The Minimalist Solution
As the running shoe industry blossomed in the 1970’s and 80’s, the difference between the heel and the front of the shoe started to creep up. Fast forward to now, running shoes have heels rising up to 15 millimeters above the front of the shoe. It’s not exactly a four-inch high heel, but if you take a look at the average running shoe, you’ll notice there is a pretty steep incline from front to back.
In the last few years, a new kind of running shoe has become popular. It’s known as the minimalist, or barefoot shoe (For my purposes, I’m going to treat them as separate styles, although the niche is new and some refer to the two terms interchangeably.) Most minimalist shoes have up to a 5 millimeter rise, toe-to-heel, although some have none. True barefoot shoes always have none, hence the name “zero drop”. Now, I’m generalizing a bit with the previous numbers because there are exceptions, but generally, the rule you should follow is the closer you can get to having a flat shoe, the better.
Isn’t the Barefoot Shoe Just Like a Racing Flat That a Sprinter Would Wear?
Yep. And guess what? Sprinters have awesome running form. You’ll never see a sprinter heel striking.
Choose a Minimalist Shoe
Or a barefoot shoe. Or just choose to run barefoot. It’s really up to you and your personal feelings on shoes.If you want to make the switch, do make sure you transition slowly. Depending on what sort of footwear you wear normally, you may even want to consider walking in your new shoes before running. And definitely start out running slowly over short distances (1 mile tops!), and build your mileage over time. If you’re trying to prevent injuries, the last thing you want to do is overwork yourself during a delicate transition.
Although I like both, I would recommend a zero-drop minimalist shoe over a barefoot shoe. This is because minimalist shoes have a just little bit of cushioning. Cushioning is a fairly controversial subject in the world of serious runners right now. Shoes with loads of cushioning prevent your foot from feeling the ground. This is usually referred to as proprioception.
The argument goes like this – on one side, you have barefoot runners waxing poetic about how if you want to prevent injuries, you need to run barefoot. Your foot needs to feel the stimuli from the ground and take in that information so your body can naturally adjust to the terrain, as needed, like our ancestors did. It’s a good point.
On the other side, you have doctors and podiatrists, reminding you gently (and possibly with an orthotic sales pitch ready to go) that concrete and asphalt didn’t exist during the majority of human evolution. Another good point.
Personally, I tend to lean towards the latter and that’s why I would recommend a minimalist shoe. Minimalist shoes do have much less cushioning than regular running shoes, and in my experience, they are still flexible and thin enough that you can get a true feeling of the ground beneath you. Plus, you have just a little extra shock absorption, but not enough to affect your (hopefully) good form. It also helps when you step on a pebble. Seriously. It would really be pretty awful to learn proper form, run injury-free for a while, and then end up sidelined because you stepped on a rock. Or a spider. Or burn yourself on hot pavement. It’s a win-win compromise.
Just make sure you choose a shoe with as close to a “zero drop” as possible. If you want to prevent injuries by running with proper form, this is the single best advice I can give you.