Are your Running Shoes Minimalist?
Even for the experienced runner, this rather simple question is not easy to answer. You would even be surprised by how many specialized running shoe retailers are confused when classifying some models! This is exactly why the Minimalist Index was created.
First off, what’s a minimalist shoe?
Despite the hype for minimalist shoes in recent years, it is somewhat surprising that no standard definition of minimalist shoes had ever been established. Jean-Francois Esculier and Blaise Dubois from The Running Clinic wished to make this point clear by using a scientific approach. Along with their research team from Laval University, they recruited 42 running shoe experts from 11 countries. Following 4 rounds of questions, the following definition of minimalist shoes was approved by 95% of participating experts:
Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.
Are my running shoes minimalist?
Most of the time, the answer to this question is not a simple “yes” or “no”. In fact, it’s far more accurate to describe the level of minimalism depending on its multiple features. The Minimalist Index is a rating scale aiming at quantifying the degree of minimalism based on the different characteristics included within the shoe. According to the experts, the five characteristics that need to be considered are weight, stack height, heel to toe drop, motion control and stability technologies and flexibility. The total score is expressed in percentage. The higher the score, the more minimalist the shoe. The lower the score, the more maximalist the shoe. Warning! The score does not reflect shoe quality, but rather its degree of minimalism! See how to calculate your shoe’s Minimalist Index by clicking here (you will need to be signed in).
Thus, it is incorrect to say that shoes are minimalist or not based solely on heel to drop. A given shoe can have a 4 mm drop while being highly cushioned and rigid (for example, some Hoka models). You have to consider all five characteristics!
How can the Minimalist Index be useful to me?
A runner may wish to change their footwear for different reasons: to help reduce load on specific structures because of injury, to facilitate changes to their running biomechanics or simply to try something new. The primary objective of the Minimalist Index is to guide runners when transitioning from one shoe model to another. Should you switch to a shoe with a different Minimalist Index score, you need to transition gradually. Although research is needed to support these recommendations, our clinical experience suggests that 1 month of adaptation should be considered for every 10% change to the Minimalist Index. Therefore, a runner transitioning from a shoe rated 40% to a new shoe rated 60% would necessitate approximately 2 months before being able to use the new shoe for all regular trainings. The same rule applies when transitioning to lower scores.
Even if those guidelines may be applicable to the majority of runners, your body may need more (or less) time to adapt to the new shoe. Too quick of a transition towards higher scores (more minimalist) typically results in pain to the foot, the Achilles tendon or the calf. On the opposite, too quick of a transition towards lower scores (more maximalist) will likely result in pain to the knee hip or lower back. Listen to your body, and don’t hesitate to take more time to adapt if you feel like you need to!
Next time you go to buy new running shoes, use the Minimalist Index to specify your preferences to the retailer! And don’t forget to guide your transition by considering the Minimalist Index difference between your previous shoes and your new ones!