You’ve probably seen them by now. At first, you may have thought they were strange. But after a while, you start to see more and more people wearing them. Seemingly knowledgeable people are wearing them at the gym and out running. After a few weeks, you happen to pass by a window display and you say to your friend, “Hey, have you seen these before? I’m thinking about getting a pair.”
If you haven’t already bought a pair, you are undoubtedly still in the curiosity stage. So what’s all the fuss over minimalist shoes?
In his book, Born to Run, Christopher McDougall talks about the lost secret of running. He describes the ancient tribe called the Tarahumara. This Mexican tribe is considered by many to be super athletes. They run incredible distances – sometimes up to 200 miles at a time. If that doesn’t impress you, wait for the kicker – they run barefoot! It’s at this point that the needle screeches off the turntable – Did you say “barefoot”!?
The idea is that human beings are physiologically designed to run long distances. This is how the Tarahumara tribe catches its food – they run the animals to the point of exhaustion. The foot was never designed to be in shoes. When you wear shoes, something changes. You no longer walk or run on your forefoot, you come down heel first. That is why most traditional running shoes have large cushions on the heels. However, this is very jarring to the joints and bones in your body because there is no forgiveness in the heel. You are relying solely on the shoe cushioning to brace the impact rather than the intricate mechanics of your foot.
Wearing running shoes your whole life has conditioned you to run a certain way – the wrong way. That is why minimalist shoes have become so popular lately. It’s an attempt to get us back to our roots and allow you to run as closely as possible to being barefoot. When you run barefoot, the foot naturally strikes forefoot first. From there, a plethora of muscles, tendons, bones, and joints literally spring into action and cushion the foot as it lands.
If you think this sounds like a great idea and want to make the transition from traditional shoes, be careful, minimalist shoes take some getting used to. Most companies recommend you slowly wean onto them. Since your foot is used to running in traditional mono-motion shoes, you likely have underdeveloped foot muscles as a result. You need to slowly build up your foot muscles before you start your long-distance morning runs.
There is still some debate whether or not this minimalist approach is effective. If you want to try forefoot running, you don’t need minimalist shoes. Get some advice on techniques from reputable trainers and try it in your traditional running shoes. I have made the switch and can personally see the difference.