Are Minimalist Shoes Safe?

Are Minimalist Shoes Safe?

This week I feature a guest blogger who is much more renown on the subject of footwear than myself, as she is a Podiatrist, after all.  I asked her about shoes and fitness, and she shared with me her thoughts on “minimalist” shoes.  I have personally tried to wear minimalist shoes, myself, in the past.  In fact, I even known a pair of Vibrams.  From my own experience with my feet, the more support the better.  My Vibrams have been good to me for walking around the house, or perhaps out at a mall or something… but when I’ve worn them for too long I inevitably get foot pain from them.  The same goes for running shoes for me.  I’ve tried ones that are more flexible, but for what I do (kickboxing) I’ve always found that I need the lateral support that is provided from shoes (such a Nike Shox).  So, I wanted to get feedback from a professional as to what this is all about, and what should we really be doing…


Guest blog written by Dr. Olga Luepschen

Over the last few years there has been a huge movement towards “barefoot running”. While some resilient folks are truly running barefoot, many have opted for minimalist footwear.
This idea of barefoot/minimalist running comes from the 2009 book “Born to Run,” where author Christopher McDougall claimed running without shoes as nature intended will cause you to run more efficiently. This ignited a debate between runners who favor traditional running shoes — which provide protection from injury and cushions the joints — and runners who believe in minimalist running, in which you run barefoot or in minimalist shoes that offer as little cushioning and support as possible.

You’ve probably seen people wearing the Vibram Five Finger shoe, which has defined toes that make you look like you’re really barefoot. Unlike traditional running shoes, you do not want any extra space in the toes. Heel and toes should be comfortably snug and “fit like a glove.” What exactly, do you ask, is a minimalist shoe? These shoes are extremely flat, lightweight, and highly flexible with little padding on the sole.
Running barefoot, or running in minimalist shoes will utilize muscles in your feet, legs and core that are different than the muscles you normally use, as your foot will land near your midfoot and not close to your heel, as it typically does when running with standard running shoes.

Minimalist running offers a variety of pros and cons. Supporters believe that improving your stride; encourage awareness of the motion of your feet and increases efficiency by placing less weight on your feet. Running in a minimalist shoe causes changes the forefoot strike (landing on your forefoot first as opposed to your heel) which shortens runner’s strides. Opponents claim disadvantages of minimalist running include the possibility of injury from sharp surfaces and stress on muscles and tendons that haven’t been conditioned for this type of running. Further risks include an increased risk of stress fractures, tendonitis, bruises and lacerations, which can lead to an increased risk of infection for a barefoot runner.

Minimalist’s running shoes are characterized by a “zero drop” from heel to toe. The term “zero drop” refers to the relationship of the heel height to forefoot height. This encourages a more natural midfoot or forefoot strike. Traditional running shoes, by contrast, feature a 10-12mm drop from the heel to the toe. Minimalist shoes vary in weight from 2.2 oz. to 9.9 oz. and midsole/outsole thicknesses can range from 4 mm to 20 mm.
Shoe manufacturers jumped in early on the minimalist bandwagon. Altra and Vibram (an established outsole company that had no previous branded footwear models) offer two popular running brands. Footwear manufacturers that were not known in the running business jumped in as well. Merrell, Terra Plana and Skechers are three new players. The conventional manufacturers such as Brooks, New Balance, Asics, Adidas and others have introduced minimalist lines to complement their established models. Saucony has not only introduced minimalist footwear but also reduced the heel height of almost all of its running shoe models.

Sebring runner, Doug Morton, has represented Running & Triathlon magazine as one of “Florida’s Finest”. He advises someone who wants to go to go the route of running in a minimalist shoe to be properly fitted and then to ease into running in them. Morton trains in Newtons which puts the foot in a mid-foot/fore-foot strike, similar to what a minimalist offers.

You may be questioning if you should change to a minimalist shoe. The answer is something that will not please either side of the movement, and that is this: barefoot running/minimalist running may be right for some people and wrong for others. Although, certain runners may be able to use minimalist shoes solely, most people would be better off by using them as one of the tools in their running training regimen.

For more info, or to contact Dr. Olga Luepschen visit


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