Four Minimalist Shoe Myths

Correcting common misconceptions about minimalist shoes

Some would have you believe minamalist shoes are...magic

The running world has become utterly fixated with the minimalist movement. Manufacturers boast the benefits of their latest thinnest, lightest shoes, hinting at faster finish times and better form. The market for minimalist has exploded over the past few years, and now includes models with vastly different designs, features and construction. The differences between shoes in this category, along with the zealous enthusiasm some runners have for the ethos of minimal shoes, can make it difficult to decipher what is myth, what is truth, and what is just marketing. Here are some common misconceptions to watch out for.

Improved Performance
Shoe manufacturers would lead you to believe that minimalism, in and of itself, creates better runners. While it is true that certain people are naturally better-suited to lighter and less-cushioned shoes, a sweeping statement like this is inherently false. As with any physical endeavor, performance improvement while running in minimalist shoes comes with time and effort. Runners transitioning from traditional shoes to minimalist models will need to begin slowly, reduce mileage, and be sure to allow their legs to adjust to the change in footwear. If a runner is able to concentrate on his form, reducing unnecessary movement to improve his stride, then it is more than likely that faster times and better workouts will come as a side-effect. A major by-product of cushioned shoes is forgiveness for poor form; heel-striking (landing with the heel first as opposed to the mid-foot or forefoot) in a minimal shoe will cause natural pain and discomfort that a cushioned shoe will mask, forcing the runner to adapt to a more efficient method of landing.

Long-Term Injury
Common beliefs about injuries associated with minimalist running come in two paradoxical forms: one common myth proclaims that minimalist running can cause more injury since shoes are less cushioned, and the other myth asserts that minimalist models can prevent injuries due to their slimmer cushioning profiles. The truth is, it depends on the runner. The American Council on Exercise recently published a study that found barefoot running to be no better at preventing injury than running with shoes. The individual runner, it seems, is the only arbiter of injury recurrence—someone who over-trains, runs through pain (as opposed to muscle soreness), or is simply injury-prone will not find minimalist shoes to allay injury simply due to their design. As is shown with performance myths, the amount of training and proprioception an individual runner possesses is the real key to injury prevention.

Minimalism is for Advanced Runners
There’s a certain apprehension that some beginners exhibit when it comes to minimalism, assuming that only advanced or veteran runners have the strength and conditioning to forgo cushioned shoes. As such, many beginners will shy away from minimalist shoes, looking to begin with more forgiving, motion-control models. Learning to run in cushioned shoes first, however, can cause form and stride problems for those looking to make the switch later on. Beginners can benefit greatly by running in minimalist shoes from Day One. Starting in shoes that don’t forgive form problems can start creating good habits right away, instead of forcing a runner to re-learn their gait and stride after becoming accustomed to running in cushioned models.

There Isn’t Enough Variety in the Minimalist Category
When Nike first introduced the Free Run, it was a revelation in the market. Prior to the Free, running shoes were either cushioned and tailored for daily training, or they were racing flats designed with little to no cushioning for race day. The Free helped to bridge the gap, while incorporating an unconventional sole and sock-like upper as well. Nowadays there are minimalist shoes for almost any runner—some featuring barely-there cushioning while others incorporate the ample support of a trainer, albeit at a slimmer profile and weight. With the latest crop of minimalist shoes, the category has some of the most diverse offerings of all and just about any runner can find a pair of minimalist shoes with the right amount of cushioning and support for their needs.

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