Thin minimalist running shoes are indeed better than minimalist shoes with thicker cushioning. A study by Ryan et al. (2012) reported that runners who wore cushioned minimalist shoes, such as the Nike Free 5.0, experienced 3 times as many injuries as runners who wore neutral running shoes and 5 times more injuries than runners who wore barefoot running shoes, the Vibram Fivefingers Bikila.
Thin Minimalist Shoes Better Than Thicker Ones
Additionally, all runners in the study were heel strikers and had no experience with barefoot or minimalist running.
Less shoe cushioning, especially under the heel, is correlated with a non-heel strike landing during running. Other work reported that runners who ran barefoot, or in barefoot running shoes for the first time, adopted a forefoot strike landing. However, the authors did not mention whether a forefoot strike landing was adopted in the current study.
Nevertheless, adopting a forefoot strike landing pattern compliments the lower injury rate in the Vibram group. Why?
The Vibram Fivefingers are one of the few running shoes that closely approximates being barefoot whereby barefoot running often encourages a forefoot strike landing to reduce impact peaks and heel pressures.
Unlike the Nike Free’s, Vibrams improve detection of impact components, enabling the central nervous system to reflexively prevent discomfort during running.
In fact, the plantar sensory networks are so complex that physicians stroke the plantar surface to look for evidence of brain damage. Point being, the feet are highly receptive and improvements in biomechanics depends on footwear.
True Barefoot Running Shoes have No Cushioning and No Heel
Though marketed as a ‘minimalist shoe’, the drawback of the Nike Free 5.0 is its cushioning, especially under the heel.
Shoe cushioning causes impact-moderating behavior to fade, resulting in less responsive reflexes and impulsive landings.
The heel-toe differential of the Nike Free 5.0 is also high enough to facilitate heel strike, inflicting more shock on the body since the shoe has less under-heel cushioning than regular running shoes
The Take Home Message
As a cautionary word of advice, heel strikers with no intentions of switching to forefoot running should avoid the Nike Free because they encourage heel strike and lack under-heel protection.
Conversely, runners planning to go minimal are better off going pure minimal, getting as close to the barefoot experience as possible because adequate biomechanical modification depends on clear feedback between your feet and the ground.
More From Run Forefoot:
- Great Minimalist Shoe for Long Distance Running
- Ankle Injury Linked to Running Shoes with Soft Midsoles
- How Heel Strike Running Hurts the Lower Back
- Runners Knee
Kalat, JM. (2007). Biological Psychology, Ninth Edition.
Robbins, SE. and Guow, GJ. (1991). Athletic footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions.
Ryan et al. (2012). Examining the injury risk and pain perception in runners using minimalist footwear.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
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