Now that some in the media have had a sneak peak at the 2012 shoe line-up, the word is out. The minimalist trend in running shoes continues to gain momentum. For those of you unfamiliar with the minimalist shoe movement, it began shortly after the release of Born to Run.
After suffering several running injuries, MacDougall set out on an assignment to explore the running techniques of the Tarahumara (Raramuri) tribe in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. The Tarahumara are known for their smooth, effortless running stride and lack of running-related injuries. MacDougall’s research spurred a great debate about barefoot or minimalist running versus running in traditional running shoes, which have a higher heel.
Because of the higher heel of the traditional running shoe, many runners have become heel strikers. They land on their heels first, which transmits the impact of their landing all the way up through the knees, hips, and back. Proponents of barefoot running argue that running shoe-less forces the body to adopt a forefoot landing, which is much less jarring to the body and more biomechanically efficient. For more information from one of the pioneers of this movement Dr. Daniel Lieberman, you can check out this video. Dr. Lieberman also has a site discussing his studies (at Harvard) on the biomechanics of barefoot running.
Many runners have begun to adopt a more minimalist shoe in the hopes of teaching their body to run in a more natural and pain-free manner. This has translated into booming sales of minimalist shoes which will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
There are a number of different minimalist shoes, from those offering a minimal heel to toe drop (height of heel minus height of toe) to those offering a zero heel to to drop. Minimal heel to toe drop shoes include the Saucony Kinvara, Nike Free, Brooks Pure Connect, New Balance Minimus, and Reebok RealFlex. Zero drop shoes include the Merrell Pace Glove, Vibram Bikalas, Inov-8 Road X-222, Newton Distance Performance Trainers, and the Altra Intuition (a zero drop shoe created for the female foot–I will be reviewing a pair of these next month!).
I personally own a pair of Kinvaras, Frees, and Merrell Pace Gloves. I wear the Kinvaras for shorter distances, the Frees for racing, and the Pace Glove for daily wear out and about. I think that working the minimalist shoes into my rotation has strengthened my feet and ankles significantly. Stay tuned for the Altra Intuition review next month!