Nike Free Run SneakerWhen it comes to minimalist shoes, just as the name suggests, less is more. As an alternative to the barefoot running craze, companies have come out with shoes that mimic barefoot running but also protect your feet. Yes, the category includes those wacky shoes with toes but it also encompasses others as well. Almost every major athletic shoe brand has at least one version of a "minimalist" shoe but the shoes differ greatly from company to company. Some offer a lighter version of traditional running shoes while others have designed shoes that are more like gloves for your feet, giving your feet only basic protection from the ground. Ready to jump on this trend? Here's what you need to know.
What You'll Find One key component of minimalist shoes is that they're lighter. Companies have reduced the amount of material in the upper part of the shoe, substituting mesh (or another lightweight material) for leather, and reducing the thickness of the sole by decreasing cushioning materials or reducing the amount of rubber, or in most cases both. Another common feature is lots of grooves in the sole of the shoe to increase flexibility. So what does this all mean? It means the shoe will be lighter, more flexible and you'll feel the ground more underneath your feet.
Related: How to Buy the Best Walking Shoes
Is this Bad for My Feet? That's up for debate. According to Dr. Paul Langer, DPM of the Minnesota Orthopedic Specialists, because this trend is so new there's not a lot of data on these shoes. However, he sees injuries in people wearing both conventional and minimalist running shoes; the difference is where the injuries are. Dr. Langer states that with conventional running shoes he sees more injuries in the knee and with minimalist shoes he sees more injuries in the foot and ankle. Dr. Karen Langone, DPM specialist in sports and fitness medicine in Southampton, New York, finds that the Achilles tends to bother people who wear minimalist shoes. If you have problems in any of these areas you may want to steer clear of these lightweight shoes.
How do I know if minimalist shoes are for me? According to Dr. Langone about 80% of the population can use them to some degree. If you have difficulty walking in flip-flops, then minimalist shoes probably won't be for you. But, if you can walk far distances in flip-flops the new shoes may be worth a try.
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- Train into the shoe. Dr. Langer says that about 60% of the running injuries he sees in people wearing both minimalist and conventional running shoes, are caused by training errors, such as ramping up mileage too fast. Depending on the type of minimalist shoe you choose, your feet may need more or less time to adapt. Dr. Langone says the key is to go slow, starting by training on grass or a golf course for about 5 to 10 minutes a day and working your way up. Both podiatrists emphasize that you should monitor how you feel as ultimately your body will tell you whether or not these shoes are right for you.
- Dr. Langone recommends buying shoes at the end of the day when your feet are at their most swollen. If you buy shoes in the morning, before you've walked much, you may find that your shoes feel tight by the end of the day.
- Bottom Line. Both doctors recommend getting what feels the most comfortable and fits best.
These lightweight shoes aren't just for runners. If you're more of a walker, see which shoes came out on top in GHRI's walking sneaker test. What do you think about the minimalist shoe craze? Let me know in the comments.
- by Jamie Ueda
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