Interested in taking your running game to the next level? The first step most people would take is purchasing a solid pair of running shoes. Chosen properly, a good pair of running shoes will improve your performance while keeping your joints (particularly your knees) healthy and happy; a wise investment indeed.
Running shoes can be classified into three main categories:
Minimalist shoes are constructed with the purpose of barefoot running in mind, but with some level of protection. This is great for people who wish to improve their foot strength and flexibility. The lack of a heel drop will help stretch and strengthen the Achilles tendon and calf muscle, which may serve to reduce the likelihood of common running injuries such as calf strains and Achilles tendonitis. It also helps to reinforce proper running technique; since there’s little to no heel support, you’ll have to learn to land on the forefoot while running. Minimalist shoes also offer very thin soles, allowing for better contact between the foot and the surface. This may improve balance and coordination, as wearers will learn how to properly activate the smaller, less-used muscles in their feet, ankles, legs, and hips.
In direct contrast, maximalist shoes are designed to give you maximum support and comfort while running. These shoes are built like bricks (without the weight), and with the durability to match. If running for long periods of time is your thing, maximalist shoes will accommodate you nicely. You might even find yourself freed from the nagging aches and pains that usually come after clocking 10km or more. Maximalist shoes feature high-density materials in construction, especially on the inner side of the midsole. This dramatically slows down excess foot pronation, a common issue with runners as they accumulate fatigue with long-distance running.
Sandwiched in the middle, you will find neutral/cushioned shoes. These are the most common types of running shoes available on the market. Chances are, your previous pair of trainers falls into this category. Neutral shoes offer some measure of heel and arch support similar to that of maximalist shoes, but to a smaller degree. This allows it to maintain a fair amount of flexibility while providing a decent level of shock-absorption, making it perfect for cross-training. Be it basketball, tennis, golf, or even sprints, neutral shoes should be able to handle virtually anything but the kitchen sink.
So what shoes should you be getting?
Well, it all depends on what you’re getting them for. Within these three categories, there exists even more sub-categories catering to different kinds of running, such as road and trail-running. However, most people would benefit from avoiding shoes that are too specialised, unless you’re getting them for a specific sport.
Your physiology should also be a major consideration. If you’re flat-footed or typically wear orthotic shoes, you should strive to get a pair of shoes that conforms to your feet first and foremost, before considering their applications. No two feet are alike, even with the same person. If you have a history of foot-health problems, do spend the extra money and have a proper fitting done for yourself. Your feet will thank you in the long run.
While an advocacy for minimalist shoes does exist, it must be pointed out that these shoes come with what is called a slow adaptation phase. Consider this: unless you were born in jungle and raised by apes, chances are that you’ve been wearing shoes since you were a child. That means you are already extremely accustomed to having relatively thick-soled shoes separating your feet from the ground. Changing all that is going to take some time. Taking a couple of months to get accustomed to minimalist/barefoot running is a common experience.
While the physical benefits more than make up for it, it would be prudent to ease into the habit. If you’re serious about committing to minimalism, try a progressive approach by using your shoes for small distances at first, slowly increasing it in small amounts as your level of comfort allows. There are some that even recommend walking backwards in them for a spell to get used to them quicker. If you’re an older runner interested in discovering what minimalist shoes could do for your running, look here for more information.
Having a good pair of running shoes in your closet is definitely a blessing to be considered. But as with all things in life, it’s important to get the right tools for the job. Hopefully, this guide will prove instrumental in your search for your next best friends.
Warburton, M. (2001), “Barefoot Running”, Sportscience, 5(3). Retrieved from: http://www.sportsci.org/jour/0103/mw.htm
von Tscharner, V., Goepfert, P. & Nigg, B. M. (2003), “Changes in EMG signals for the muscle tibialis anterior while running barefoot or with shoes”, Journal of Biomechanics, 36, 1169-1176