Minimalism: Where do we Stand?
The debate surrounding minimalist* and maximalist** running shoes is still raging. However, in 2013, all companies seem to have followed in the footsteps of the minimalist trend. Shoes are now lighter and more flexible; they have a lower heel-to-toe drop and offer less motion control. Literally all major industry players have launched a “so-called” minimalist* model or running shoes that boast minimalist* specifications. Not only that, an increasing number of minimalist-oriented companies are created every day. Market shares in this industry sector are skyrocketing. This type of running shoe has never been more popular now than it has been over the last 30 years.
Science and Running Shoes
Although the scientific process constitutes the best way to prove the validity of our hypotheses, it is too often inconclusive in itself. Such a slow and costly process only allows for a handful of influential studies to seep through. Despite the fact that companies are responsible for validating the quality of their own products prior to marketing them, no study published thus far has been in a position to justify the influence of the technologies used with modern running shoes on the prevention of running injuries. Although science has provided some answers in that respect, it still states that pronation control, shock absorption and a high heel-to-toe drop neither reduce the incidence of injuries nor increase comfort. Furthermore, modern maximalist shoes alter natural biomechanics. Indeed, increased heel striking, improper knee alignment and a slower cadence are but a few of the resulting changes observed.
Debate and Consensus
It is widely accepted: (i) that running barefoot or with minimalist shoes contributes to strengthening the foot (thereby increasing its tolerance to stress), providing more balance and improving performance during endurance races; (ii) that shoes act as a protective agent against cold weather and dangerous surfaces; and, (iii) that there is no reason for changing the type of shoes you run with if you are not injured and if increased performance is not the objective targeted. However, a number of issues still remain unsettled: Who should opt for minimalism? Are minimalist shoes recommended at all times or as a mere working tool during training?
Transitioning to minimalist running shoes bears certain risks. Be that as it may, it is to be noted that, during such a transition, the tissue irritation that is likely to occur will involve the same tissues previously weakened while running with maximalist shoes; i.e., the calf, Achilles tendon and foot. Consequently, any runner who undertakes the transition should do it progressively and be mindful of signs of potential injury.
Recommendations for beginners and children
In light of the information that has been published to date, it is clear that maximalist running shoes should not be prescribed to developing children and adult beginners. Although running barefoot is the best way to develop healthy biomechanics and stronger tissues over the long term, limited access to safe areas for barefoot running has made minimalist shoes more popular today. In conclusion, don’t forget that minimalism is not a universal remedy! Running injuries are caused first and foremost by tissue overload. As a result, if you get injured while running, start by asking yourself: Have I been training too hard and has my training load increased too quickly?
* Minimalist running shoes: shoes that are thinner at the sole and more flexible (TRC rating > 70%: http://www.therunningclinic.com/en/runners-information/recommended-shoes.php)
** Maximalist running shoes: standard running shoes