Quick Guide to Minimalist Running Shoes

Posted by Evolved Inspired on Wednesday, June 26, 2024

I’ve been a ‘minimal shoe’ runner for over a decade now. Minimalist shoes seem to go through a peak and decline cycle over the years. Mainstream running shoe manufacturers never seem to quite nail it in their attempts at producing minimalist or ‘barefoot’ shoes. This has given opportunities for the likes or XeroShoes and more recently (for a bargain running shoe) Saguaro* to produce a more minimal shoe. Minimalist running shoes offering a stark contrast to the traditional, heavily cushioned running shoes and an escape from the ‘carbon plate everywhere’ marketing.

Example of Xeroshoes

These shoes are designed to mimic barefoot running, providing minimal interference between the runner’s foot and the ground. But what exactly are the benefits of minimalist shoes, and are they suitable for all runners? We’ll delve into the world of minimalist running shoes, exploring their advantages, potential drawbacks, and tips for transitioning to this footwear.

What Are Minimalist Shoes?

Minimalist shoes are generally a lightweight design, low heel-to-toe drop (often zero or close to it), and minimal cushioning. They range from huaraches all the way through to the like of Vivobarefoot or Xeroshoe designs. The latter being close to a regular running shoe appearance. They aim to provide a more natural running experience by encouraging a forefoot or midfoot strike, which is believed to be more biomechanically efficient and less likely to cause injury compared to a heel strike.

Minimalist shoes tend to have a nice wide toe-box rather than the tighter fitting maximalist shoes. Combined with some nice toe socks, this makes for a comfortable and engaging running experience - but that’s for another post!

Potential Benefits of Minimalist Shoes

  1. Improved Running Form - One of the primary benefits of minimalist shoes is their potential to improve running form, connect the runner with the running experience and potentially reduce the chance of typical running injuries. Traditional running shoes with thick cushioning often encourage a heel strike, which can lead to a braking effect and increased impact forces on the body. Minimalist shoes promote a forefoot or mid-foot strike, which can lead to a smoother, more efficient stride. This change in gait can help reduce the risk of common running injuries such as shin splints, knee pain, and plantar fasciitis.

  2. Strengthened Foot Muscles - Minimalist shoes allow for greater engagement of the foot’s muscles. The minimal support provided by these shoes forces the muscles in your feet and lower legs to work harder, which can lead to increased strength and stability over time. Strengthening these muscles can improve your overall running performance and reduce the likelihood of injuries.

  3. Enhanced Proprioception - Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense its position and movement in space. Minimalist shoes, with their thin soles and lack of cushioning, enhance ground feel and proprioception. This heightened sensory feedback can help runners make quick adjustments to their stride and form, improving balance and agility. This one aspect can transform your running experience to something you are part of, rather than something you do.

  4. Lightweight Design - Minimalist shoes tend to be more lightweight then ‘maximal’ shoes. This can contribute to a feeling of freedom and agility while running. Shedding the extra weight of traditional running shoes can make your runs feel easier and more enjoyable, especially during longer distances. Though on longer runs a focus on high-cadence is needed to counter the unforgiving nature of minimal running shoes.

  5. Reduced Injury Risk - While the research is still evolving, some studies suggest that running in minimalist shoes can reduce the risk of certain injuries. By promoting a more natural running gait and strengthening the muscles and tendons in your feet and lower legs, minimalist shoes may help prevent overuse injuries commonly associated with traditional running shoes. Note there is little or no research to confirm maximalist running shoes reduce injury either!

What to consider when swapping to Minimalist Shoes

  1. Transition Period - Transition slowly! Transitioning to minimalist shoes requires time and patience. Runners who switch too quickly from heavily cushioned shoes to minimalist shoes may experience discomfort or injuries. It’s essential to gradually increase your mileage in minimalist shoes to allow your body to adapt to the new running style.

  2. Slower running initially - Transitioning to a running style that works for minimalist shoes (high cadence, landing under hips etc.) can make your running slower and more tiring as you transition.

  3. Limited Protection - Minimalist shoes offer less protection against sharp objects or rough terrain. If you frequently run on trails or uneven surfaces, you may need to be extra cautious to avoid stepping on rocks, roots, or other obstacles that could cause injury. But being connected to the trail is why we run on the trail, right!!

Transitioning to Minimalist Shoes

  1. Start Slowly - Begin by wearing your minimalist shoes for short, easy runs. Walk barefoot around the house. Gradually increase the distance and intensity of your runs as your body adapts to the new footwear. A common recommendation is to start with just 10% of your weekly mileage in minimalist shoes and increase by 10% each week.

  2. Focus on your Form - Pay attention to your running form when transitioning to minimalist shoes. Aim for a shorter stride and a higher cadence (steps per minute) to promote a forefoot or midfoot strike. Landing softly and with your foot under your hips can also help reduce impact forces.

  3. Strengthen Your Feet - Incorporate foot and lower leg strengthening exercises into your routine. Exercises such as toe curls, calf raises, and balance drills can help prepare your muscles for the demands of minimalist running.

  4. Listen to Your Body - Be mindful of any discomfort or pain as you transition to minimalist shoes. Soreness in your feet and lower legs is normal as your muscles adapt, but sharp pain or persistent discomfort may indicate that you’re progressing too quickly. Reduce your overall training load when needed to prevent injuries. Rest when needed.

  • I’ve been trialling some Saguaro running shoes for a couple of months now and am happy with them for the bargain price. They are wearing well, with 250-300km on them so far. They are pretty flexible, dry out quickly and are grippy on most surfaces. On longer runs (20km+), you can start to feel the grips under the shoe start to push into your feet a little. The sole material is a little ‘harder’ than other shoes I’ve tried, but are working well.