Top Three Reasons to Use Minimalist Running Shoes

Left foot hitting on outer heel

Modern Day Running Shoe

Let’s get down to the meat of this article–the top three reasons to use minimalist running shoes.  Here they are:

  1. They are lighter, making it easier to run faster and longer.
  2. They give your run more spring for every step.
  3. They allow the foot to hit the ground naturally

They Are Lighter

Minimalist running shoes are absolutely lighter.  Pure and simple, less padding and less structure mean less weight .  When your feet have less weight to carry, it just makes sense that you will run faster and longer.

About one year ago, I purchased my first minimalist shoes–the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS running shoes.  Note that I have not run “barefoot” in any shape, way, or form since I was a little boy in the Philippines.  I’ve worn normal running shoes–the type I’m moving away from now–since I’ve started running, back in the mid-80s.  The Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS running shoes  look like this:

Vibram Fivefingers Bikila LS running shoe

Vibram Fivefingers Bikila LS running shoe

As you can see, they look like gloves for your feet; they don’t really have much padding and support.  When I first got it, I took it out for a test drive and ran with it for about two miles.  After that run, my ankles were a little sore, and my calves were very sore!  At this point, I realized that I really need to ease into this.  I checked out one of my running magazines which featured minimalist shoes and found the Saucony ProGrid Mirage Running shoe.  This pair isn’t as bare as the Vibram.  It is still considered minimalist; however, it still had a bit of padding and a bit of support.  It looks like this:

Saucony Progrid Mirage

Saucony Progrid Mirage

This shoe is very light and has very minimal height difference between the heel and the toe.  I first ran with this at the 100th anniversary Bay to Breakers in San Francisco.   The only thing was that it was a bit tight around the toes (I have wide feet, that’s why).  However, after I broke it in, it felt better.

During the Bay to Breakers run, this shoe was so light that I didn’t even notice that it was new.  Every step of my run had that extra spring, and it felt great.

More Spring For Every Step

Speaking of spring in every step, minimalist shoes do not have as much heel as most common running shoes today.  As such, your heel may not hit the ground first.  Instead, your foot will land around the mid or fore foot area.

If you’ve been running with regular running shoes for some time, and you start using minimalist shoes (like the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS or the  Saucony ProGrid Mirage), you will notice soreness on your calves.  That’s because your calves are acting like springs.

Because you are using your calves more, there will be spring in every step you take during a run.  It will feel like you have more energy because the force of landing is mostly preserved and recovered from the spring-like action of your calves.

Compare this to the energy wasted when you use a running shoe with a thicker heel padding.  With a thicker heel padding, your tendency will be to land on your heel.  And as your heel lands, the force of the landing is absorb mostly by the padding, your knee, your hip, and the rest of your body parts above your hip.  It is no wonder why the number of running injuries have increased over time as the modern shoe designs have used faulty premise regarding foot comfort during a run (i.e. more heel padding and shoe structure is better for running).

Allow The Foot to Land More Naturally

The running shoe Industry has really changed the face of running for the masses.  Ever since they’ve worked to make the ride softer/smoother, neutralize pronation (over or under), and added more support, the number of running injuries have risen.  Why is this? The industry has pretty much arrested the natural running motion of the foot, causing the various foot injuries we hear about from fellow runners:

  • plantar fasciitis
  • Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome
  • Runner’s knee
  • Hip pain
  • Shin splints
Since training for my first marathon, I’ve experienced many such injuries or pains.  Originally, I blamed most of these to over-training.  But after reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, it all made logical sense.  The shoe industry was in fact causing people’s feet to get weaker with their fancy shoes (higher heel, more padding, more structure, etc).  In effect the foot and the muscles in it were getting weaker as a result of the shoes providing more support.  This is akin to putting the foot in a cast; this results in the foot muscles getting weaker and basically experiencing “atrophy”.
In reading  Born to Run, Christopher McDougall mentioned that there are tribesmen in Mexico who can run over one hundred miles or can run for days.  For these guys, running was a way of life.  Here’s the interesting thing.  None of them suffered from the western foot injuries mentioned earlier.  As a matter of fact, the tribesmen only ran with hand-made sandals.  They didn’t worry about over or under pronation; they didn’t have extra padding on their heel either.
Because their feet are not restricted and over protected, they are free to move and land as they were intended to be.  Note that the human foot has 26 bones and 33 joints.  It is a complex bio-mechanical structure, and it is naturally designed to move in various ways to absorb the shock of an activity like running.

Summary

So there you go:  the top three reasons to use minimalist running shoes.

  1. They are lighter
  2. They give you spring in every step
  3. They let your foot hit the ground as nature intended them

Are you looking to use minimalist shoes?  Please comment below.


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