Running Shoes - Traditional Vs Minimalist

Updated - November 13, 2021 10:33 am IST

Published - February 15, 2015 03:49 pm IST

Competitors race in coloured running shoes in the men's elite class runners during the London Marathon April 13, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor  (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS)

Competitors race in coloured running shoes in the men's elite class runners during the London Marathon April 13, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS)

In our last article, we discussed ‘Choosing the right running gear’, in which we looked at various options available for T-Shirts, shorts, socks and the likes. In this article we will discuss shoes, the most important running accessory.

Traditional running shoe manufacturers generally focussed on heel cushion and motion control technologies as solutions to modern-day runner woes like bad running surface, pronation, stability, flat foot, etc. With the phenomenal growth of recreational runners, the running shoe industry has grown to become multi-billion dollar industry. But in 2009, Christopher Mcdougall came out with a compelling argument for barefoot running in his book: Born to Run . In that, he argues humans are born to run and have been running barefoot in search of livelihood for centuries.

Since that book, there has been lot of discussions about efficacy of traditional running shoes Vs minimalist shoes. While there is a small section of runners who go completely barefoot (like Milind Soman) and don’t bother about any kind of shoes, this article is for overwhelming majority of runners who prefer to run in some kind of running shoe, traditional or minimalist.

Traditional running shoes

As more people take to running, they do so in traditional running shoes. In spite of the intense public discourse about barefoot running, majority of runners still prefer to run on traditional running shoes.

But, not all running shoes are alike. Just as the running styles differ, the running shoes also differ. There are umpteen choices available that cater to various running forms. While options are good, they can be confusing and overwhelming. From motion control to heel cushion to pronation management, the options are plenty. A good running shoe store ought to be able to help you pick the right one that matches your specific needs. Some stores even make you run on a treadmill and record a short video clip, which is then analysed to make an appropriate shoe recommendation.

Pros & Cons

With the right running shoes, runners can hope to be shielded from the vagaries running surface and help offset some running form issues like stability and pronation. It also helps absorb shock from heavy landing, particularly for heel-first strikers.

However, even with four decades of technological advancements in the running shoe manufacturing, the percentage running related injuries have not come down. This makes one wonder if all the new fancy shoes that keep flooding the market in regular periodicity are any good at all.

Minimalist running shoes

Since the publication of Born to Run , some runners have taken to minimalist running shoes like Vibaram Five Fingers. They are flexible and provide little or no cushion to your feet. These shoes come close to barefoot running, yet provide some protection to your foot.

Minimalist running shoes call for different kind of running technique as compared to traditional running shoes. It requires solid core and a gradual transition from traditional running shoes.

Pros & Cons

Since the feedback from the running surface is almost instantaneous, some people claim that minimalist shoes help you correct running form. It is impossible to be a ‘heel-first striker’ with the minimalist shoes, and it is proven that ‘heel striking’ increases the probability of running injuries.

Minimalist shoe help improve the running form and efficiency by ‘forcing’ the runner to become ‘forefoot or midfoot first’ striker. Biomechanics aside, minimalist shoes put less weight on a runner’s feet and decreases the energy expended as compared to traditional running shoes.

However, minimalist running shoes requires strength and flexibility. The lack of motion-control support could increase the risk of running injuries.

These days, I run on both traditional as well minimalist shoes interchangeably. However, like most runners, I started with traditional shoes and cycled through many pairs for about 6 years before I switched to minimalist shoes. In fact, I ran only in minimalist shoes for a couple of years till the running injuries started surfacing and put me out of commission for a few months. After recovering from injuries, I find it convenient to alternate between both types of shoes. This, I believe helps me keep running ailments at bay and helps improve my running form. In summary, I recommend starting out with traditional shoes if you are beginner. Run in them for a few cycles till you are comfortable with the shoes and running as whole. After putting some miles and experience, experiment with minimalist shoes if you would like. But do so with caution and switch gradually.

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