well.

Requires time to adjust
While running barefoot is arguably how humans were born to the run the reality is that not everyone will naturally be able to fit the mold of the barefoot runner. People who are trying minimalist running shoes for the first time may find they feel unnatural and will need a period of adjustment before being able to wear these shoes exclusively. While minimalist shoes do strengthen numerous muscle groups, runners who are seeking to switch to minimalist footwear should be aware that feet, calves, and Achilles will be sore during the adjustment period and a reduced running load is recommended.

May increase injury risk
For runners with certain biomechanical issues or muscle imbalances, switching to minimalist running shoes may actually increase the risk of injury, especially if the runner does not respect the amount of time that is required for adjusting to the new shoes. The risk of developing metatarsal stress fractures and tendonitis increases among first time minimalist wearers, especially if foot and calf muscles are already weak. Although few studies have been performed, recent research has suggested that the minimalism shoe trend also has led to an increased risk of developing bone marrow edema in the feet, which is similar to a bruise.

May not be good for beginners
With all the stresses that a beginning runner places on his or her body when starting a new running regime, the additional stress to lower leg muscles should be avoided. Although there are experts that will argue or defend this point passionately, the truth of the matter is that minimalist shoes require a degree of strength, flexibility, and body awareness that a beginning runner may not possess. The best option for a newbie who is interested in minimalism is to purchase a minimalist running shoe and traditional shoe model and gradually increase the amount of running done in the minimalist running shoe.

Not likely to be a miracle cure
Runners should be aware that while the minimalism movement has been touted to help runners overcome injuries, run faster times, and improve their running efficiency, these claims are not proven. While these statements may hold true for some individual runners, no one should expect that a simple change in footwear will drastically improve running ability. In fact, a recent class action lawsuit resulted in Vibram USA having to pay out millions of dollars for their unsupported claims.

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