By nature, I’m a bit of a skeptic. When I first heard about the new generation of barefoot/minimalist running shoes, I thought to myself, “…this is just another marketing ploy to sell more footwear”. After more than three decades of relatively healthy running in “traditional” footwear, the thought of “barefoot” running conjured images in my mind of painful, bleeding feet and trips to my podiatrist for emergency repair work.
Along came my good friend Ryan Green, manager of Varsity Sports Mandeville, a running expert who holds a Ph.D. degree in Kinesiology. Ryan suggested there was significant merit to idea of positioning our running feet in a more natural position, allowing our running biomechanics to flow in a more natural, athletic way. When I finally started to actually study the new lower heel profile theory, it started to make total sense to me.
I eventually decided to try a pair of minimalist running shoes (the Brooks Pure Flow) and I’m now totally sold on the concept of running in a lower heel profile, minimalist shoe. Yes, less is more.
In traditional running shoes, our feet have been put in a “protected” position with the heel positioned about 10 – 15 millimeters higher than the forefoot. This puts the foot in a slightly slanted position with lots of midsole material under the heel, encouraging a more heel-to-toe running gait cycle. Some experts have suggested that in this protected position, our feet are just “along for the ride” and they’re not as involved in the gait cycle process as they should be.
The new category of minimalist running shoes share the common characteristic of a lower heel profile, putting the foot in a more natural running position. Most of the major running shoe companies are introducing new models incorporating a minimalist, lower heel profile design, with varying degrees of heel-to-forefoot height offset. I’ve noticed this design encourages a more mid-foot-to-forefoot gait cycle and much of the shoe design emphasis is placed around the middle portion of the shoe. Landing in mid-foot position means most of our body weight lands over the footstrike, with the ankle, knee, and hips in a slightly flexed position. This allows our lower body mechanics to help more with shock absorption, stabilization, and propulsion. In essence, from our hips down, the body is more involved in the running process. Our running mechanics become stronger and perhaps more resistant to common overuse running injuries.
My transition to minimalist running shoes was relatively quick, but it’s wise to take a gradual approach when working them into your training program. Our calves and Achilles tendons need to adjust to longer range of motion due to the lower heel profile, so you might experience some slight calf soreness after your first few runs. You might also find that a shorter, quicker running cadence will help you to develop a mid-foot-to-forefoot gait cycle pattern.
Are the minimalist running shoes for everyone? Certainly not and many runners have had great success with traditional running shoes. If you’ve been struggling with lower body running injuries for years, it might be beneficial to consider the new minimalist shoes next time your shoe shopping. You’ll certainly want to be in a relatively orthopedically healthy place, but just maybe you’re a good candidate for the lower heel profile.
By Fred Klinge