What defines a minimalist shoe and does it facilitate a more ‘natural’ way of running?
As with any other category of footwear, there is no strict criteria to define a minimalist shoe. Generally, they have less of everything — less weight, less cushioning and less structure than conventional running shoes. To answer if they are more functional, it is important to distinguish the marketing from the science. Like other marketing campaigns the impression was made that these shoes are new and revolutionary.
On the contrary, it has long been known that humans move differently while shod versus barefoot. A history of minimalist commercial failures in the 1990’s also diminish the revolutionary claim. Manufacturers will often conflate research on barefoot running to make the case for their minimalist shoes, when the two are obviously not the same. Runners wearing conventional foot wear — including minimalist shoes — will usually strike the ground with their heel, while barefoot runners usually do not. Given this, it questions the benefit of wearing a shoe with less cushion and less support.
Still, they may create favourable gait changes for some while increasing the risk for new injuries in others. The impact forces of running do not disappear but are redistributed based on the foot wear you choose.