Thinking about giving minimalist running shoes a try but don’t know how to get started? Then you have come to the right place.
Minimalist running has gathered a lot of steam over the past few years. If this is your first time down the minimalist path, you more than likely have a simple question in mind: how to choose a pair of proper minimalist shoes?
Fret no more.
In today’s article, I’ll help you learn more about minimalist running shoes as well as how to incorporate them into your training.
More specifically, we’ll look at:
- What are minimalist shoes
- The benefits of minimalist shoes
- The downsides
- What to look for when choosing a minimalist shoe
- The four best minimalist shoe brands in the markets
- And so much more.
Let’s lace up and dig in.
The Rise Of Minimalist Running
Minimalist running has gathered so much steam over the past decade.
The theory is simple: humans naturally evolved to run barefoot—without the added padded rubber beneath the soles. When you have less support and cushioning in your shoes, you’ll more than likely adopt a more natural gait and strengthen the muscles that often get ignored when using shoes.
In other words, “less shoe, more you.”
Minimalist Footwear Explained
Let’s get one thing straight first—minimalist footwear isn’t just your standard running shoe minus the cushioning.
Minimalist running shoes are built to closely mimic and represent how we would naturally run if we were not wearing shoes all the time while still offering some form of protection from sharp objects on the ground and the hazard of weather.
In short, minimalist footwear is characterized by a lack of arch support, high-cushioned heels, and stiff soles.
But not all minimalist running shoes are the same.
In fact, there’s a wide variety of shoes on the market.
But all in all, minimalist running shoes will have a mix of the following features (the more, the merrier):
- Low heel-toe drop—this refers to the difference in height between the heel and forefoot area.
- Lightweight – usually weighing no more than nine ounces
- Minimal cushioning – getting you to run closer to the ground as possible.
- Wider toe box – this allows the toes to spread out
Additional resource – How to measure foot size for running shoes
Minimalist footwear has become so popular because they actually help—like a lot.
Here are a few of the benefits:
Improved Running Style
In theory, minimalist shoes may improve your running technique by reducing the damaging effects of the heel strike.
According to popular belief, the added padding of standard running shoes causes heel strikes, and research suggests that this isn’t the most effective running stride.
Heel striking causes your feet to land in front of your hips, which results in undue braking action on every stride, so you’re not making the most out of your forward momentum.
But when using minimal footwear, you’ll tend to land on the mid-sole and front of your foot instead of the heel. This helps keep your strides light, smooth, and flowing.
Landing on the midfoot is also considered the most optimal as it’s the most biomechanically efficient.
Additional resource – Here’s the full guide to running shoe anatomy.
According to research, forefoot strike running may reduce the load of the knees, as well as the amount of impact absorbed by the body.
In fact, research reported that a forefoot strike might reduce the load on the knee by up to 20 to 24 percent. This implies that adopting a forefoot strike style may help runners with knee pain or injury.
Another research conducted by the National Taiwan Normal University also revealed the benefits of forefoot striking.
The researchers found out that the impact of a foot strike when lading on the forefoot is more spread out, therefore, limiting the amount of stress endured by the body, and in turn, reducing overuse injury risk.
Additional Resource – Here’s how to break in new running shoes.
Running in minimalist shoes help you feel the ground, which improves your ability to sense your own connection to the environment—or what’s known as proprioception.
You’re also engaging the smaller muscles in your hips, legs, ankles, and feet that are in charge of balance and coordination when you adopt the minimalist running method.
Minimalist footwear is, by definition, less bulky than traditional running shoes. That’s why they tend to weigh less than classic shoes by several ounces.
Every type of running footwear has its downsides—minimalist shoes are no exception.
As you can already tell, most of us didn’t grow up barefoot. We all have to wear casual shoes or other more bulky footwear throughout the day.
Additional resource – How to recycle sneakers
Increased Injury Risk
If you’re dealing with muscle imbalances or biomechanical issues, consider switching to minimalist shoes as they may increase your injury risk, especially if you try to rush things and ignore the transition phase.
For example, research showed that the risk of sustaining tendonitis as well as metatarsal stress fractures increases among beginner minimalist runners, especially if the lower legs are already weak and compromised.
Research has also shown that forefoot striking may increase the stress on the Achilles tendons, ankles, and calf muscles.
According to Australian research, forefoot strike may up the load endured by the ankle by roughly 20 percent.
For more on the pros and cons of minimalist running, check the following resources:
- The long-term effect of minimalist shoes on running performance and injury
- Effect of Minimalist Footwear on Running Efficiency
- Transitioning to Minimal Footwear: a Systematic Review of Methods and Future Clinical Recommendations
- Study: do minimalist shoes cause injuries?
- Running Barefoot or in Minimalist Shoes
- Running barefoot leads to lower running stability compared to shod running
- Immediate and short-term adaptations to maximalist and minimalist running shoes
- Can Minimalist Shoes Reduce Running-Related Injuries?
- Minimalist Running Shoes and Injury Risk Among United States Army Soldiers
Additional Reading – Your guide to the heel to toe drop.
Minimalist Vs. Standard Running Shoes
There are many differences between minimalist shoes and classic road shoes. The main one boils down to the drop length of the arch.
In general, standard running footwear features a 10 to 12 mm “heel-to-toe drop.” Meaning that they have an extra 10-12 millimeters of cushioning underneath the heels relative to the toes.
By contrast, most minimalist shoes boast a drop of roughly 4-8 mm,
This means less padding all over the shoes, especially at the forefoot and the heels.
In fact, some shoes have no drop at all, or what’s known as “zero-drop” shoes—putting the forefoot and heel are at the same level.
Additional resource – Guide to insoles for running shoes
How To Choose Minimalist Running Shoes
Let’s get to the practical stuff.
Here are the main features to check for when choosing minimalist running shoes.
Note –Minimalist running is not for everyone. For example, if you’re suffering from bunions, hammertoes, flat feet, plantar fasciitis, or other lower leg pains and injuries, minimalist running might not be for you. Consult your doctor first.
The amount of flexibility helps your feet adapt to the terrain, providing more grip and power.
In fact, as a rule, you should feel free to maneuver and move your feet without feeling any obstacle or struggle in your lower body.
The foot naturally bends in all directions, so should your minimalist footwear.
The most important factor when buying a minimalist running shoe is the fit.
Minimalist footwear should feel secure on foot without any added extra pace around the toe. Tight, minimalist shoes can restrict your foot’s natural movement, which can do more harm than good.
Additional resource – Running shoes for plantar fasciitis
Shoe sizing can be tricky as feet tend to swell and shrink throughout the day—and while running, too.
That’s why you should test out a few different sizes and see which one suits you the best.
And remember to go shopping in the evening—that’s when your feet swell the most.
You should also try out different models, such as wide toe-box, separate fingers, foot-shaped, etc., before making up your mind.
Remember to put on your running socks too, if you plan to wear them while running.
Just like any other workout footwear, breathability is a key factor to look for.
I’d recommend minimalist running shoes with a high-performance upper mesh to help manage any build-up of moisture or smelly odors. It should also be made of machine-washable materials, designed with lots of breathability.
The Stack Height
This refers to the height of the shoe sole, and it’s measured at the center of the heel between where the foot sits and the most external part of the outsole.
As a rule, the lower the number the closer your feet to the ground will be while running.
Your choice will depend on your main running surfaces and your own preferences. If you usually run on roads and other hard surfaces, you’ll want a heavier shoe weight that has a greater stack height.
This refers to the height between the front and the back of those, usually 4 to 8 mm for minimalist shoes.
As a rule, your minimalist shoes should have a heel to toe drop of roughly 4mm to 8mm because you want the most underfoot feel possible.
The Toe Box
The wider the toe box, the more room you’ll have for your toes to lay flat and move naturally. That’s why you should make sure the toe box is large enough to let your toes function as they’re supposed to.
The Shoe Weight
Weight is another factor to consider when buying minimalist shoes. These shoes are required to be incredibly lightweight for optimal performance.
The lighter the shoe, the better.
Any additional weight impacts your overall running style. Keep in mind that the main goal is to feel as if you were barely wearing shoes at all.
So, check the weight first, then see how it compares to the other brands.
How long Do Minimalist Shoes Last?
The lifespan of a minimalist running shoe depends on various factors, such as your weight, running style, weekly mileage, terrains, and the shoe itself.
But all in all, expect to squeeze about 400 to 500 miles from a pair of minimalist footwear.
So if you run 5 miles in the shoe per week, they could last 12 to 18 months—which is quite long.
But if you’re using them as your main training footwear, let’s say running 20 per week, you’ll need to replace your footwear every five to six months.
Pay attention to any wear patterns, tears, holes, or a decrease in footbed comfort; it’s likely time to start looking for new shoes.
To make a pain-free transition to minimalist running, you should take the adaption period seriously. How long it takes varies from runner to runner. If you feel any discomfort or pain during the first few weeks, it’s a sure sign that you need to reevaluate your training approach.
Most of the research points out the fact that injuries are common during the transition period from classic to minimalist footwear
Most minimalist shoes brands have transition plans on their website, like this one from XXX.
How Much Should You Pay For A Minimalist Shoe?
Again, this depends on you—as in your budget and how much you’re willing to shell out on running footwear.
I’d recommend getting a cheap one from a famous brand. A high-end minimalist shoe will set you back by roughly $140+. These tend to be overpriced and not the best choice for a beginner. Choose wisely.
Here are more tips to help you make a smoother transition:
- Practice walking in your minimalist shoes before taking them for a run
- Avoid overstriding
- Start with running short distances over soft surfaces
- Shoot for a 170 to 180 cadence per minute, focusing on striking the ground with the midfoot
- Keep your running style smooth and relaxed—don’t force it.
- Lean slightly forward from your ankles—not the waist—to create forward propulsion.
- Keep your arms bent at a 90-degree angle, swinging from the shoulders in a straight line
- Pay attention to your body the entire time and back if you’re experiencing any degrees of discomfort or pain.
- Gaze straight ahead—not at your feet—and stay relaxed the entire time.
How To Choose The Right Minimalist Running Shoes – The Conclusion
There you have it!
If you’re looking to make the switch to minimalist running, then today’s post should get you started on the right foot. I know it’s not the most extensive nor comprehensive article on the topic, but it should give you enough ammunition to get started. The rest you can figure out on your own.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Keep training strong.