In 2009, a book came out that changed the landscape of the running world. Prior to this time, there were murmurings but no real consensus. After the book, the world exploded with this “new” and exciting information. Information that would help us literally run faster and longer than we imagined. The book: Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. The revolution: minimalist or barefoot running.
Minimalist Running: A Primer
What runners are wearing on their feet nowadays is not even close to what people have worn on their feet while running for millennia. The technology for modern day running sneakers only came about in the early 1900s with the invention of vulcanized rubber. Of course, most of our ancient ancestors did not run for sport either. They ran because they had to hunt and escape predators to survive.
Because of extra padding in the heel and the rigidity of running shoes today, our stride has fundamentally changed. Instead of landing mid-foot or at the front of the foot, we are forced to land on the heel because of the padding. Minimalist running or barefoot running corrects this, reducing the heightened risk of injury we have with shoes.
By definition, a minimalist shoe must be low to the ground, flexible, and have little cushioning or arch support. They can cover all types of running shoes including trail running shoes.
Benefits of Minimalist Running Shoes
As mentioned above, standard running sneakers essentially force us to land on our heels. The added padding makes it almost impossible to land on the front of your foot, as the back catches first. If you run on your heels barefoot or with minimalist shoes within minutes you’ll force yourself to alter your stride. Why, you ask? Because our heels cannot take the constant pounding like the middle or front of the foot can. Soon, through the negative reinforcement of pain, your body will realize this is not a good idea and you will change. This is good because landing on your heel causes your calf muscles to pull away from your bone, which in turn can cause shin splints. Not fun.
As an added bonus, by running in a different fashion you will develop different muscles in your legs and feet. Even your core will benefit as you use your body to balance in this new position.
Are Minimalist Running Shoes for Everyone?
You cannot really make an educated decision about minimalist running without knowing the drawbacks. First, although eventually you will find that minimalist running shoes cause less pain, the transition can be really difficult. Expect pain at first as a result of those new muscles developing. And remember, only increase your distance with these shoes by 10% a week. Jumping into this too quickly will result in pain and perhaps even injury.
Try it out, though, you may find it’s the kicker for your next personal record!