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A Case For Minimalist Footwear

By Jeremy Chin
Posted on 13 May, 2015

A case for minimalist footwear

As kids, we had tattered flat-soled sneakers that we wore for everything, from climbing a tree to skateboarding to hiking in the woods. But step into any running store today and you will see how much has changed. Most of the time, you will be herded into one of three pens; overpronator (motion control shoes), suppinator (flexible high cushion shoe) and neutral (regular shoe).

While going barefoot or wearing minimal footwear may not cure all that ails you, there are some very compelling arguments for going shoeless, or at least wearing the least amount of shoe possible.


Allows The Feet To Provide Natural Sensory Feedback

Running on beach

Running with minimal footwear allows us to interpret our foot’s interaction with the ground more accurately. Through a concept called “muscle tuning”, your body makes natural adjustments in joint stiffness to deal with the way your foot strikes the ground. This means your feet, following one foot strike, helps prepare your body for the next foot strike.

By adjusting how strongly the muscles in your leg contract before the foot hits the ground, you lower the chance of injury. For example, when running on a hard surface, your body will automatically reduce leg stiffness.


Improves Muscle Function In Your Feet

Foot Muscles

The modern running shoe is designed with this in mind: to stop the medial arch of the foot from collapsing. With all its built-in support, stabilizers and cushioning, these shoes require less from the muscles, tendons and ligaments in our feet. This over-pampering weakens our feet and cause our natural arches to stop doing their job.

Running in lean footwear requires more vigorous dorsiflexion and plantar flexion, and this increases the strength of your intrinsic foot muscles.


Improves The Configuration Of Your Feet

Foot Arch

By running with very little or no footwear, many kids who grow up in third world countries develop a low arch and a stable foot, increasing their chances of becoming successful runners. Runners with flat feet who have switched to minimalist running have sometimes reported a decrease in shoe size. Experts attribute this to a natural rebuilding of the arch which is brought about by the firming up and contraction of their foot muscles.


Fosters A Forefoot Strike

Forefoot Strike

Minimalist running causes the foot to impact the ground differently. The barely-there nature of the shoes puts little between you and the ground, so you are forced to land on the meaty part of your foot, which happens to be your forefoot. The biomechanical differences in a forefoot strike offers several real benefits.

Less Impact
With minimalist shoes, you do not have the cushioning that normal running shoes afford. This has raised concerns where ground impact and injury is concerned. Some experts, however, feel that running minimal actually causes less impact. Here’s why.

A result of excessive padding, traditional running shoes tend to encourage runners to strike the ground with the heel first, and this puts a lot of pressure on the body. Because minimalist running changes the gait to a forefoot strike, the result is less impact than those who run with a heel strike.

Greater Running Efficiency
When you land on your heel, you are putting on the brakes with every step. There is huge loss of energy running this way. By landing on the forefoot, as most minimalist runners do, your arches act as natural shock absorbers. The most efficient runners land on the midfoot and keep their strides smooth, light and flowing. In terms of racing, less weight on your feet also improves running efficiency.


Offers Greater Balance

Balancing Stones

Minimalist shoes improve balance and proprioception by activating the smaller muscles in your feet, ankles, legs and hips that are responsible for better balance and coordination. Upon ground contact, you will naturally spread your toes and expand your foot to support your movement. On the whole, your body will be in better alignment and more firmly planted on the ground.


Feel A Greater Connectedness To The Earth

running in long grass

Having very little shoe helps you stay grounded and connected with your environment. You not only get to experience every bump beneath you; you also feel the temperature and moistness seeping through. Running becomes more of a two-way conversation that makes you feel at one with your surroundings.


Resolves Certain Running Injuries

Foot X-ray

Minimal running advocates argue minimal running reduces chronic injuries such as IT Band Syndrome, Runner’s Knee, shin splints and other common running injuries. However, scientific research has yet to reach a clear consensus on the injury preventitiveness of minimal running.

Some runners apply the supination/neutral/pronation paradigm when purchasing their shoes, and their injury disappears. But plenty are given the same advice and the injury continues. We each are built differently, and what works for you might not work for someone else. But you won’t know until you’ve given it a try.

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