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Is Minimalist Running Good For You?

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Obviously, since the beginning of human existence, people have run with their bare feet. As time went on, a minimum amount of foot covering in the form of moccasins or sandals afforded runners and walkers more comfort and safety. But we are inherently conditioned from birth to walk and run without the aid of footwear. Footwear with arch supports, rigid soles, and cushioned heels are modern inventions created to increase the strength, comfort and life cycle of shoes – but they are not necessities.

There are many benefits in getting rid of the over-supported running shoes with bulky heels. Below we’ve outlined some of the benefits you can get from ditching your supportive kicks. 

Benefits of Barefoot & Minimalist Running 

Lessen Knee Pain 

This one might be a bit counter-intuitive because more padding on feet normally also means less strain on your joints including your knees. However, research has found that running barefoot can lessen impact forces at the knee. The findings suggest that runners with a history of knee pain might get some relief with bouts of barefoot running. In The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers measured knee movement and ground reaction forces when 22 experienced runners ran barefoot and in a neutral cushioned shoe.

Running barefoot decreased peak patellofemoral joint stress by 12% in comparison to shod running” – the researchers wrote. “The reduction in patellofemoral joint stress was a result of reduced patellofemoral joint reaction forces while running barefoot.

Talk with your doctor about switching to a shoe that is more lax on the support if you are experiencing knee pain on a regular basis. Though always make the transition to minimal support shoes slow. Especially if you are switching from a highly padded show. 

Lowers The Impact On Your Body 

Running is all about the stride and also the strike of your foot or in non-runner speak, it’s about the point in your foot that touches the ground first when you strike the ground while running. The lower the heel-to-toe drop, the more the shoe naturally encourages you to land on your midfoot or forefoot rather than your heel. Though no study has definitively proven that heel striking causes runners any more injuries than forefoot or midfoot striking, it is generally considered a higher-impact stride.

Minimalist shoes won’t automatically alter your gait, but they can be a good teaching tool if you want to learn how to run with a midfoot or forefoot strike.

Strengthens Your Feet & Legs 

Supportive and cushioned shoes encourage the wearer to land on the heel of the foot when walking or running, as the shoe absorbs the impact. This alters the natural step and posture and creates a different walking pattern. Watch babies who have just learned how to walk to see the difference!

It also limits our natural movement patterns and causes our muscles and range of motion to atrophy over time. So if you are looking to find more power in your feet and legs in running then trying out a minimalist shoe might be the answer. 

Is Lack of Arch Support An Issue? 

With more and more people with orthotics and ultra-supportive shoes the question of “arch support” usually comes up along with the topic of running shoes. However, this idea that supreme support is the best is no longer the norm. 

The reasoning is that our feet weren’t designed to have as much support as modern shoes provide. Our feet are so supported in most shoes that we don’t have to use the muscles of the feet in the same way. Over time, the muscles weaken which may cause the problem.

As with any muscle, we have to actually use it to strengthen it. Foot pain without arch support may just be a sign of weak foot muscles that need to get stronger. Incorporating more barefoot movement (or wearing barefoot-style shoes) may help strengthen the feet over time.

Switching To Barefoot Running

Although barefoot or minimalist running is a great way to strengthen your feet, it should not be done too quickly. Like any type of exercise, we should start slowly and work up. Running in mini-mattresses of shoes one day and in zero-drop shoes the next is a recipe for disaster. You might want to try taking walks that last longer and longer each day until you feel comfortable in the lack of support. 

The Best Minimalist Running Shoes

Shoe companies are really going to town with lines of light, über-flexible shoes that behave more like bare feet. The cool thing is that if you’re a hardcore runner, you probably don’t have to change brands to find one of these. Expect to see an explosion of new models on store shelves come spring, with companies like Altra and Merrell entering the fray.

Once you’re used to flexing your feet more, you’ll start wearing your running shoes everywhere because of their lightweight and breathability. Check out some of our top picks of minimalist running shoes!

Altra Vanish-R

Altra Minimalist Shoe

True to its name, Altra’s Vanish-R is so light that it gives the sensation of running barefoot (minus the pebbles poking your feet). Altra’s purpose in launching the Vanish-R was to create an honest-to-goodness racing flat that provides a “snappy” feel. With a thin upper that’s like a second skin and a zero-drop outsole that encourages your natural gait, this shoe is for the runner who desires to run as close to shoeless as possible.

Vibram’s KSO EVOs

Vibram was probably the first mainstream brand to popularize minimalist running shoes, and their name remains synonymous with the most extreme models. 

Ever since they first became iconic, they have launched a wide variety of models and makes. Out of all of these, however, the KSO EVOs are one of the top performers. Originally marketed for serious runners, their superb resistant materials offer good value for pretty much everyone – even if you are more of a treadmill guy than an avid trekker. Their ridged rubber soles offer a grip similar to that of rain tires, which will ensure you don’t slip off the yoga mat or the sparring ring.

The extra safety features in the soles are compensated by very breathable materials on top, which keep the shoe light and flexible. It only weighs 4.1 ounces. Also, their thin laces won’t tangle and can be adjusted easily.

Their extreme lightness means that you may need an adjustment period when you first start wearing them, though.

Vivobarefoot’s EVO Pure

Vivobram Minimalist Shoe

The Vivobarefoot EVO Pure is a unique minimalist running shoe that takes on the shape and design of a traditional running shoe. For beginners, this shoe comes with the standard lacing system that traditional running shoes have. However, the performance of the shoe may be considered second to none. The outsole of the shoe is intended to minimize any friction or resistance that typical running shoes are faced with. Partner this with an open toe box and you have a considerable minimalist running shoe.

Merrell’s Bare Access

The Bare Access line by Merrell offers a comfortable compromise between knee-protective cushioning and ballet-worthy lightness. This model combines the classic Vibram sole with a more traditional-looking cover and a hint of cushioning close to your heel. While they won’t provide the full paleo barefoot experience, they will still keep you protected during jumpier workouts. Muay Thai, volleyball matches, or even outdoor sprints won’t leave your joints burning the morning after.

This middle-of-the-way appeal also minimizes the initial adjustment period and makes them ideal for those who are transitioning towards minimalist shoes for the first time.

The Bare Access is made from fully breathable, vegan-friendly mesh. They were clearly made with outdoor roughness in mind. Antimicrobial inner linings will prevent them from stinking even if you take them into the mud, and their reflective stripes are very useful during evening workouts.

New Balance’s Minimus 10v1 Trail

New Balance Minimalist Running Shoe

The Minimus 10 Trail was a trendsetter in the minimal footwear movement when it debuted, and longtime fans of that shoe will be happy to know that it’s back again. After discontinuing the 10v2, New Balance reverted to the original model’s outsole, which features round Vibram rubber pads for increased durability. The upper benefits from a softer treatment; a thin foam layer is sandwiched between two mesh fabrics, while the midfoot band keeps you locked in place.

Have you tried barefoot or minimalist running yet? Let us know your expereinces!

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Spartan Race Training Plan
Our comprehensive training plan provides you with 30-days of exercises right up to race day!
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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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Download Our FREE
Spartan Race Training Plan
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