A proper minimalist running shoe allows the foot to move as freely and naturally as possible, feeling almost as if you were running barefoot. The problem is however, some minimalist running shoes fail to meet the criterion for being an actual minimalist shoe.
Minimalist Running Shoe Criterion:
- no raised heel, very little cushioning, very flexible
- closely approximates feeling barefoot thereby improves biomechanics and foot-ankle strength
- the shoe must not feel soft under your feet. For better ankle stability and adequate knee and hip flexion, avoid softer midsoles.
Minimalist Footwear Are Flat
Proper minimalist footwear have a heel-to-toe differential (a zero drop shoe). With that in mind, below lists footwear marketed as ‘minimalist…’ but are NOT minimalist running shoes because of the elevated heel and excessive cushioning.
The problem with added cushioning in a running shoe is that it limits the amount of proprioception at the feet which may cause inappropriate joint loading, or forceful landings when running. Which brings us to an inevitable question: Can these ‘minimalist’ shoes lead to injury?
Proprioception is fundamental in running as it controls muscle sense, joint stability, postural stability, and movement control.
Blocking proprioception with a cushioned shoe leads to deficits in neuromuscular control and impairs balance capacity during running.
Therefore, the closer you are to the ground and the more you are able to perceive the ground, the better, and safer you will run.
More on the effects of footwear on biomechanics:
- Material Tests for Cushioned Heeled Running Shoes Found to be Flawed
- Thick Heeled Running Shoes Impair Running Form Causing Lower Leg Injury
- The Purpose of the Toe Shoes
- Proper Running Shoes for Forefoot Strike
Co et al. (1993). Effect of reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament on proprioception of the knee and the heel strike transient. J Orthop Res 11, 696-704.
Li et al. (2009). Proprioception of foot and ankle complex in young regular practitioners of ice hockey, ballet dancing and running. Res Sport Med 17, 205-16.
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.