New Balance Minimus Road Review: The Perfect Minimalist Tool?

Every runner needs training tools – workouts, gear, or elements of running that accomplish a very specific goal.

Training Tool

Hill sprints are a tool that build leg power and injury resistance.

A foam roller is a tool that provides pain…I mean, self-massage, and helps to prevent injuries.

Barefoot strides is a training tool that increases efficiency and lower leg strength.

The long run is a tool that builds endurance and helps you go longer at a faster pace.

You get the idea.

For two months, I used the New Balance Minimus Road as a training tool to build my lower leg strength and make the transition to racing flats easier.

And I’m glad I did! Now that I’m in the midst of my competition phase of training with several races and lots of workouts in flats, I’m feeling great.

My arches, soleus’, and calves get sore very easily. I’m an overpronator and I have low arches – not a good combo when you’re trying to run fast in light shoes. With less than ideal biomechanics, my lower legs are put under more stress and constant damage control is a necessity.

Fortunately, before I started running in my Nike Zoom Streak flats, I was developing lower leg and foot strength using the Minimus Roads. They made the transition a lot easier and virtually eliminated the stiffness I’ve grown accustomed to when running in racing shoes.

Today, I’ll give you an overview of the Minimus and show you how to use these shoes to build your leg strength and make the transition to flats easier.

New Balance Minimus Road: First Impressions

New Balance Minimus Road

At 8 ounces with a 4mm heel-toe drop, the Minimus sits close to the ground but isn’t super light like other minimalist alternatives. This works great for me because I can’t run significant mileage in a shoe much less than about 8 ounces anyway. Take for example the Merrell Trail Gloves – I ran 4 minutes in them and called it a day…

Even though the shoe isn’t feather-light, the feel of it on your foot is very glove-like. With a soft, plush upper that’s designed to be worn without socks, it’s incredibly comfortable. There’s also a collar around the heel which prevents irritation around the Achilles tendon. I was dealing with some of this from my ASICS Speedstars so the padding was a welcome relief.

When running in the Minimus Road, I found the ride fairly firm. I like that, so it worked well. But it was clear that a natural-feeling midfoot strike was easy in this shoe. I typically have a slight heel strike but the Minimus made that nearly impossible. The low heel-toe drop can be credited for this, but I also think it’s because of the shape of the shoe’s heel.

You’ll see in the picture above that the bottom of the heel is actually angled forward underneath the back of the shoe. Pete Larson called this an “undercut heel” and it mimics the shape of your barefoot heel. Unlike a flared or more neutral heel, it’s better at encouraging a midfoot strike and I loved the groundfeel it helped give me on both roads and trails.

Like most minimalist shoes, the New Balance Minimus Road has a wide toebox that lets your toes spread out – no black toenails or blisters here! During my first few runs, it felt like the shoe wasn’t tight enough on my foot. But I quickly learned that the shoe was fitted properly and I just wasn’t used to the freedom and toe mobility that the Minimus provides. Now I love it.

With my low arches, I don’t like a shoe that has significant arch support because it makes me sore and gives me blisters. Luckily with the NB Minimus Road, the insole felt flat – just what you want in a minimalist shoe that’s trying to mimic the barefoot condition.

How I Used the NB Minimus Road to Get Strong

New Balance Minimus

The Minimus Road was used in my training very strategically: I was at a point where I was transitioning from higher mileage and longer workouts to less mileage and faster, shorter workouts in racing flats. With three (or more) races in my fall season, I needed to condition my body to running in flats.

The worst thing you can do is start an interval workout in your racers with no prep. Your lower legs will get trashed. So I started methodically acclimating to “less shoe” by wearing the Minimus Roads for 4-5 mile easy runs every week. I used the principle of progression to gradually strengthen my feet.

Here’s what that progression looked like on a weekly basis:

  • one 4-5 mile run
  • one 4-5 mile run with 4 x 20-30sec surges
  • one 5 mile run with surges, plus another 5 mile run as a double session (two runs in one day)
  • one 5 mile run with hill sprints, plus another 5 mile run as a double session

This occurred over 6-8 weeks so some of these steps were repeated. Adaptation takes longer than you think and it took weeks for me to run comfortably in the Minimus.

Now the real secret sauce in this progression is the combination of surges and hill sprints in the later weeks. 3-5 miles of fast running in flats introduces significant trauma to the feet and lower legs, but the smaller doses of even faster running helped acclimate my legs to those demands. In his book Run Faster, elite coach Brad Hudson refers to this as the repeated bout effect.

When I started running workouts in the Streak XC’s, I barely noticed the soreness that’s usually an unfortunate reality for me.

A word of caution: running hill sprints – or maximum effort uphill sprints – in minimalist trainers like the NB Minimus Road, is an advanced training technique. It puts tremendous stress on your feet and lower legs so make sure you’re ready for it. You’ll see in the progression above that hill sprints were the last thing I added.

How to Use Minimalist Tools

I was hesitant when I bought the Minimus Road’s because I had tried on the trail version and those felt awkward on my feet. So I ordered these with reservations, but at the end of the day I absolutely loved them. The glove-like fit, slightly firm ride, undercut heel, neutral foot bed, and substantial groundfeel make this a perfect minimalist tool (for me, at least).

You may prefer another type of minimalist tool – maybe barefoot running, barefoot strides, or even just wearing your racing flats on an easy run every 1-2 weeks.

No matter what you choose, a small amount of minimalist training every week can help strengthen your feet and prevent overuse injuries from lower leg weaknesses.

You can buy the Minimus Road on Amazon here (go with the white/blue colors – so awesome).

For fun, here is a New Balance promo video of the NB Minimus Trail starring ultramarathoner Anton Krupicka. It’s not exactly the same shoe, but they’re very similar and I absolutely love this video. Makes you want to run a lot in the mountains doesn’t it?

Photo Credit

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Comments

  1. Jason,
    I’ve only worn one trainer and haven’t yet rotated between a few pairs. I’d like to, but not sure what other pairs to get. I currently train in the Asics GT-2160’s since I need some stability as I pronate slightly too. Do you think the Saucony Kinvaras would be a good “minimalist” shoe to start out with? I honestly don’t know how to rotate shoes. I’ve read a little bit about the Saucony Cortanas too and wonder if it’s another good shoe to rotate with my Asics.

    • Hey Laura! I really like the Kinvaras; I’ve had a few pairs in the past. I found the toebox slightly narrow at one particular point, but otherwise love them. I’d give them a try an try to run 5-15% of your mileage in them to start. Go easy and transition gradually! BTW the RRS program I link to below lets you wear shoes and return them within 90 days – perfect if you want to try a few pairs out.

      • The Kinvaras are a really comfortable shoe but as Jason points out they are quite narrow in the toe – the version 2 Kinvara blistered both little toes regularly before I bit the bullet and replaced them. The Kinvara 3 might be better though.

  2. I started running in these regularly in March/April (I think!) of this year and haven’t looked back.

    Time and timing are definitely the key when making the transition to these, or similar, shoes and I frequently switched between these and a pair shoes with a little “more” underfoot – especially when upping the mileage.

    They’re a great tool in developing lower leg and foot strength and technique.

  3. world_runner says:

    Great review. Definitely makes me want to try these out. Would you recommend them for someone running high mileage for marathon training? I currently run all of my mileage in the Adidas Adizero Tempo (rotating between two pairs). How would you suggest I work the New Balance into my rotation? The Tempos are, to me, minimalist for a marathon training shoe and I do feel like I have developed some good lower leg and foot strength but I definitely need some more work in that area before I am ready to go “full minimalist”. 🙂

    • Well first I’d say if what you’re doing is working, then don’t mess with success. If you don’t plan on racing the marathon in “less shoe” then you may not need to run in a more minimalist shoe during training. Now with that said, I think most runners can do with some barefoot/minimalist training, so if you’re going to dive in then use them for a warm-down after a workout, a very short run, or even for strides. The first time you wear them should just be a diagnostic test to see how they make you feel.

  4. I started using the NB line while recovering from a strand of stupid and long suffering hip and foot tendon injuries… and am now an avid NB zero road shoe and minimus trail shoe user. No looking back, which is big praise from me, having been a die hard Newton gal! I also do not wear these down as fast as I was the other shoes.. my wallet LOVES that! Happy running to all!

  5. It’s funny how clouded the minimalist spectrum is. To some guys I run with, this shoe would be dangerously minimal, practically an invitation to achilles injury. To me, it’s far too thick, and the heel far too high.

    Similarly, I just ran a 50 miler in Saucony Hattori, placing third. The guy who got 2nd was wearing Montrail Rogue Racers, a light-ish shoe with a 10mm drop. The winner was wearing a pair of cushy Asics trainers. There was similar variety on display everywhere on the course, every shoe working (or failing, as does happen in ultras) for whoever decided it was their best chance at finishing comfortably.

    All of that said, I think your perspective is refreshingly reasonable. Tools are benign, either useful or not based on who wields them, and how.

    • Achilles be Gone says:

      I started running in Saucony Kinvara 3 shoes in July 2012 precisely because of Achilles injuries, at the recommendation of my physical therapist. And I’m a severe pronator. Since going minimalist I’ve been able to PR in a Marathon in November with a 3:43 time and have had no recurrence of my previous injuries. I did have to build my miles gradually over a few months, and also felt more fatigue in the feet and calves, but doing strength training on the lower legs sped me through that process. I’m now averaging 45+ miles per week without issues and without injuries in nothing but Kinvara 3’s I rotate through.

  6. I started training with minimal style shoes in Feb ’12 with the NB M730’s (4mm drop, 7.1oz) and used them strictly for races. But that was short lived and I began progression with them and by April has purchased the Minimus Road (MR10) and fell in love. Funny Jason, I had the same sensation you described for the first week or so with them and they felt way loose in a 2E width even though I normally wear 4E. I just laced them up tighter (without crushing mu foot or cutting off blood flow) and haven’t looked back since. I’ve clocked over 500 miles on the MR10 which is more than I’ve ever put on a pair of shoes and they still have probably another 200mi in them tread-wise. I’m wearing them in a marathon next week with no reservations.

    I have fallen in love with these shoes and they have made me a noticeably stronger (and therefore faster) runner, but it definitely takes patience to get used to them or you’ll end up injured. I am really looking forward to the NB MR10v2 that is supposed to premier in March ’13. They look like a perfect blend between the now cancelled M730 and the MR10.

    So, chalk up another thumbs up for the MR10!

Trackbacks

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  2. […] Minimus Road on the left has an inverted heel that mimics how your anatomical heel actually looks like. See […]

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