The more people that try barefoot running the more people like it. This threatens to make a huge gash in the billion dollar shoe industry. Many shoe companies have been quick to adapt and have already unveiled their own versions of minimalist running shoes, or at least a running shoe company interpretation of a minimalist running shoe. A few years ago you wore Vibram FiveFingers, huaraches, or just went barefoot, but now it seems the market is flooded with minimalist options. How do you separate the bad from the good? Here are some criteria to look for in minimalist running shoe.
1) Zero Drop
A zero drop shoe (no raised heel) allows you to run with a more natural running posture while encouraging a forefoot strike. The purpose of a minimalist shoe is to allow a runner to run naturally, as if barefoot, while still providing the protection of a shoe. The more the differential between the the heel height and forefoot height, the more unnatural it will cause you to run.
Ground feel refers to the how well your foot is able to communicate with the ground beneath it. Information taken in through the nerves in the foot is important to tell the rest of the body how to react in order to maintain proper posture. More ground feel will also allow the body to more readily recognize forefoot contact allowing for a faster lifting of the foot. This will conserve energy, and help prevent over striding.
3)Wide toe box
A narrow toe box does not allow the foot to move naturally in the shoe. The foot needs room for the toes to splay during each step. If you have ever experienced blistering between your toes after a long run you will instantly appreciate the benefits of a wide toe box.
By the time all the unnecessary features are removed from a running shoe it should really weigh no more than 9 oz. The less weight you have to move per stride, the more efficiently you will run, not to mention, less torque on the joints.
Reduced, and Natural Running Shoes
Sometimes completely minimalist is not the way to go. A very thin sole with a lot of ground feel can leave the feet sore and uncomfortable after a certain number of miles, and therefore is not ideal for the very longest of runs. Natural Running Shoes such as Newtons or Altras are a good alternative.
Natural Running Shoes
Companies such as Newton Running Shoes, and Altra Zero Drop, produce zero drop shoes with a midsole for forefoot protection. More forefoot protection means less ground feel, but these zero drop natural running shoes allow for proper running posture and encourage a natural forefoot strike.
Reduced Running Shoes
Companies such as Nike and Reebok have taken large strides in the right direction producing reduced running shoes. Shoes such as the Nike Free and the Reebok Realflex are rather light weight, with a reduced heel and a semi flexible sole. Though not a truly minimalist shoe, shoes such as the Nike Free and the Reebok ReelFlex are a step in the right direction.
Check out our shoe reviews section for a more in depth look at many available minimalist shoes. Do you have a shoe that you have reviewed? Email it to us to see it featured on RunNaturally.org