What’s the state of minimalism today?

All the (minimal) shoes

All the (minimal) shoes

If you’ve been running for more than a year, you surely know that minimalism was all the rage a few years back. Today? Not so much. In fact, the pendulum seems to have swung pretty far back the other way if you take a good look around. Hokas are everywhere. Brooks has a new “maximalist” shoe coming out called the Transcend. And even Altra Zero Drop (a company I love) has added in a maximum cushioned/platformed shoe, albeit still zero drop.

So what does all this mean and how should you choose your own shoes? Like I said above, I think the current fad of maximal shoes is a bit of a backlash to the very big Born to Run trend of a few years back. Why? My guess is that most people just didn’t have the patience to make a true go of it with less shoe. They got hurt and blamed the shoes, not the runner.

I understand this–I am the most impatient of people and I think most runners tend to be of similar ilk. Switching to less shoe and with a concentrated change in form isn’t for the impatient. But I am still a believer.

For me, making the change a few years back completely changed the way my body felt post run. Instead of perpetually tight hamstrings and the need to shuffle into my recovery runs, I feel good even the day after a long or tough run. So many constant aches and pains that were with me when I ran with a big, stiff shoe and with my leg extended straight out in front of me went away once I changed form and shoe. Even as I sit here inured today, I will return to my beloved natural running shoes and form when I’m good to go. I just can’t imagine running any other way.

Do I think it’s my way or the highway for other runners? Nope. I have enough examples in my life of running partners who have been at it for years, in big, built up shoes with no injuries and impressive race times to know better. I think it’s a very individual thing. The only thing I will say is that if you have suffered a lot of injuries, and can honestly look in the mirror and say you haven’t made dumb training mistakes, then maybe you want to consider a running form and natural running shoe change. But otherwise–carry on with what works for you.

How about your shoes–big and cushioned or small and flexible? Did you try natural running in its heyday? 

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  1. Jeff Irvin says

    And the debate rages on …. (-;

    You know that form can still be a focus in a shoe like the Hokas right? They have a 4-5mm drop and that is made for us neutral, midfooters.

    Now, little Hoka history. They made the first shoe for trail runners and the idea was to add all the cushioning to help absorb the impact on your quads of bombing trails downhill. The idea was innovative but the shoe was not originally designed as the answer to the minimalist fad (yes, I used that word intentionally). It just turned into the counter argument as people like me – neutral, midfooter strikers – started using the Hoka for everyday running.

    The real problem is the running shoe companies just don’t completely get what runners need. They pigeonhole us into a category and make it impossible, due to lack of product offerings, to venture away from these categories. IE – They think all neutral runners want low drops and light shoes with very little cushioning. And this type of thinking has rubbed off on the consumers so we all buy kinveras and pure connects and Newtons and vibrams.

    But what about us guys that wanted something that doesn’t beat the hell out of your joints? Nothing is available? This is why 4yrs ago I was posting pictures of some big ugly shoes I had bought and you were calling then moon boots – the lack of alternatives made me find the Hokas and start using them for something they were not designed for. Think about that. Big failure by big running companies.

    Brooks has the Transcend coming out and in my opinion, they missed the mark. Not because the shoe isn’t good, by all accounts it is awesome, but they made the shoe an 8mm drop, added something called Guide Rails, and labeled the shoe under the old industry standard title of “Support Shoe” … they just added evo and prettied up the category.

    Altra nailed it by keeping the zero ramp … they give neutral runners a shoe that does not alter form and reduces the pounding on the joints – so they benchmarked the Hoka, good for them. Just hope the holier then thou minimalist crowd will forgive Altra for this transgression

    Anyway, that was fum Amanda, thanks for the interesting topic!

    • MissZippy says

      Thanks for jumping in, Jeff, b/c you are a perfect example here of where much of the market is going and a student of the industry. My hope is that people will experiment and determine what feels good to them. Or not experiment if what they have is working, rather than caving to what everyone else is doing. I love Altra and think they come from a very good place (Golden is the bomb) and think they made a smart move as a company to offer up their new model. As long as they keep true to their origins as well, I’m happy with them.

  2. says

    I’m still in a cushy shoe although less than I used to run in. I’ve been making changes in my form after seeing how horrible it was in a video gait analysis back in the Fall. I truly think it’s my form that is the root of all my injuries. If that’s corrected than the shoe is just a vehicle to put on your feet, not to protect it from injuries. Form makes the runner!
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  3. says

    I have been running on cushioned shoes for awhile. I had a bout of PF last spring in which I had to add arch supports into my running shoes. I also purchased a pair of New Balance last year as well. These shoes helped but are very heavy and clunky. My PF is seemingly gone and I finally got a pair of Asics that are still support shoes but much lighter. I would like to try going towards a minimalist shoe but I have no idea what my form should change to prevent injury. If you have any resources on the subject I’m all ears.
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  4. says

    I run in New Blance Minimus shoes and also 5 fingers, but coming from a track back ground Minimus shoes were never a problem.

    Now as a coach people as me what shoes they should wear and what should go in a program: So I say, you need long runs and easy runs, track work and hills, and then what about a bit of barefoot running… So you think I should get Minimus shoes, not really, but I want you to run as if you are barefoot (or in minimus shoes). I feel shoes need to feel great on your feet.
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    • MissZippy says

      I love the NB Minimalist trail shoe…my go to. I think you make a good point that you come from a long background of running in less shoe. It’s hard for people to transition who come from something different–it takes a ton of patience!

  5. says

    I alternate between Altras and a heftier pair of shoes. I won the Altras, and I was surprised how much I liked them. I had a few bumps in transitioning but no major ones. I still keep them for weekday runs but that could always change. I think there’s always going to be a fad with shoes, and it’s riding them out to see what works for you.
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  6. says

    From the start of the minimalist “boom” I knew they weren’t for me. I do have a pair of Topo’s but I can only run 5Ks in them. I also have Brooks Pure Line racing shoes but they still have a good amount of cushion. I always recommend that any new running go to a quality running shoe store and get fitted. There’s no one right fit – which is part of what makes it FUN!!
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  7. says

    I am still in a cushony shoe although I do like ligher shoes such as the Saucony Kinvara. I haven’t thought about nautral running because I am prone to injury and am nervous that I would hurt myself. Although, it could go the other way and be the ticket to injury free 😉
    ahhh the never ending debate!

    Karen @karenlovestorun
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  8. says

    Jeff does have some valid points. as for me-I recently forayed into zero drops with some cushion a la Saucony Virratas and have been fairly pleased. Cusion is a necessity as I’ve had multiple stress fractures but it is not a panacea….

    For those with lengthy injury histories like me, running well is part of a whole: of course you want to find shoes (from trail gloves to Hokas) that as Pete Larson puts it “disappear on your foot” the fit, not the shoe per se should feel natural. The surface is important as well, I will wear my still light but even cushier New Balance 890s on my concrete days and stick to natural surfaces most of the time. Like the articles all say, hip and lower leg strength helps make the shoe work for you.

    That is just my .02. I see the shoe as just part of the chain that is a running stride-all or most of the parts must be in decent order.

    shoe talk is fun :)
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  9. says

    It is such a difficult issue, and I dont think we will ever truly know what is best, as running forms are so different, but in a world where we run on man made cement, I cant see how the vibrams ever really would have been sustainable. That being said, I run in natural, minimalist shoes….but use orthotics I was prescribed after my injury spell in 2009. I am not sure how much they help anymore, but I am too terrified to change anything right now as they are working for me.

    Lots of people come to me asking the same thing as they feel they should run in the same shoes as an elite, but it is all different depending on the way you run! There is no one shoe that is best. The best advice I can give however, is to rotate your shoes. I have 3-4 pairs of different shoes/brands that I use throughout the week. That way it gives your shoes a day to “bounce back”. Hope that helps :)
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  10. says

    I have been road running in the Newton Gravity for several years now. I do try to experiment with other shoes, but the Gravity just seems right for me and has been very helpful in my quest to reduce my rear foot striking. On trails I go with the Merrell Trail Glove, which is certainly minimalist.
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  11. Rene says

    I run in the Newton Gravity. I have been in them for 2 years now and I will never go back. The 4 mm drop is as low as I can go. I did try the Hoka’s but they just weren’t for me. Just to much shoe. It will be interesting to see how the Transcend does, but it is really just a redo of the Trance which was the Brooks supportive, cushioned shoe.

  12. says

    I never went minimal and knew that I never would. I come from if it ain’t broke don’t fix it frame of mind. However a bit of PF had me switching from stability to neutral. So while I am not minimal….I’m “less shoe”. I will never try something just to try, I’m too scared I’ll get injured. So I stick to what works, until it doesn’t. Typically they’ll change a design enough that you are forced to switch but until then, I’ll stick. Currently running in Adidas Adizero Boston’s for road and Salomon Crossmax for the trails.
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  13. says

    I think one of the best decisions I made not long after I started running was to attend a ChiRunning workshop. With the change in form and slow transition to less shoe, I think I’ve been able to stay relatively injury-free. 4mm drop seems to be my limit but I am dying to try the Altra. Such a interesting topic Amanda!
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  14. says

    It might be good to go back and forth between minimal and more cushioned. That’s what I do, and what Pete “Runblogger” Larson advocates. I still haven’t gotten into the more extreme cushioned shoes, and don’t think I will. If I have to resort to Hokas just to be able to run at all, I think I’ll just stop.
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    • says

      off topic, but–gluten free is over the top? Did you read the link? Have you seen the way more and more people look these days? I look and feel better than ever before. Why do I hear so often about people feeling all crampy and needing to crap during long races? That has never happened to me, and believe me, it would have before I started this type of diet. I didn’t want to do it. I thought is was dumb. The results speak for themselves. It just might help someone else out there too.
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        • says

          well see, you’re one of those people who dismisses it simply because you have no issue with gluten. But it may be that many people actually do. Some think that, even if you have no obvious problems with wheat, that none of us should be eating it. Wheat Belly is an interesting book.
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          • MissZippy says

            I don’t dismiss that some people (a small population) have legit issues. But on the whole, I think many are doing it for the wrong reasons, i.e.: to lose weight.

  15. says

    I have gone from super built up shoes with orthotics to much less of a shoe with better form- I rotate between the pureflows and purecadences. I am planning to try the pureconnects to see how those feel. I think the key is finding the form that works best for you and the best shoes to compliment your form!
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  16. says

    Oh this is such a sore topic for me. I feel like so many people read “Born to Run” and jumped on the minimalist bandwagon without truly thinking about it. I know that they are supposed to be better, but they are not for everyone. Especially if you are pounding out a lot of mileage. For me, I cannot do minimalist shoes for running all of my distances. They are good for speed workouts. They are not good for my 20 mile long runs. Everyone’s bodies are different, hence why there are SO many shoes on the market. You need to do what’s right for your body and your biomechanics.
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  17. says

    I’m completely with you, changing to natural/minimalist has really changed my running life. I run better, feel better and recover faster.

  18. says

    I agree with you, I think minimalist running is not as red hot as it was and most of the running population is impatient, like society in general. I’ve been minimalist up to 10 or so miles for years, but change it up with cushioned shoe for higher miles. Whatever works, right?
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  19. says

    I traded in a built-up shoe (and shin splints) for Vibram Five Fingers 3 years ago and haven’t looked back. My timing was lucky in that I was just re-establishing a running routine, so my transition was slow and steady. Since then, I’ve had to drop the VFF’s – the skin on the bottoms of my feet just got too tender, even with socks, on runs longer than 1 hour. Now, I alternate between Merrell Pace Gloves (on my 3rd pair), Altra Superior, and Altra Lone Peak for trails. Like you, I’m a big fan of Altra – they’re so comfortably cushioned, yet lightweight and I can still feel the ground! I also love the wide toe box – I’ll never go back to narrow shoes again. Which Altras do you run in and what’s your favorite?
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    • MissZippy says

      Very cool–I wear both the Delilahs (my pair is something like 18 months old now) and the Intuition 1.5s. I really want to try the Lone Peaks, though, for trails that are rocky. I love my NB Minimus trail, but every now and again they aren’t quite enough cushion for the rocks!

  20. says

    I love reading about how you successfully moved to minimalist shoes.
    I hate to say I attempted a shoe about halfway there and I think it was too hard on my joints, specifically my ankles. Part of it is probably that I didn’t change my form enough to do it successfully.
    I’m still going strong in my Ons and loving them!
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  21. says

    Interesting- I hadn’t thought of it as dying off, but you’re right- I really don’t hear much at all about natural running these days. And yes, I think it’s true that a lot of us tried it and didn’t have the patience to stick it out! True for me, at least…. but I have a variety of shoes and try to rotate between them all.
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  22. says

    Big and cushioned shoes – I hate to mess with my shoes right now since I’m in a good place as far as injuries!!! I don’t know if minimal shoes would ever work for me – even if it’s all in my mind!!

  23. says

    I definitely feel comfortable in a stability shoe. I haven’t tried a minimalist shoe when it comes to running. I’m always up for trying something new on my feet though 😉

  24. says

    I love this post – I wrote several posts a few years ago about how the “Minimalist Trend” was exactly that. That being said, I wear my minimalist shoes for long runs and races, but mostly because of weight. The whole I’m gonna change to POSE or CHI runner and never get hurt again because someone wrote a good book, albeit with faulty logic and incorrect facts, was just dumb. And the whole minimalist thing was just a way to cash in on everyone thinking Nike and Brooks were the mean corporate empires that were ruining our feet. Anyway, I have a ton of thoughts on this, but it was a great post.
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  25. says

    Minimalist shoes completely cured my PF, so if this is a trend that is dying, then I will start hoarding all of the Brooks Pure Flows immediately. My legs and feet feel great all the time, and I haven’t been injured in almost 3 years. (Knock on wood).
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  26. says

    I’ve been mainly running in Newtons for a while now, and I really like them now. It does take maybe 1-2 months to gradually transition into them, but its worth it. I think mid foot striking has saved my body, I basically feel almost no pain after I run now, I think mainly because by midfoot striking your foot force is spread amongst your whole body, as opposed to heel striking that puts all the force in certain areas. Not sure if you can midfoot strike with regular 7 mm high shoes as well, but it seems like it’s easier to midfoot strike in basically zero drop shoes. So I’m a believer in minimalist shoes.

    Side notes – but I never have to ice my legs after running, and I rarely feel pain after running now. I think I have midfoot striking to thank for that completely, but Newtons helped me along that quest. The only pain I have occasionally felt recently is maybe a little twinge of a recurrence of my right ankle stress fracture from 2011 – likely because I may have overdid a couple runs over the past month.
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  27. says

    I have moved from super protective shoes to a more moderate shoe (from Asics Kayanos to Mizuno Wave Riders), so while I’m nowhere near a minimalist I am enjoying the more natural feel of a less supportive shoe. I did try the Skoras (though the most supportive of their brand), and I liked them, but I felt more comfortable with the Mizunos. I think to each their own.
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  28. says

    Transitioned from the Nike Pegasus to the Saucony Kinvara about a year and a half ago and never looked back. The Kinvara is not necessarily a true minimalist shoe, but definitely much lighterweight and with a much lower drop than the more traditional Pegs. It was not without some initial stress to my calves and I had to go slow, but it has really changed my running and I’ve not had the knee pain during high mileage weeks like I used to have. Just ran a marathon last week in the Kinvaras and loved them!
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  29. says

    Switched from Asics to Vibram FF to Luna Sandals and then to Skora, now I run in a combination of the last three (mostly Skora) and I’ve never, ever, ever consider going back.

    Eliminating off the filters/cushion between me and the ground forced me to learn proper form, and, short of marrying my wife, I can’t think of a better decision I’ve made.

    I know what streets feel like, I know how sharp rocks are, I know how grass moves and I love how my body is in tune with it all.

    I can’t fathom why everyone wouldn’t want to run this way.
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  30. says

    It’s interesting that you wrote this the day after I did a test run in some Adidas Boost shoes. I hated them. My hamstrings felt awful (partly due to the cold, but I’m pretty sure the shoes did me no favors) compared to my beloved Newtons.

    I’ve noticed most shoes with either stability or too much cushioning bother my legs. I was thrilled when Newtons worked for me from the first run. I’ve been told I have good form, and I’m sure my shoes helped with that.
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  31. says

    I have been watching this trend and just ordered a pair of Hokas to try out. I know a lot of high level runners running in them trail and road with great feedback. Minimalist is not for me. I like my cushion!

  32. says

    I was just thinking about this the other day!! When I first started my blog a couple years ago, minimalist shoes were EVERYWHERE!! people were googly eyed over vibrams and trying to go barefoot… it seemed like it was all the rage!! I haven’t really seen much about it lately and I have seen that Brooks is coming out with the Transcend!
    It’s hard to know which shoe to buy for you… I’m constantly thinking “what if I’m in the wrong shoes? What if I need more support and cushioning? What if I need less??”
    However… you need to go with what feels right… I really enjoy the Brooks PureFlow!
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  33. says

    I run in a variety of shoes, but I always go back to a very low heal drop or minimalist. They are the only shoes I can run high mileage in and not get nagging aches, pains and injury.

  34. says

    I haven’t run since June and was not aware of the new trend of maximalist shoes. That’s very interesting and very surprising! I think many of those trends are pushed by shoe companies to make money by making a difference whats out there. Personally I think it really depends on the person and often times finding the right show is years of try and error.
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  35. says

    I’ve kind of always been a minimalist. I think it comes from back in a track and field background where I always had super light racing flats and jumping shoes. So when I started running road races a few years ago everything felt sOOOOO heavy on my feet so I gravitated toward the lighter shoes (initially the Nike Free’s). After a while with them I had some injuries and partially blamed it on the shoes, and went to the Saucony Kinvara’s and have been with them since (although I do have the Saucony Racing flats too). The kinvara’s are light enough but offer support too. Maximal shoes throw off my form and make me feel like I am stomping, so you wont see me on that trend anytime soon. But, that’t my personal standpoint and I know that everyone is different and needs different shoes for running.
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  36. says

    For me, the whole situation has been really interesting, as it evolved as I was just getting started coaching. If any one trend taught me about running fads, who to listen to, and how to parse out the conflicting information – and ultimately make the best decisions for myself, and suggestions for my runners – it was this one.

    And I think at the end, I’ve settled here (for now!): Everyone is different; but with time and practice, most people can adapt to a bit less shoe. Ultimately, though, I think I kinda fall in line with Dicharry: Wear a shoe that provides YOU with the support you need for your running. Wear a bit LESS shoe in your day-to-day life. You run for an hour a day, and live another 16 hours in other shoes. Run in comfort, build strength in your daily life.
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