The benefits of minimalist running shoes - Women's Running

The benefits of minimalist running shoes

Author: Women's Running Magazine

Read Time:   |  June 1, 2021

Minimalist shoes might sound scary to those of us who love a bit of cushioning, but having a pair in your running wardrobe can offer lots of benefits. We find out more...

In 2009, Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run kicked off a heated debate in the running world around the benefits of barefoot running.

In the book, he suggested that we runners have inherited an inefficient clumpy running style thanks to over-supportive footwear, and that a more minimal approach could improve everything from our form to injury risk.

We’re big fans of having a few different types of shoes in our running wardrobe – some days we know we need support, while others we might go minimal. So, we wanted to find out everything minimalist shoes can offer us, and what to look if we’re thinking of investing in a pair.

So, what are the benefits?

Better form

Minimalist running shoes are thought to correct running form because of the encouragement of forefoot running. Jeff Pisciotta, a senior researcher at Nike’s Sport Research Lab, says that barefoot runners have a much larger range of motion in the foot and they engage more of the toe. This results in more distribution of pressure as the foot flexes, splays and grips the ground surface.

Reduce risk of common injuries

As a result of this even pressure distribution, runners are thought to be less prone to  injury, particularly in the knees. The evolution of modern running shoes has created a very cushioned heel which, in turn, has promoted runners to run with a heel-strike, leading to more pressure placed on the legs and consequently the knees as they strike the ground. While there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove the benefits of barefoot running, it is believe that by developing a forefoot strike, the risk of other common injuries including shin splints and IT Band Syndrome are also reduced.

Strengthens feet

Advocates of the barefoot approach also believe a minimalist shoe will help runners to develop a more natural gait, strengthening foot muscles and tendons.

How to make the transition

Making the transition from a traditional running trainer to a minimalist shoe can take a long time. Changing your shoes is the principal way to transition to minimalist running but it does take time to work yourself up to minimalist running and will take some getting use to. Start by barefoot walking with slow heel-toe walks on soft grass or sand. Begin your tread by pushing your heel into the ground and then forcefully roll through the mid-foot to the ball of the foot and then extend up on the toes. The resistance from the grass or sand will help you start building up strength in your feet and ankles. When you feel ready to try out your new minimalist running trainers, begin by running short distances of no more than 5K.

Your first shoes recommend that when buying your first pair, it is wise to stick with a brand you are already using for running shoes and that you know you like. Nike, Saucony, Asics, Inov-8, Hi-Tec, Puma and Solomon all produce shoes that suit the transitional period to minimalist running.

Once you’ve gotten used to this stripped-back running style, you can try shoes from dedicated minimalist brands like VIVOBAREFOOT or Vibram. Brands such as Inov-8 offer a selection of shoes to help you make the transition. They are pioneers in the ‘arrow system’ which reduces the differential from heel to toe. Inov-8 products start at 3 Arrows, which gives the biggest heel to toe drop in the Inov-8 range, about half that in overly cushioned, overly structured shoes. As you drop arrows, you tend to drop weight and cushioning and gain speed.


Before you try

Some many find the transition to minimalist running easier than others. For runners who naturally strike with the rear foot, barefoot running can put a lot of strain on the Achilles, which can be painful. It’s all about your personal style and preference. If you’re injury-prone and suffering from injuries such as IT band syndrome or runner’s knee, it’s definitely worth giving it a go and seeing how it works for you!

Women's Running Magazine

NMA’s 2020 Lifestyle Magazine of the Year, Women’s Running provides expert advice on gear and training, motivation from your favourite runners and the latest running news.

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