Common sense is needed when going to minimalist footwear

By John, Foot Tools owner

This minimalist footwear craze is just what running needs.  For decades now, companies have been pumping out heavy, stiff, controlling, jacked up heel running shoes.  Now the trend is towards lightweight, low profile, responsive shoes.  Who is wearing this new technology?  Younger runners who have not developed bad habits from long slow distances seem to be doing the best.  The Cross Fit crowd loves the low to ground technology for their squats, lunges and sprints.  Cross Fitters understand the importance of strength training and usually do low intense mileage.  Who is having problems adjusting to this new technology?  Older runners who do a lot of long slow mileage.  I had a client in this past week who has been off for over 4 months with an Achilles injury. He went from a 12.5 oz Kayano with a 12mm differential heel to a 5.5 oz Vibram 5 finger with a 0 differential heel.  Bingo!  Big injury.  Let’s hope his injury is not permanent and he does not need surgery. Don’t mess around with an Achilles injury, they are SERIOUS.

Here are some ideas on how to use and adapt to minimalist technology:

1. Start gradually. If you are currently wearing a heavy shoe like an Asics Kayano, Nike Triax, or Saucony Omni, at 12oz men and 10 oz women, then drop down a few ounces to lighter trainers.  Lighter trainers are more responsive and natural yet still have good cushioning in the heel area to minimize shock to the Achilles.  Lightweight trainers range from 8 to 10 oz for men and 7 to 9 oz for woman.  Mizuno makes two excellent lightweight trainers, the Elixir and Precision, and Saucony has developed a great series of lightweight shoes with the Kinvara, Mirage, and Cortana.  Saucony’s lightweight shoes have a low heel differential of 9mm compared to a heel differential of 12mm for Saucony Omni.  What is heel differential? It is the difference in the elevation of the shoe from the heel to the forefoot.

2.  Always cut down your mileage when adapting to lighter shoes. Try short run walks at first as your feet and tendons adapt to less cushioning and support.  After you have adapted to the lightweight shoes you may want to try the minimalist technology.  What is minimalist?  They are extremely light shoes with 0 to 3mm differential ranging in weight from 4.5oz to 8oz men and 3.5 to 6.5oz woman.  Used properly, these shoes are a joy and bring back the free and natural flow of running.  Used improperly, these shoes can turn a runner into an injury waiting to happen, like our friend’s potential long term Achilles injury.

Here is a list of minimalist shoes, available at Foot Tools:

– Vibram 5 Finger Bikila, an extremely natural shoe with 0 differential and separate toes.

– Saucony Hattori, beautiful 5.0 oz glove like fit (no laces) with 0 differential but a little more cushioning than Vibram 5 Finger

– Mizuno Universe, 4.5 oz – talk about light; it is great on asphalt for faster runners in 5-10 km road races

– Asics Piranha, you don’t even know this shoe is on your foot – 4.5 oz of pure joy.

– Adidas Feather, about 5.5 oz with some amazing cushioning for a shoe so light.

– The Inov-8 series, these guys are the masters with shoes between 0 to 3mm differential and weight between 4.5-6 oz.  The new Bare X Tallon is a must try on, with soft material and great tread for fast running and the demands of Cross Fit workouts.

When you start wearing this minimalist stuff, use extreme caution. Start off by finding soft training surfaces such as grass, rubberized tracks, sand, artificial turf, etc. Do short run walks of 5-10 min at first.  Try wearing them every other day.  Walk around in them before running.  It may take 6 to 12 months to adapt.  Some may never be able to wear them for long periods of time.  The younger and stronger you are, the easier it will be to adjust.  Remember we are all unique; some will adapt quicker.  Don’t rush and end up with a 6 month or permanent Achilles/leg injury. Have fun experimenting and be smart!

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