BAREFOOT AND MINIMALIST RUNNING SHOES AND CHOOSIG THE RIGHT ONES FOR YOU
Barefoot and minimalist running shoes burst onto the scene a few years ago and suddenly they’re everywhere. While few wear truly barefoot running shoes, instead opting for a minimalist shoe, knowing the differences and when to choose which can be quite tricky.
We're here to help you understand the difference between traditional running shoes and minimalist ones, and which are best for you.
What are minimalist running shoes?
It's important to define what a minimalist shoe is; with so many contradicting opinions out there it can be hard to know but there’s a big difference between Vibram FiveFingers and a pair of Nike Frees.
Simply put both barefoot and minimalist running shoes are constructed to allow your foot to work naturally to help you run as efficiently as possible. They do not try to change your foot strike or gait through cushioning or stability, instead offer a small level of protection against debris on the ground.
Where minimalist shoes differ to barefoot however, is in their low profile, offering a smaller heel-to-toe drop than traditional running shoes but more than completely barefoot. Acting as more of a hybrid between the two these running shoes are designed to help runners ease into barefoot running.
Features of minimalist and barefoot running shoes
There are many factors to look out for, all of which are designed so the runner is able to better feel the ground below:
- Heel-to-toe drop:
This is the difference in a shoe's height between the forefoot and the heel. In minimalist shoes look for a heel drop between 4mm and 7mm. Brefoot shoes can be anywhere from 0mm to 3mm.
A traditional running shoe can have a heel drop of anywhere between 8mm and 14mm.
- Stack height:
This is the total height of the shoe’s sole. The smaller the number, the less cushioning in the shoe and the closer to the ground you are. This can be as little as 3-4mm.
- Toe box:
The toe box in minimalist shoes are generally wider to allow room for your toes and forefoot to splay.
Minimal shoes will have no cushioning or protection against over or under pronation. Instead they are completely neutral to encourage a natural movement.
Low-profile shoes tend to be the lightest running shoes out there.
- Flexible outsole
Barefoot shoes, and some minimalist shoes, can be rolled into a ball without any difficulty; designed to allow your foot to contour to the terrain for extra grip and power.
Why do people choose minimalist running shoes?
Barefoot running was reintroduced by the publication of Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run in 2009. He discusses research that found more injuries had been recording since cushioning and support had been added to the shoes citing the Rararumari, the Mexican running people, as an example for wearing a simpler shoe.
While the Rararumari didn’t actually run barefoot, instead running ultra-distances in special sandals, there have since emerged ultra-running who choose to go ‘barefoot’ in shoes such as the Vibram FiveFingers.
Most similar to performance or racing shoes, there is some research to suggest that low profile shoes are best for biomechanically efficient runners, increasing power and performance. While truly barefoot shoes aren’t always a practical option, this is where minimalist shoes come in, allowing runners a small level of cushioning and protection against the ground below without compromising power and form.
How to run in barefoot running shoes
While running barefoot or in low profile shoes is said to help you run naturally, improve your efficiency, and in the long term, reduce your risk of injury, it isn't for everyone. We're all built differently with different biomechanics so visit your local Runners Need store for your free gait analysis to determine whether minimalist running is for you.
If you've decided to take the leap here's what you need to know.
The lack of heel cushioning, along with mindful practise, forces you to roll onto your forefoot, taking smaller strikes, becoming more energy efficient so it’s never a good idea to go from traditional cushioned running shoes straight to a zero drop, especially if you're a seasoned runner, as you're more likely to end up injured.
You need to slowly build up the right muscles, even if your technique is already suited to a low profile shoe. Adding extra strength training and drills to help adapt to midfoot or forefoot running is essential, working on your feet and calves in particular. Try drills such as running zigzag downhill and intervals running on your toes.