The kind of results you are going to get when learning forefoot running in a non-cushioned minimalist running shoe (pure minimal running shoe) vs a well-cushioned minimalist running shoe are totally different.
We already know that the less cushioning in a running shoe, the more flexible it is and that flexibility is going to allow your feet and ankles to auto-strengthen. From this, since most cushioned running shoes tend to be inflexible, the proposed interpretation follows that the inflexibility of traditional running shoes is responsible for injury in joggers.
Always Go Pure Minimal When Learning Forefoot Running
If you don’t want to run barefoot, it’s best to go with the thinnest minimalist running shoe you can find because the bare sole of the feet is better able to communicate important information on disposition and movement of the body to the central nervous system (Waddington & Adams, 2003).
Pure minimalist running shoes not only have a super thin outsole, but most do not have a cushioned, compressible insole either. Because of this, the feel of the insole is often textured and not soft and squishy. A textured insole was found to enhance the stimulation on the cutaneous receptors (a sub-class of foot proprioceptors) of the sole on the bare feet, which in turn enhanced sensory information to the spinal cord and brain (Cameron el al., 2008).
Injury Prevalence – Cushioned vs Barefoot-Like
Intriguingly, many studies have a great way of painting a bad picture of barefoot-inspired minimalist running shoes, warning traditional shod runners of developing Achilles injuries and stress fractures during the critical time of transitioning. Yet decades of studies revealed that runners who wore expensive running shoes with supportive and correctional features were significantly injured more frequently than runners who wore inexpensive shoes with a more minimal construct.
- Injuries related to the traditional running shoe are progressive, persistent and therefore chronic. In comparison, the injuries related to pure minimal running shoes commonly occur within the adaptation period.
Thus, running injuries related to pure minimal running shoes seems to occur within an isolated period of time, i.e. the adaptation period, where after this period, a runner is essentially home-free of injuries. This is why it is worth going pure minimal for forefoot running because any injury that occurs, occurs during the adaptation period and are not ongoing. After adaptation, the minimalist runner is now accustomed to a running style that provides greater impact reduction than a traditional running shoe. That is, the natural, impact reducing strategies hardwired in the body becomes habituated.
In contrast, because humans evolved to run barefoot with low impact suggests our legs and feet are inherently durable, but are made susceptible to injury by footwear use.
The answer is straightforward as the human body, more specifically the human foot, did not evolve to run in footwear that contains pronation correction, elevated heels, and arch support. Such footwear results in a loss of function of the foot making it progressively harder for the foot to maintain strength and optimal functionality during running.
This is why when protective materials of the traditional running shoe degrades, the feet become sore and injury is incurred, forcing a runner to purchase a new pair of running shoes under the premise that injury and discomfort will vanish if a new running shoe is worn.
However, runners who wore brand-new running shoes had a higher risk of injury due to greater impact generation while running compared to runners who wore a shoe of a decade earlier.
This finding implies that as the cushioned material of a shoe degrades, the shoe becomes more ‘minimal’ allowing the impact moderating behavior evolved by the body millions of years ago to be restored.
The Take Home Message
A shod runner is better off converting to minimalism and potentially –and I emphasis potential because there’s good chance that these injuries wont happen– endure the small risk of developing either an Achilles injury or metatarsal stress fracture at most versus remaining fully shod where the risk of Achilles injury and metatarsal stress fracture in addition to runners knee, plantar fasciitis, tibial stress fractures, IT band syndrome, chronic exertional compartment syndrome, and back pain will always be higher.
Regarding pure minimal shoes, what always goes unrecognized is that after adaptation, injury is no longer a matter to the experienced minimalist or barefoot runner.
The traditional running shoe is associated with more unsupportive claims of improved protection compared to minimal shoes.
Thankfully, emerging studies continues to tip the balance in favor of pure minimal shoes as strong data revealed these shoes have more long-term health benefits for everyone.
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Cameron, M. L., Adams, R. D., & Maher, C. G. (2008). The effect of neoprene shorts on leg proprioception in Australian football players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 11, 345e352.
Clark, TE., Frederick, ET.. Dynamic loading displacement characteristics of various midsole materials. J Biomech, 1982; 15:340.
Clark, TE Frederick., EC and Cooper, LB. The effect of shoe cushioning on Temporel parameters and running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1982; 14:144.
Clark, TE., Frederick EC and Cooper, LB. Effects of shoe conditioning upon ground reaction forces in running. Int. Sports Med, 1983; 4:247–251.
Giuliani et al. Barefoot-simulating footwear associated with metatarsal stress injury into runners. Orthopedics, 2011; 34 (7):3 20–3
Robbins, SE and Gouw, GJ. Athletic footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions. Med Sci Sports Exer, 1991; 23(2): 217–224.
Waddington, G., & Adams, R. (2003). Football boot insoles and sensitivity to extent of ankle inversion movement. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 37(2), 170e174.
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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