Running is the most accessible form of exercise. You need a road, yourself and right running shoes, and you’re good to go. But let’s talk about some differences between the traditional running shoes and those minimalistic ones that have exploded on the market. What is the right shoe for you and why?

Just any running shoe?

Obviously, not all running shoes are the same. We have the traditional running shoes that provide a lot of support for your feet, ankles, lower legs and knees. You’ve seen them, they are built up and in some cases, bulky looking with a large heel drop (the difference between the heel and the forefoot height): 11 mm and up. They provide a lot of cushing on your mid-sole and a great deal of stability on the heel to create motion control.


Because we all have different styles of running, those sould preferably be tested in a store with a camera equipped treadmill, so that you can get the best model for your running style (and not only chose the shoe for design reasons – I am certain that most of you readers – including myself – have done that once or twice in your previous running shoe shopping), and if needed, build them up with an extra sole. 

On the other hand we have the minimalistic running shoes, making you feel like you are running barefoot. Those shoes are more flexible, have no cushing material on the mid sole and a heel drop from 0 to 10 mm. The are nor built up at all, and demand more stability from the foot and the ankle. This group of running shoes can be divided into 3 sub-categories:

– Transition shoes – a good option to start with if you are planning on switching from traditional running shoes. Nike Free models are typical transition shoes with a little less heel drop and more flexibility but still a great deal of stability.

– Minimalistic shoes – lighter than transition shoes, small heel drop and a wide forefoot, that allowes the toes to spread out. Speedform Apollo from Under Armour is an excellent example of a minimalistic shoe.

– Barefoot style shoes – the option most similar to running without shoes at all. Those have so called zero drop (no difference between toe and heel) and often individual toe construction. Vibram Five-Fingers are the most known barefoot style shoes on the market.

Whatever category of minimalistic running shoes, they have some things in common: they demand a slightly different technique and they won’t give you the same stability as the traditional running shoe. But, even if they are lighter and slimmar, they are wider in the toe area, giving you a bigger running platform.

Minimalist running shoes vs traditional - which fits to you?

So,why all the fuzz?

Are the minimalistic running shoes just a trend? Well, not exactly. It’s even kind of funny that traditional running shoes are called traditional, since people have been running barefoot for 1.8 million years. The idea of running without shoes has been adapted for a long time (Abebe Bikila won the 1960 Olympic Marathon and Zola Budd the 1985 and 1986 IAAF World Cross Country Championships running barefoot), but it reached the masses in 2009, with the Chris McDougall’s bestseller”Born to Run”, claiming that we’ve  been doing it all wrong and taking us all the way to Tarahumara tribe in Copper Canyon, Mexico to prove his point. If the oldest people of Tarahumara can Run efortless for hours in home made sandals, how come we struggle with 10K in our top of the line trainers? The secret lies in the stride.

Heel or toe? 

Switching to minimalistic running shoes can add “the feeling” to your run – suddenly you are closer to the ground and can feel the surface under you more than in a traditional running shoes (that are designed to take away everything that might be disturbing you). To make this kind of running safe and pleasure, it’s crucial that you use the technique of forefoot-first stride (since you will no longer have any – or very little – heel support). Since  the shoes are lighter on the feet, you get the impression that less energy is spent during the run and that you can go faster longer. But it’s actually all about the forefoot.

For a runner using heal drop technique, switching to minimalistic shoes can be quite difficult. A common mistake is to switch too fast, as in replacing your old traditional running shoes with the minimalistic ones. So please take my advice and – as eager as you moght be over your new shoes – to start slowly. Just a few minutes at the time to begin with.

Mastering the minimalistic running shoes also requires additional strenght training for the lower body and core, when – if neglected – can lead to injuries. It’s not a bad idea to consult a local running coach for proper exercises, especially for the calves, glutes, hips, abs and lower back.

Should you go minimalistic?

If you are perfectly happy with your traditional running shoes and your technique is working for you – why change it? But if you are curious about forefoot-stride technique and willing to put in some extra hours into the transition – as a minimalistic shoe enthusiast I say: it will be be worth it!
Of course, if you have a history of injuries, or have some other condition that requires high stability shoes, then you shouldn’t switch. If you have flat feet or overpronate, you shouldn’t either. But if you are healthy and in for the long run (sorry for the joke, gang!), I say: just DO it!

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Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
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