The best minimalist running shoes for training aren’t necessarily the same shoes that are suitable for racing. You spend much more time training than racing, so ensure your weekly running shoes are the best you can get and the most suitable for your foot shape and current ability.
This article will discuss the best minimalist running shoes but for triathlon racing you need to have shoes that have a super quick lacing system or a velcro system to get them on and off quickly to speed up your transitions plus are super light, flexible.
The discussions around the best minimalist running shoes have gone from one extreme to the other over the last 30 years and now hopefully the pendulum is starting to center in a place of normality rather than a fad.
What Are The Best Minimalist Running Shoes?
The best minimalist running shoes avoid high cushioned heels, stiff motion controlled soles and over corrective arch support. Most runners do not require all this extra support as our feet were, of course, designed to run barefoot. Minimalist running shoes aim to allow the foot to move and strengthen naturally.
The natural arch of the foot acts as spring if is allowed to work. If you constantly walk and run with excessive support and cushioning, these foot muscles become weaker over time.
There are, of course, cases where arch support and motion control is required.
However the majority of runners can (and should) adjust to barefoot/minimalist running to strengthen their feet and lower leg muscles and become better runners with more longevity.
When making any change to the body, it is wise to make gentle, gradual changes. Do not jump from a 15mm cushioned heel in your running shoes to 0mm zero drop. The change is too radical and you will get injured. Do not go out on your first day in new shoes and run 15 miles. You will get injured.
If this happens, do not blame the shoes or the barefoot running community!
The error here is simply in the impatience of the runner!
If you run in 15mm shoes, gradually change to 12mm heel shoes for a couple of months, then ease down to 8mm for a couple of months and so on. Also moderate your mileage-significantly! Start with just 5 minutes for a few days. Then jog for 10 minutes for a few weeks and continue to gradually increase, whilst listening to the body for any signs of soreness or pain.
As with any change, there is certainly a period of adaptation required but when you get it right, the best minimalist running shoes may help you run faster and prevent injury.
But it is not just about the shoes. In addition, you must make sure YOU optimize the way you run as well.
If you switch to minimalist running shoes but still slam down on your heel with poor technique and run “heavy” you will not make any improvements and simply get injured. The shoes make “encourage” you to run better but you have to make some changes too.
There is not one best minimalist running shoe. There are a lot of different shoes and brands that may serve you well today, but may not serve your needs in 3 months time. Let’s discuss more…
How To Start Running Barefoot
Ideally you should only introduce one change at a time. Do not wear new shoes AND try to change your technique all in the same week.
Most runners who make a transition, do experience some calf soreness even when making a slow change. So be prepared for this and be prepared to rest or drop your mileage if you need to. Wearing calf compression sleeves during your running or afterwards will help reduce this soreness.
Let’s assume you have done this over a period of 6 months and now want to change or optimise your style of running to forefoot running. Be very conscious to change gradually. You cannot fast track the transition. You MUST be disciplined or you will get injured.
Here are some golden rules:
- Do your drills. Optimising your technique requires breaking the running form down into its components and working on each piece separately. This is what drills are for. Most runners hate drills and just turn up to the club to run. If you just run by yourself most of the time, I can almost guarantee that you never do drills! But it is impossible to improve your running without understanding how to run and working on one skill at a time.
- Get video-ed. Get a friend to video you running. A treadmill is an ideal place. Video from the front, from the side and from the back. Ideally you will review it with a running coach who can point out areas you can improve. But even if you do not have this, you will notice some startling errors and inefficiencies you can work on right away.
- Get an expert opinion. The quickest way to improve is to get some guidance. Either get a coach to guide you or join an online program that can teach you the correct drills to do step by step and the things you should be thinking about when you run. I recommend James at Kinetic Revolution who has produced a series of awesome videos to help improve your running technique, improve your speed and prevent injury. I really like them because they are affordable and very similar to the way I teach my clients. It works.
- Improve your flexibility. If you have tight calf muscles, tight plantar fascia and tight Achilles tendons, you are more likely to get injured. Be introducing a level of flex in your soft tissues, you will be able to absorb more shock and avoid more injury.
- Improve your strength. Strength in the core, gluteal area and calves will help your running form, power and minimize risk of injury.
- Improve your cadence. Adopting the ideal cadence will also help you run faster, more effortlessly and avoid injury.
- Walk barefoot on different surfaces. Just by walking barefoot more than before, helps stimulate the sensitive parts of the foot, wake up areas that have been asleep and give you more “sense” of the ground, the earth and how to move on it. As you are jogging and walking, have the thought in your mind to jog/run “lightly”. Move over the earth as though you are gliding rather than thumping. You may have noticed this when watching a marathon. The front runners glide whereas the runners at the back, thump.
With any change in program, style or equipment, never make a change close to an event or in a period of high volume and intensity. Better to make adjustments in the off season when you have time to experiment, “play”, test out your body position, your foot landing position, get videoed and review your progress once a month.
If you do get plantar fasciitis, one of the best ways to loosen up this tissue is to self massage with golf balls. (If you are just starting out- just do one foot at a time!)
Remember to closely monitor your body, its fatigue level, soreness. Be disciplined- do not wait until pain appears before you stop- this will be too late.
It is very important, in fact critical, that you follow a slow progression when you transition to forefoot striking. Even with such a program, you will likely experience some muscle soreness in your calf, lower leg and feet. To help ease it quickly, book a massage as you transition or ensure you wear calf compression sleeves to assist the muscles. I wore these daily during my runs and afterwards as I was transitioning to the best minimalist running shoes. To be honest, I do not think it would have been as quick without wearing these.
Is there anything wrong with heel cushioned shoes?
Shoes with huge cushioned heels encourage heel striking and change the natural mechanics of the foot. Barefoot running naturally encourages a forefoot or mid foot gait. Big heels dramatically change stride mechanics and running efficiency. The best minimalist running shoes are light weight and flexible. You should be able to twist the shoes along its long axis and bend the shoe at the mid foot.
Dr Daniel Lieberman from Harvard has a plethora of research on this and is convinced barefoot running (this includes running with thin soles) is the best, most natural and fastest way to run.
He has studied those with traditional running shoes versus barefoot runners and observed impact forces and stride patterns.
Lower running injury rate has been observed in barefoot running populations.
The muscles in our feet and arch can be strengthened over time.
His studies show that there was a 54% increase in hip internal rotation and 36% increase in knee flexion torque when running with thick heels vs minimalist running shoes. These factors help explain why heel strikers in competitive running may have increased risk of osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.
The best minimalist running shoes together with forefoot/midfoot striking help to reduce these deleterious forces.
Does running barefoot make you faster?
Along with reducing injuries, running with the best minimalist running shoes is more efficient. A recent study “Barefoot running reduces submaximal oxygen cost in female distance runners” shows that an increase weight of shoe by 250g would slow a runner by 5%. Over a 4 hour marathon this would add 12 minutes to the race.
So there is the simplicity that a minimalist shoe without lots of “extras” simply weighs less and will make you faster. There is also the factor that improving your mechanics will help improve your speed. And that fact that the shoe encourages you to forefoot/midfoot strike which put momentum in your favor instead of putting the brakes on with every step.
Isn’t running barefoot dangerous?
No, barefoot running is not dangerous. Impatience is dangerous!
Most runners want results NOW :)
Metatarsal stress fractures are common in runners making the transition. Muscles, bones and soft tissue take months to strengthen. Do not expect results in a few weeks. Increasing running volume too fast will cause you problems.
This is difficult because you have the fitness to go further. Be disciplined. Be gentle on the body. Start by just wearing them around the house and to the grocery store.
Wearing calf compression sleeves will help a lot.
Aim to run “light”. You should not sound like a herd of elephants approaching.
A New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds compared a group of runners who were never injured with a group who were and found that the “ never-injured runners”, as a group, landed far more lightly than those who had been seriously hurt,”
Although barefoot running has been shown to reduce injuries overall, injuries are also very common among new barefoot runners. People hear about the benefits of barefoot running, then jump into barefoot or minimalist running much too quickly, without proper adaption.
As shown from the studies above, the muscles, bones and soft tissue take months to strengthen, so increasing volume too fast is very likely to cause a problem. Also, even though the loading is lower during barefoot running, metatarsal stress fractures are common. Because the bones in the foot don’t get the same loading pattern during shod rear-foot strike, they will take time to adapt to this new running style as well.
What are the best minimalist running shoes?
Of course, one does not require ANY equipment to run barefoot. Barefoot running is free!
Running outside is also free! Choose a variety of different terrains- dirt tracks, sand, grass or pavement. Start slow- your feet will not be used to different textures. Start by walking if you need to.
However, most people are more comfortable with a little covering on their feet- to protect from cold, glass, sticks and stones.
These are the top 5 best minimalist running shoes in my opinion:
Thoughts: Very light, breathable. Great in water, they dry quickly. Some models have a velcro strap, others have quick lacing. Comfortable for most people though if you have stubby toes, some people complain that the toe compartments are too narrow. Great for hiking, walking, running and every day wear. (Not great for racing as have to get each toe into a specific compartment :)
Thoughts: These are also very light weight and breathable. A slightly high ankle collar may annoy some people. Comfortable, wide toe box, easy to get foot in and out. Awesome.
Thoughts: Breathable fabric. Zero drop from forefoot to heel. 3mm puncture resistant sole. Super light weight. Great shoe. Ticks all the boxes for me.
Vibram Men’s V-Train Cross-Trainer Shoe
Thoughts: Lightweight, comfortable, some reviewers disapointed with the latest version. ( I personally have not tested these ones)
There is not a lot to say… all these shoes have had the technology stripped away- this is the point!
The most important thing is that they are light, flexible, do not make your feet sweat and suit you current ability and current foot anatomy!
The best minimalist running shoes encompasses a broad range of shoes, from barely there models like the Vibram FiveFingers and Merrell Trail Glove to moderate minimalists like the New Balance Minimus Road and Nike Free to gateway or transitional shoes like the Saucony Kinvara and Brooks PureConnect.
These are ALL good shoes. It depends what stage you are at with your current shoe journey. It is is important not to make drastic changes. It depends what stage you are at with your fitness, how heavy you are, how good your running style and technique is.
I am sorry if you read this looking for the perfect shoe- but it does not exist.
Any review site that states xyz is the perfect shoe- still does not know what is the perfect shoe FOR YOU~ right now.
I have tried to give you an overview as to what to look for and the factors that should go into your decision to find the best minimalist running shoes.
As you know, you do not need to spend anything- just start to spend a Saturday afternoon barefoot, or throw off your flip flops when you go to the beach and really enjoy feeling the sand in between your toes.
Every shoe needs to be comfortable and your running gait, body weight and bone structure needs to suit each running shoe.
So, should everyone switch to minimalist running shoes?
Like most things in the human body, it depends…
It is not for everyone.
It is not for diabetics or anyone who has numbness or poor sensation in feet.
It is not for anyone who has rheumatoid arthritis or structurally abnormal feet.
Some runners do require orthotics.
Some runners who have orthotics may be able to eventually strengthen their feet to such an extent that within a year or so they may not need them any more.
Safety and comfort should always come first. If you feel uncomfortable, you are pushing too hard for your body at the moment. Running barefoot should feel easy, like the most natural thing in the world. Of course there will be adjustments, but it should never feel painful- just different.
If you are currently suffering from plantar fasciitis or a similar foot condition or if you are an overpronator, you may need footwear with a little more support for now. You may want to consider an athletic insole that could cradle your foot a little, until you strengthen your feet and improve your flexibility more.
Or it may be that you are an overpronator, but cannot be bothered to stretch and do strengthening exercises. Absolutely fine! Just stay in normal running shoes and wear your insoles. Honesty is great- as long as you know where you are. If you are happy with that, stay there. If you want to change it up- do that.
Other runners may have flat feet when walking but not when running. There is not one perfect shoe.
What minimalist running shoes do I currently run in?
I have to say- I absolutely love, love, love them. They are the most comfortable shoe I have ever had. I wear them all the time, running, walking, gym training, going out….. (probably a bit too much!) I did not go straight to them from my “normal” running shoes. I went through a series of other shoes. I could say that I wish I had found them earlier- except that I know that my running gait was not yet ready for them.
Now my gait is optimised and I can run miles in them happily. But it was not always the case..
Like everyone else I pushed too hard in the beginning. I got bored of doing the 10-15 minute runs and felt OK to get into the 30-40 minute runs. Before long I had developed a pain in my meta tarsal area. I do not think it was as severe as a stress fracture, but I certainly had to rest from running for a few weeks!
Use this as a guide- play with it a little…be patient and listen to your body.
I know some runners use minimalist running shoes for 5 km-10km and use different shoes with a little more cushioning for >10km- marathon distance
Some marathoners only run in barefeet.
Work out how much time you wish to spend making any adjustments. If you have no patience, do not bother. This does take time. For me, I know I run better now. I have improved my technique, my speed, my cadence. I feels natural and fast and easy. I love running minimalist.
What is the future of running shoes?
In the 1980s, 1990s the pendulum swung massively towards the biggest “air gel cushions” you could get for shoes.
In 2009-2012, the pendulum swung back to stripping it all out and the most minimalist shoes you could get.
The news stories were full of runners in central park running in bare feet. Companies like Vibram FiveFingers were doubling sales every year and could barely keep up with demand.
Probably the pendulum is coming back into balance a bit more.
Overall the minimalist running movement is still a small proportion of the running shoe market at approximately 10%. The majority of people still want some cushioning; rather than extreme minimalism. The best minimalist running shoes tends to include a flexible, lightweight shoe with a little cushioning with a 0mm to 4mm drop.
To make the transition fully requires too much hard work for most people..but then triathletes are not shy of hard work!
So it is up to you,
Let me know what you think.
Have you tried minimalist running shoes?
What do you wear?
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