The Spectrum of Minimalist Running Shoes

by Jason Fitzgerald

You didn’t think I’d host a Minimalist Running Blog Carnival and not add my own post, did you?! Of course not. To cap off this week’s focus on minimalism, I recorded a video looking at my own minimalist running shoes and the casual shoes I wear.

Each shoe in the lineup offers different characteristics of a typical minimalist shoe: low weight, small heel-toe drop, less support, minimal upper, and a low sole. My goal is to provide you with more insight in how I pick my own minimalist shoes so you can find what’s best for you.

Every shoe you wear should have a purpose. You shouldn’t wear the same shoe for a long run that you do for an interval workout. Wearing different running shoes can help you avoid injuries by stressing your feet and legs in slightly different ways. In my interview with Pete Larson, he agrees and believes it’s one of the reasons he’s stayed healthy.

It’s a complex subject and there’s a lot of science behind why minimalist running shoes may be helpful in preventing injuries. My hope is to distill that for you into some actionable lessons that you can apply directly to your training.

Minimalist Running Shoes Mentioned:

ASICS Speedstar - This is the first shoe mentioned in the video and the model I wear for the majority of my mileage. I’ve worn several versions of it as it’s been updated through the years and they’ve all been fantastic (with the exception of the previous model before this current one).

Adidas Adizero Mana - I’ve had several Adizero models over the last three years and I’ve loved them all. The Mana is a bit more shoe than several of the other types of Adizero’s, but it fits my needs well. It has a more firm ride than the Speedstar, so it may be a bit more uncomfortable if you’re not used to that or do all of your training on roads.

ASICS Hyper Speed - This shoe is low to the ground, a bit on the firmer side, and fast. I wear this shoe for some workouts and most road races up to the half-marathon distance. I’ve even worn the Hyper Speeds on several very short runs when I’m looking for a real minimalist training stimulus.

Sanuk Sandal ShoeSanuks are a great alternative to sneakers when you want to stay casual but it’s too cold for a pair of real sandals. Constructed with a thin piece of fabric over a sandal sole, you’ll feel like you’re wearing sandals without exposing your toes to the elements. Drawback: people think you’re wearing slippers.

Sperry Top Sider - My favorite semi-dress shoe of all time. You can wear them to work, you can wear them to the beach, and you can wear them out to the bar. Super light, flexible, low to the ground, and fashionable – highly recommended.

Driving loafers - These are a bit more old school and formal, but definitely appropriate for most work environments. Instead of those bulky dress shoes, these types of loafers have a low heel-toe drop and are very flexible. You’ll be using your feet and lower leg muscles a lot more than in typical shoes.

For other casual shoe options, check out Terra Plana dress shoes. They’re expensive, but I’ve only heard positive reviews. Consider them an investment. They also offer the EVO line of minimalist running shoes, which I’m hoping to review soon.

Bottom Line: What to wear is highly individualized, so you have to experiment with what you like and what works for you. Never start running a significant amount of mileage in a minimalist running shoe without first getting used to that new stress gradually. Used properly, minimalist running shoes can be a great training tool for injury prevention and form improvement.

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Chris

Thanks for the emphasis on minimalism. I have been slowly easing in to this concept over the past six months. I now exclusively run trails in my New Balance MT101’s. I have also added some short barefoot runs as a cool-down after some of my trail sessions.

I am really excited about this weekend, because one of our local running shops has finally received the New Balance Minimus line of shoes. I am going to get a pair of trail and road and rotate them in with my 101’s. Hopefully the still have some 10.5’s by the time I get there.

PS – Found two new blogs to follow because of the “Minimalist Running Blog Carnival” you sponsored – Thanks!

Fitz

Awesome, thanks Chris. I was lucky to collaborate with some great running bloggers on the Minimalist Running Blog Carnival, so I’m happy you discovered some new bloggers! They’re all fantastic.

Andy

Thanks for this and your other informative posts. Where do you think Saucony Kinvaras fall within the spectrum of minimalist shoes? Are they more substantial than what you are using?

Fitz

You’re welcome! I actually wore a pair of Kinvaras before this rotation and really liked them. They’re a bit lighter (about 1.2 oz from the Speedstars and .4 oz from the Adizero Mana’s) and offer a softer sole than either of the two trainers I profiled. They’re not as low to the ground as some other minimalist shoes, like the ASICS Piranhas that I’ve worn before though. Overall, one of the best introductory minimalist shoes – just be careful to ease into them gradually with a few short runs per week at first.

David Csonka

Great video Fitz! on the Vivo Barefoot shoes, yeah they are on the pricey side, but you can often find coupon codes for them in magazines or through online message boards. I bought my V.B. “Oaks” for 50%, which made them significantly more affordable. They’re also the only shoes I wear besides my VFF’s.

Fitz

Great tip, I’ll definitely look into that for my pair of Terra Plana dress shoes. It always seems that the more minimalist a shoe, the more expensive it is…

Nishita

I have heard a lot of hype wrt Vibram five fingers, but noticed you haven’t included them here in your post. What are your thoughts on those shoes?

Fitz

I actually own a pair of the Sprints – I should have included them. They’re great tools to develop foot strength and to use for light activity. I wear them on short errands, but not for running. My advice to anybody who wants to go more minimalist is to use other types of shoes (more minimalist trainers/casual shoes like I profiled) instead of VFF’s because the injury risk is lower. The transition to full-time VFF would likely take a few years.

Rachel

I love that you mentioned Sperrys… I’ve been wearing them pretty much 24/7 (well, whenever I’m not running or sleeping I guess) for the last 5 years, and recently hearing so much about minimalist shoes I’ve been thinking to myself “hey… these seem pretty minimalist to me… maybe I’m ahead of the game for once?!” :) Still running in not-at-all-minimalist Asics, but pondering the idea of slightly less shoe… thanks for the list!

Fitz

Thanks Rachel! I’m wearing Sperry’s right now, they’re hands-down my favorite casual shoe. Good luck finding a more minimalist shoe that works for you.

Marj

I just bought a pair of Saucony Cortanas which are supposed to help ease the transition into minimalist shoes. I have now tried running in them twice and they make my feet feel so tired, almost a feeling as if the shoes are tied too tight even though they are not. Is this something that I will get used to gradually, or should I give up?

Fitz

New shoes, especially those that are more minimalist than you’re used to, can often have a “getting used to” period. It might be easier to alternate between the Cortanas and a pair you know and love to ease the transition. But if you really don’t like them, try a different pair the next time you buy running shoes – they’re all made differently!

cheli5

You might need to change your running technique also. Bare footed runner avoid injury by running on the balls of their feet. . . Instead of the conventional heel to toe running, most people are used to.

shawn

I’m not running marathons yet- only about 30 miles a week but I’ve been running on a treadmil and sarted to get shin splints. Last week I decided to buy a pair of “barefoot” shoes- but not the five-finger ones- and work on the way I run so they I don’t heel-strike anymore. I love the barefoot shoes and he difference in my run but my calves are SO sore from running only a mile. I think I’ll go crazy if I only increase my mileage by 10% a week.

So I guess my question is, woould it be silly of me to run a little in my barefoot shoes and then change into my old running shoes until I build up a tolerence to running barefoot? Or do you have any recomendations? Thanks, love your website!

Jason
shawn

super helpful, Thanks! I think I had a pretty scewed idea of the transition to barefoot running and also the difference between barefoot and minimalist shoes. Those posts clarify a lot, except I am still a littel confused- is it possible to still run properly and land on your mid-foot if you aren’t wearing a a barefoot or minimalist shoe? Sorry if this is redundent!

Jason

Yes absolutely! The goal isn’t to run barefoot, the goal is to run efficiently. Running barefoot or in more minimalist shoes can help reinforce good form, but keep in mind it also dramatically increases the stress on your body so use it wisely. Just keep your cadence up, run tall, and don’t over-stride. That’ll take care of 90% of your form issues.

Kyle Kranz

I disagree on the use of different shoes. While I see your point, it is also well established that runners become most efficient at what they habitually do. Thus, if you habitually train in the same shoe, you will become most efficient in that shoe. I guess an example would be cross fit = training in different shoes. You become good at training in different shoes, or good at lifting logs and doing push ups, but you are not becoming as efficient as you can be if you would with specificity.
Kyle Kranz
Outreach Coordinator / SkoraRunning.com

Jason

Thanks for the comment Kyle. I don’t buy the minor differences in shoe styles is comparable to the huge differences in CrossFit exercises. Plus, the proof is in the practice: all good runners run in 3+ types of shoes based on the workout/goal of the run.

Kyle Kranz

Well the cross fit example was of course an exaggeration. But the differences between a Speedster and Hyper Base are fairly substantial in my opinion. And that is a pretty big generalization, all good runners. And that does not necessarily mean it is the correct practice.

The new study out from U of CO recently that found a 4% increase in the metabolic cost from switching from the Nike Mayfly to socks was a very slight difference (Mayflies are extremely minimal) yet there was a difference. Could be almost the same difference between doing the majority of your miles in the Speedster and racing in the Hyper Base? Even 3% over 13.1 miles makes a slight difference. Purely speculation, just thinking out loud.

Personally I want to be as comfortable and efficient as possible in one pair of shoes.

Hank

I’ve been casually wearing the Merrell tough glove on errands, around the house, and occasionally at work. It is a nice change of pace and seems to be helping my feet adapt to different stresses.

I’ve had/have plantar fascittis and I’m a pronator. I feel like i’ve gotten stronger by switching shoes around.

Jason

Glad to hear you’ve found something that works for you Hank. Wearing the shoes casually before you start running in them is a good idea.

Kelly campbell

Jason,
What are your thoughts on Hokas. I’ve had two very successfull ultra runners reccomend them for me and said they haven’t had problems with itb knee issues since using them. Obviously they’ve also put the time in with core, balance, and strength workouts for hips. I’m considering a coupling of Hokas for long runs and hills along with somethin more minimalist for short runs to build foot strength and balance..Please give me your thoughts….

Jason Fitzgerald

I’ve never run in them, but at first glance they’re something I’d avoid like the plague. They do what most shoe manufacturers are moving AWAY from: more cushioning, more elevation, more crap between you and the ground.

Peter B

They are cushioned, but they have almost no drop. I’ve heard them recommended for the really long runs, since they do allow you to maintain good form while at the same time absorbing some of the pounding for your feet.

And yes, the ultrarunners do seem to love them.

Samuel

I have a medium arch. Which is the running shoe you recommend? Saucony Guide 6 is the one I have on mind.

Or I buy a good one like you mentioned and is there an accessory that I can use for the support?

Jason Fitzgerald

I can’t really answer this question. Check out the options on my reviews page: http://strengthrunning.com/running-shoe-reviews/

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