Minimal Shoes; Should You?

I have made no secret of the fact that I am a fan of minimal shoes. But there is (as with all things fitness and nutrition related) a lot of hype, dogma, and doubters around the subject. I’ve been on a couple of courses where they covered the relevant biomechanics, and made my decision to do my running this way despite having a weak ankle. At least when I started the process! Making the transition has meant I’ve seen great benefit but as always YMMV. You also need to realise that transitioning your running style successfully will require some work.

I’ve tried several manufacturers shoes and so far I am happiest running in inov-8 zero-drop trainers. Prior to this, I was (and am) a fan of New Balance products because of the narrow fit they offer. I didn’t get on so well with their minimal shoes but am happy to revisit at some point.

I thought I’d do a post on this now as this past weekend the hubby and I went to Sweatshop to get his feet analysed for trainers. Whilst I have transitioned to fore/mid-foot strike, it is something you have to work at, and practice. For someone getting back into running, I would suggest having an idea of how your foot rolls (or not) when you land from a more usual heel strike running posture. That way you can get support now, and know what to look for whilst transitioning. And no-one likes injuries. It also won’t help the transition 😉 I have to say the service they offer at Sweatshop Windsor was excellent, and I was very happy with the help and advice that they offered.

If you move away from striking without working at it, and gradually transitioning then you risk all sorts of injuries. There is also the need to remind yourself to not land on the heel. And doing that on minimal cushioned shoes is going to hurt. I would say it took me several months and I’m not a high volume runner. If you already run many miles a week then I would expect it to take slightly longer. Mostly because you’ll find you have to slow down, and you will not able to go as far as fast initially (your calves will complain!), and it will not feel as natural as the old style. I know of people in this position who did one run a week new style and then did their usual volume with heel strike. Nothing wrong with this, but it will slow down the adaptation.

Another advantage to inov-8 footwear is that they have the arrow system. You can gradually move down the from three arrows to zero drop. I didn’t, and jumped straight down. But then I’m stubborn 🙂 And I already had a crocked ankle and no running commitments so had nothing to lose by working on adapting completely from the outset. I’d also had an appalling experience of orthotics that the NHS thought would help my ankle. The fact it screwed the hamstring on that leg up was apparently not a concern… (Don’t get me wrong, the NHS is for the most part awesome. Just not with sports stuff!) I do now sometimes choose to get footwear with a higher drop for wearing in other training sessions, just to provide a bit more cushioning. Having that choice in their products is very useful.

I have to say, eighteen months down the line, it’s the best thing I’ve done for my ankle. It’s the strongest it has been in years. And my running is coming together again. Though with the running, that’s more down to not running much, to now running a bit more 🙂 I’ve learnt to power from the glutes and get no knee pain at all when running. Even on the knee that sometimes objects to jerks with kettlebells if it’s not supported.

If there is nothing broken with your running and you are not that bothered, by all means stay with what you know. In fact, it’s better to do this unless you are intending to put the effort in to retrain. But if you are not happy with the footwear you have, or how your body responds to running, and the effort of working at it does not daunt you, give it a go. It wouldn’t hurt to look for a barefoot/minimal coach or course either. It doesn’t need a major investment; just a session or two to help you.

PS The featured image is my latest pair of trainers; gotta love some bright green 🙂


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