Slightly more advanced than the main image, a minimal running shoe, as the name suggests, is a minimal version of a training shoe. Comprising less weight, cushioning, support and stability, minimal running shoes are designed to give you more freedom, proprioceptive feedback and a more natural feel during your run. With the “Barefoot vs Shod running” debate ongoing in the running community, some minimalist shoes are a sensible middle ground; they are marketed to give you a more natural feel during running to allow your muscles to naturally strengthen whilst still providing your body with some of the cushioning and stability it is used to.
There are several key differences to note between a traditional training shoe and a minimalist shoe that can affect how you run and the risks you expose your body to. Traditional training shoes tend to use a drop from heel to toe of 12mm; this regulates the transition from heel to toe during running as the majority of the Western population are heel strikers. A minimalist shoe on the other hand uses a lower profiling. This ranges from 8mm down to 0mm, where the shoe is completely flat from heel to toe. This encourages the runner to land more towards the front of the shoe, promoting a midfoot strike which some believe to be a more efficient form of running. The NB minimus for example has a removable 4mm insole which then results in a 0mm profiling; this allows the runner to gradually train their body into a lower profiling.
Minimus shoes from different brands vary regarding the amount of cushioning available. The Brooks Pure Flow for example offers the same amount of DNA cushioning as their neutral training shoe the Ghost. This makes it an excellent choice for those considering adapting their training to be more towards barefoot. Although the minimalism of other aspects of the Pure Flow allow your foot to move more freely, the high level of cushioning provides a familiar feel. There are other minimal shoes available that provide less cushioning such as the with the intention of providing you with more proprioceptive feedback. It has been suggested that your body can use this feedback to adapt how it functions during running and strengthen particular muscular structures for a more efficient gait. If you are seeking a shoe that provides a more barefoot run sensation, the Inov8 F-llite 192 has a 0mm drop and noticeably less padding.
Minimal running shoes are generally less stable than traditional training shoes as they are designed to move with the foot not against it, as is the case with many training shoes offering medial support. When we run, our feet naturally go through the motions of pronation and supination. Pronation refers to the foot moving inwards and downwards; this allows the body to load the shock caused by impact and disperse it through the foot. Supination refers to the foot moving upwards and outwards; this enables the foot to regain a neutral position before pushing off the ground, providing an effective propulsion force. The majority of runners over pronate which then affects how well the foot supinates and can lead to many common injuries such as shin splints, knee pain and lower back pain. There are a huge range of training shoes with varying levels of medial support to reduce the amount of pronation and minimise excessive forces acting on the body. Minimal shoes have taken a step away from this with the intention of allowing the feet to move more freely and the majority of them do not provide any medial support.
The Brooks Pure Cadence however does comprise a small amount of medial support in the form of their diagonal roll bar which is also present in all of Brook’s supportive training shoes, including their high-end motion control shoe, the Beast. In a similar respect to the Pure Flow, this makes the Pure Cadence a happy medium to ease your body towards minimalist or barefoot running.
Similarly, there is very little torsional stability in minimalist shoes. They are designed to be as lightweight and low volume as possible to help the runner move quicker and more efficiently. The increased torsional flexibility however does mean that there are more forces acting upon the feet which can potentially pose extra stress on muscular structures and joints which in turn, can contribute towards injury.
Due to the make up of minimalist shoes, as previously mentioned, the flatness of them will encourage the foot to land more towards the midfoot. The difference in gait compare to a training shoe results in certain parts of the body being worked slightly differently; depending on how our feet strike the ground will determine where impact is loaded, how the ankles, knees and hips function and also which muscles in the legs and feet will be put under the most stress. By spending more time towards the front half of the foot, the achilles and calf muscles in particular are put under extra stress. On the other hand, heel striking results in more force being applied to the knees.
Without delving too deeply into the barefoot vs shod debate, there are advantages and disadvantages to training in a minimalist shoe. The argument that running barefoot is more natural and allows your body to strengthen itself and respond to the stress applied by becoming more efficient may be so, but in a Western culture, our bodies have evolved and the majority of runners tend to find a supportive training shoe is the most beneficial option. This is what makes minimalist shoes a good investment: they contain the essential elements of a high quality training running shoe whilst giving you a better feel from your run and more feedback so that you can adapt to become more efficient in your own form.
Minimalist shoes in a nutshell are just that: less volume, weight, stability, support and cushioning. We offer a wide range of minimalist shoes in store to cater from complete minimalism (barefoot shoes) to a familiar in between; whether you are making that first transition from supportive training shoes to barefoot running or are after a pair to use consistently alongside your normal training shoes as a means of naturally strengthening the structures within the feet. As with any footwear, we recommend a biomechanical assessment prior to purchasing a pair of minimalist shoes and it is always a good idea to consider the weaker parts of your body and any previous or recurring injuries as this will help dictate what styles are more suitable for your biomechanics.