Categorized | New to Minimalism?

Toe Spring in Minimalist Shoes — Good or Bad?

Posted on 12 August 2011

by Jason Robillard.

Earlier today, I had a lengthy conversation with Jesse Scott as we climbed up  to Devil’s Thumb outside Nederland, CO.  We had three pairs of minimalist shoes we were testing out, so one of the topics centered around shoes.Specifically, we were discussing the various characteristics that make a great minimalist shoe.  Jesse has long served as my sounding board for all issues related to minimalist shoes.  We have similar needs (long-distance running on rugged trails), but much different personal preferences.  He has his favorites, I have mine.

Over the years, our stance on what makes a great minimalist shoe has evolved.  Both of us had a fairly rigid set of criteria that were “musts.”  That point of view has softened based on our own experiences and observations of others.

Side view of toe spring in a shoe, courtesty of Two Rivers Treads.

One of the characteristics we talked about was toe spring, or the upward curvature of the end of the toe box of a shoe.  In a traditional rigid-soled running shoe, the toe spring creates a “rocker” effect that helps facilitate a heel strike.  The rigidity of the sole would keep the toes in a dorsiflexion position, which makes a natural running gait very difficult.  Because of this, barefoot and minimalist shoe runners rightfully vilified toe spring.

In a minimalist shoe, toe spring is more or less unnecessary.  Still, many minimalist shoes still have a toe spring.  The major difference- minimalist shoes usually have a flexible sole, which allows the toes to flatten the up-curved toe during foot landing.  In effect, the toe spring is eliminated and does not affect gait.

I noticed this quite some time ago.  The amount of toe spring wasn’t nearly as important as other features like a minimal or zero-dropped heel or a wide toe box.  I have also noticed toe spring does not seem to affect the gait of other minimalist shoe runners, even if they are especially weary of the feature.  As a result, I stopped counting toe spring as a negative feature.

I have been getting a fair number of questions from people asking about the toe spring of some of the new minimalist shoes hitting the market.  It seems some barefoot practitioners are still considering toe spring to be a negative feature that adversely affects shoe function.  I wonder if these practitioners have ever tried a minimalist shoe with a toe spring.  If they had, surely they would have come to a similar conclusion- the toe spring flattens out due to the flexibility of the sole.

In the past, I vilified toe spring.  I like to keep an open mind, though.  If I receive contradictory evidence, I rarely have a problem modifying my point of view.  As a teacher, I feel it is my responsibility to always present the best possible information I can.  Sometimes that means admitting I was wrong.

In the case of toe spring and minimalist shoes, I think I was wrong.  The flexibility of the sole of the shoe negates the potential negative effects of any degree of toe spring.  Could toe spring just a red herring?

This essay originally appeared on Barefoot Running University.

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13 Responses to “Toe Spring in Minimalist Shoes — Good or Bad?”

  1. MarkC says:

    Jason,
    Great post and agree the primary issue is the stiffness of the forefoot which does not allow the toes (especially the large toe) to bend. It is critical for the large toe to bend on toe-off to activate the windlass mechanism and stabilize the foot. The tension in the plantar fascia returns the arch to its stable position.

    In the photo the EVO is functioning normally….see my toes bending up in this position. THIS IS GOOD. If I had a traditional running shoe my toes would not bend in this natural way.

    Many (actually most) runners I see have no mobility in their plantar fascia since their daily walking/work shoes are stiff with toe spring. This affects your running. By doing a lot of barefoot walking and running and getting in daily shoes that are flexible with NO toe spring ends up making the running function easier. I can dorsiflex my first toe more now than a year ago and the strength of my foot is way better.

    I think there is a limit to “functional toe spring” as Jason describes. Do not know what this is but anything more than 7-8 mm seems to affect my gait.

    Maybe we need some real data here.

    Dr.Mark Cucuzzella

  2. NickP says:

    Toe spring on minimal shoes are not a problem for running. I only notice them when standing and a little when walking. You want your toes to fully touch the ground as much as possible when standing straight. With a noticeable toe spring, I lose some balance.

    So what you are using your minimal shoes for is more important than a negative effect from a raised toe spring. For any kind of running, the toe spring does not matter. For other activities where you’re required to stand flat or plant your feet firmly, get rid of the toe spring!

  3. I agree with Nick. The effect of toe spring really depends on the activity. For example, when running or hiking, the toe spring on a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves doesn’t bother me at all. When wearing those same shoes around town, the toe spring really bothers me. I think it has a lot to do with the impact of the activity and whether or not that impact has enough force to flatten the sole of the shoe.

  4. Jacob Edwards says:

    As an avid minimal and occasional barefoot runner I have noticed a few things in regards to toe spring but have no scientific data for the following. The more toe spring my shoe has the more often my foot is sore as it comes out of the shoe. Mt Theory for this is because toe spring locks the toes into extension and that may stress the plantar fascia or maybe because my toes have to flex against the shoe more the higher the toe spring. I never judge a shoe by how it feels when I am running but rather how my foot feels when it comes off. Hands down lower toe spring wins 9 out of 10 times.

  5. Peter Larson says:

    Add me to the list of folks who don’t much pay attention to toe spring. There has been a lot of discussion of the topic on some of the minimalist message boards, and one other factor to consider is that toe spring helps to prevent the material over the forefoot from bending downward onto the toes when the shoe flexes. This has been a huge problem for people with the EVO – the forefoot material bends down and causes blisters on top of the toes.

  6. Cheryl says:

    At the risk of sounding like a complete imbecile, I have a question regarding toe spring and the transition from traditional running shoes to a minimalist shoe. With the help from this site, Pete Larson’s Runblogger, and Blaise Dubois’ running course I have been transitioning my running from a strong heel striker to the mid/forefoot natural running form since April, quite successfully I might add. Last week I got my first pair of minimalist shoes (Inov-8 Road X-233). So, I went from a 11mm to a 6mm differential and the first two runs went great. The third day something happened that has never happened before, I caught my toe on a raised section of sidewalk and fell hard. Thankfully I only sustained abrasions and contusions but boy am I sore. Do you think that this was an isolated incident or that I am not use to the difference in toe spring? Would you suggest I adjust, assess or change my training? I have been able to continue my usual training but feel a little gun shy.
    CJ

    • MarkC says:

      Cheryl,

      Congrats on the progress. the toe-spring is different from the heel to forefoot drop. Toe spring is the ramp from forefoot to end of shoe…kind of like a rocker effect. It inhibits dorsiflexion of the toes when it is extreme. i doubt it contributed to the fall….keep running!

      Mark

  7. Lynn says:

    I would have to agree with Mark. I don’t believe the toe spring had anything to do with the fall. I have transitioned from a traditional running shoe to a minimalist shoe since July and wonder why I hadn’t done it sooner. I have a pair of New Balance Minimus and the the toe spring on those shoes are quite high. I haven’t had any problems during my runs but wonder if my runs would be better with a lower toe spring?? I don’t know, but I’m willing to give it a try. Good luck with your continued success and minimalist running. Watch out for those raised sections of sidewalk. =)

  8. Todd says:

    I have been running minimalist for about 6 months. I am up to 10 mile road runs in the Merrell Road Gloves. It is both shocking and frustrating that I still get blisters and that my toes are always tramatized. I have severe blistering/callus on the ENDS of my toes which seems to be a really strange place for this type of problem. I have read many blogs on toe spring and I wander if this is my issue (the Merrell has rather sever toe spring). I was also thinking that perhaps the shoe is simply too long. I went for comfort in width and really paid no attention to length. Anyone have any feedback on these issues? My toes would greatly appreciate it!

  9. coconut says:

    Hi, could someone please advice me a minimalist shoes with zero drop, wide toebox and NO toe spring ? thank you

  10. Brandon says:

    Just bought the Merrell Trail Gloves and like them, but when standing, I worry about the toe spring. I am a little less balanced. I know I could learn to get used to that, I just wonder if that is going to have a negative long term effect.

  11. James S says:

    For running, the toe spring should flatten out if the shoe has a flexible sole. I can see how the toe spring might cause more of a problem for standing and walking because it would mean the toes are being held in extension the majority of the time, and the plantar fascia is being held in a stretched position which could disrupt the mechanics of the foot. It might also be a concern if the sole is rigid and prevents the shoe from ever going flat, but that’s usually not a problem in most minimalist shoes. I’ve written a bit about the pros and cons of toe spring here http://www.somastruct.com/toe-spring-in-shoes-helping-or-hurting/

    I have the Merrell Trail Gloves and haven’t really been bothered by the toe spring, but I only use them for running. I’m definitely on the lookout for shoes with at least a much lower toe spring.


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