Minimalist running is a style of running in which the shoe has as little support and cushioning as possible. Through minimalist running, the runner attempts to build stronger feet muscles and arches and a gentler, shorter stride. People who participate in minimalist running, also referred to as barefoot running, believe that bulky running shoes prevent the body from achieving its most natural and efficient stride, and cause increased running-related injuries. This form of running is not for everyone and should be taken up gradually, allowing the muscles of the feet to catch up with the technology of the shoes.
The basic concept of minimalist running shoes is that they have very little padding. While some people may opt to run completely barefoot, others may prefer at least a thin barrier between their feet and the road. Depending on the brand of shoes, they can have a varied heel height. For example, some brands only have 0.28 inch (7.2 mm) of heel height, while others have a lofty 1.22 inches (31.1 mm) of heel height.
These minimalist running shoes allow for increased sensation while running. For example, when the heel hits the ground, the runner can feel the heel strike and make her stride gentler. The feeling provided while wearing the shoes actually discourages the runner from running on her heels alone and encourages her to run on her entire foot. This change in mechanics may be quite difficult for some runners to embrace.
Many running shoes that provide an abundance of support and padding also have a toe spring. The toe spring prevents the runner’s toes from touching the ground during the runner’s stride. With minimalist shoes, there is no toe spring, so the toes can actually hit the ground.
There are some health benefits said to result from minimalist running. For example, the runner can feel how the feet and legs are impacted with each step, so he or she can make adjustments in stride to prevent pains and injuries commonly associated with running, specifically regarding plantar fasciitis and stress fractures of the tibia or shin. With fewer injuries, minimalist runners may be able to spend more time training and increase their speed.
Some people should avoid minimalist running. For example, people with foot deformities should not participate in this style of running. In addition, people affected by diabetes should participate with caution, because they may experience numbness of the feet as a result of their medical condition.
People who are new to minimalist running should begin slowly, only running short distances at a time. As the foot muscles and arches of the feet are developed, they can increase their mileage. In addition, newcomers to this style of running should not discontinue use of their padded running shoes. It is often recommended to alternate styles of running, at least until the feet are strong enough to run solely as a minimalist.