Minimalist Footwear - Is it right for you?

The Podiatrists at The Melbourne Sports Medicine Centre are noticing more and more runners these days are trying their hand at minimalist footwear for a more “natural” or “pure” running experience.  This comes on the back of the barefoot running trend, and whilst the purpose of this article is not to discuss the pro’s and con’s of barefoot or minimalist running (and there many things to discuss), we have to accept that minimalist footwear will adorn the shelves of your running shoe store.  The important thing is to understand where they belong as a footwear option, and how to incorporate these into your running program if you wish to.

In very simple terms, a minimalist shoe is generally one with little control or structure, allowing your foot to do more of the work when it comes to activity.  Various shoe brands will have certain features which distinguishes them from others, but overall the shoes are very similar.

The first thing to determine is what sort of runner are you?  Do you come with a history of injuries?  Do you have a history of wearing orthoses or very structured footwear?  How much do you run, and what sort of surfaces do you run on?  

The next thing to ask yourself is why do you wish to run in these shoes?  Is it technique change, strength and conditioning, speed, or even just hype?  To assess some of these questions or expectations, a visit to a podiatrist is recommended.  The transition from a supported or guided running style to one that is less-so can often lead to discomfort as you re-train, or possibly flare up previous injuries.  Your foot type also needs to be assessed as the impact stress the foot experiences is much greater with less structured or supported footwear.

Minimalist shoes were originally designed to be one of a variety of sports shoes used for training.  They were not designed to be the only choice of shoe, especially on longer runs, but moreso as a training shoe for shorter bursts a few times a week, or when walking for leisure or for everyday activity.  This way the benefits of strengthening muscles that may normally be protected with a more structured shoe or orthotic device would still be possible whilst minimising the risk of injury. 

The reality is however, that many people run in these shoes as their only choice.  The more efficient runner may be able to get away with this from an injury point of view (but they may find they are replacing the shoes much more often as they tend not to last as long as more structured shoes).  The less efficient runner, particularly one who has a past history of injury, may strike trouble as fatigue and injury could follow.  This is where use of both a minimalist and traditional shoe may be a better plan.

In summary, there is nothing wrong with running in minimalist footwear, in fact it can be beneficial in some cases.  The key is to ensure that it is right for you.  Your running technique, injury and exercise history must be considered when making this decision. A consultation with a podiatrist can help you come up with the right answer for you.

Chris Petropoulos

Podiatrist

For an appointment with Chris or one of our other experienced Podiatrists at The Melbourne Sports Medicine Centre please phone 9650 9372 or book online.