Categorized | Form, New to Minimalism?

15 Misconceptions About Minimalist Shoes and Natural Running

Posted on 29 October 2012

by Jim Hixson.

1. There is no correct way to run.

There is no perfect way to hit a forehand in tennis, or to drive a golf ball, or to kick a soccer ball, but the degree of divergence from the accepted norm in each of these activities is relatively small.  When you look at runners who have excellent form, the similarities are more numerous than the differences.  Good biomechanical form leads to less initial shock, shorter ground contact time, increased stride frequency, greater power output, and quicker recovery.  Fortunately it is not necessary to be a top runner to have excellent biomechanics, although the converse is not true.  In short, proper movement in all sports increases the enjoyment of the activity, improves performance, and reduces injury rates.

2. The longer the stride, the faster the speed.

A long stride with a high cadence and proper biomechanics will result in faster speed, but a long stride that is the result of improper form will reduce speed and efficiency. When your foot touches the ground too far in front of your body, that is, when you over-stride, you land heavily on your heel, increasing the braking effect of your foot contacting the ground. When running properly your foot should make initial contact with the ground under your center of gravity. Concentrate on running with a quick and light stride.  Running hill repeats is a good way to develop this ability.

3. Humans did not evolve to run on very hard surfaces.

In fact, humans did not evolve running on soft surfaces, and certainly not on golf courses!  Take a trip out west, maybe to Colorado or New Mexico and run barefoot on a trail.  The surface under your feet will be just as “soft” as the ground in Tanzania, the location of the Rift Valley, and the cradle of human evolution.  In fact, it is much easier to run barefoot on a smooth asphalt road than on a natural trail because the surface of the road is extremely predictable.  On the other hand, if you have the luxury of living on a golf course in a temperate climate, try to run barefoot on the grass whenever possible!

 4.Humans were meant to run heel-to-toe.

Watch an adult who has grown up without shoes run barefoot.  He or she will make initial contact on the ground with the forefoot/midfoot, not the heel.  Even when an adult who is accustomed to running heel-to-toe in conventional running shoes runs barefoot on a hard surface, they usually switch to forefoot/midfoot striking immediately.  Running heel first is just not an efficient way to absorb shock or store elastic energy.  Your body’s ideal initial contact with the ground is actually slightly toward the outside edge of your foot, just behind your fourth and fifth metatarsals. The foot then naturally rolls slightly inward along the transverse arch as the heel descends to touch the ground under the control of the medial and lateral arches of the foot (plantar fascia) and the posterior muscles of the lower leg (gastrocnemius, soleus, and Achilles tendon).

5.  Anecdotal reports indicate that most people do strike heel first when running.

That’s true, but almost all of the reports have focused on runners wearing “traditional” running shoes.  The first major study that considered runners wearing traditional shoes, minimal shoes, and going barefoot, was done by Daniel Lieberman and his team at Harvard’s Skeletal Biology Lab.  As reported in Nature magazine (“Biomechanics of Foot Strike”, January 28, 2010), the study showed that running with a forefoot/midfoot strike diffuses the shock of initial contact and appears to be a more natural way to run.  Two years later, Adam Daoud, along with Daniel Lieberman and four other authors from the same lab, published an article in Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise that gave the results of a longitudinal study of runners and injuries.  The study clearly showed a significantly higher incidence in the frequency and severity of injuries associated with heel striking, as opposed to forefoot/midfoot striking (“Foot Strikes and Injury Rates in Runners:  a Retrospective Study”, July 2012)

6. Major shoe companies have spent millions of dollars developing running shoes that improve human biomechanics.

The modern running shoe didn’t exist until the early to mid-1970s.  Before that time running shoes were light and flexible and had a much lower profile than today’s shoes.  The change in the shape of these shoes can be traced to Bill Bowerman, the founder of Nike, who believed that a more cushioned heel would allow a runner to run faster by lengthening his/her natural stride and contacting the ground heel first, rather than forefoot/midfoot.  Unfortunately, lengthening your stride in this way alters a natural pattern of movement and reduces your speed and running efficiency. In addition to slowing a runner down, contacting the ground heel first also excessively stresses the bones, joints, muscles and tendons from the toes through the spine. While running with a proper stride, you should land quickly and lightly on your forefoot/midfoot closer under your center of gravity. Unfortunately all major shoe companies eventually copied Bowerman’s design and, until very recently, improvements to running shoes have been limited to attempts to alter a defective original design.

7. But don’t most athletic shoes have elevated heels to avoid the shock of landing?

The extra cushioning under the heel of a traditional running shoe is actually evidence that contacting the heel first in the running gait cycle is unnatural.  Basketball, volleyball and tennis shoes do not have this feature; and neither do football or baseball cleats.  Try running heel first while playing basketball or soccer.  Running as a sport is not qualitatively different from running in a sport. Another form of running shoe is the track spike.  Running heel first in a spike feels awkward, but running with a forefoot/midfoot strike in the same shoe feels natural.  Supposedly spikes “make you faster”,  but in reality, these shoes simply allow you to run more naturally because they’re light, flexible and have a low pitch (drop) from heel to forefoot.  These features in a running shoe will always allow you to move more freely and freedom of movement enables you to run faster and more efficiently.

 8.The foot and lower leg are not designed for the high impact of running.

The multiple joints of the foot along with strong flexible arches, a powerful Achilles tendon and calf muscles, and strong muscles and ligaments supporting the knee are perfect for both suspension and propulsion.  Running has been an important component of human evolution, allowing us to escape immediate danger and pursue prey over long distances.  Along with walking, running is a natural form of locomotion.

9.The foot needs extra support during running.

Supporting the arch leads to weakness and imbalance of the surrounding musculature.  The muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia of the foot are no different from the same types of tissue in other parts of the body.  Think of a supportive shoe as you would a splint or cast.  If you remove a cast from an arm after a broken bone has healed, the muscles will be weaker and there will be a diminished range of motion in the area of the nearest joint.  A stable/stiff shoe will have a similar effect on the muscles of the foot.  Feet that are supported by shoes will be weaker, muscularly imbalanced and less responsive than the feet of people who are barefoot or wear minimal shoes.

10. Pronation is harmful.

Pronation is the  natural inward roll of the foot as some of the impact associated with contacting the ground when you run is absorbed.  Excessive pronation, which can originate from a heel-strike is harmful, but running heel first is not natural.  Many so-called stability and motion control shoes have a dual density midsole, with the higher density portion on the medial side designed to prevent “over-pronation”.  This feature makes the shoe more rigid than it already is and, as a result, further reduces the range of motion of the foot.  Stability of shoes also leads to weakness of the muscles in the foot and ankle, creating a situation where excessive pronation is more likely.

 11.Cushioned shoes are necessary in order to run without injury.

There are no studies that show that running in cushioned shoes reduces the incidence of injury.  In fact, extra cushioning prevents the body from receiving essential information about the ground from the tens of thousands of sense receptors on the sole of the foot. This afferent feedback is necessary to move correctly.  The information that is received arrives slower and less completely, reducing responsiveness and proprioception.  Excessively padded shoes also prevent the body from experiencing the discomfort caused by bad biomechanics that would naturally encourage the body to automatically correct its movements.  In addition, studies clearly show that runners who wear cushioned shoes strike the ground much harder than when they run barefoot because the cushioning prevents the body from accurately anticipating the impact of the landing.  There is a direct correlation between the amount of cushioning in shoes and your ability to moderate shock.  Finally, cushioning is inherently unstable, a characteristic that further reduces the amount of accurate information the body would normally receive.

12. Although shoes are supportive and cushioned, they still allow the foot to move naturally.

This statement is self-contradictory.  Imagine trying to work with your hands while wearing a stiff, thick oven mitt.  You would protect yourself from cuts and bruises, although these could probably have been avoided by being more attentive, but you would have less responsiveness, stability, flexibility, and strength in your hands and the movements or your entire arm would be affected.

13.Shoes should be avoided.

As a rule extremist arguments are weak.  Some say shoes are always bad and others say runners should always wear shoes.  The minimalist argument would be:  when the opportunity is present, run barefoot to move most naturally, otherwise wear minimal shoes so your feet are allowed to receive as much information as possible and move without restriction while being protected from sharp objects and inclement weather.

14. Since running in minimalist shoes is natural, no transition from traditional shoes to minimal shoes is necessary.

As a result of wearing traditional running shoes many of us have de-conditioned feet:  weak fascia, muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones.  Also the strength and range of motion of the Achilles tendon and calf muscles will be reduced.  Changing from wearing traditional shoes to minimal shoes is similar to an office worker suddenly switching to manual labor.  A transition is necessary to improve strength, flexibility and range of motion or an early injury is likely.  Wear minimal shoes as often as possible for a couple weeks and eventually a complete transition to minimal shoes will be possible.  Once the body has made this adaptation, the next stage involves running for short periods of time, beginning on soft surfaces

15. Only shoes for running should be minimalist.

Much of the attention by the press has been on minimal shoes for running, but it is always advantageous to restrict the movement of the foot as little as possible.  It makes no more sense to have a rigid, padded shoe with a higher heel for walking or work than it does for running and other sports.

A regular contributor to the Natural Running Center, Jim Hixson also manages Feet for Life’s Motion Center minimal shoe store in St. Louis, MO.

 

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22 Responses to “15 Misconceptions About Minimalist Shoes and Natural Running”

  1. Josie Marsh says:

    I had plantar fasciitis in my right foot after college when I was doing a lot of running in traditional shoes. So I switched to cycling and 5 years later my PF was better (with PT). I’ve been running short distances and walking in minimalist shoes over the last year and a half. I started doing a little more recently (3 miles a few times a week) and now I’m developing PT in my left foot. Should I continue to wear minimalist shoes? I tried hiking in my old hiking boots and that felt terrible. I’d love to hear your opinion. Thanks.

    • Jim Hixson says:

      You’ve been making a gradual transition, so now it’s time to look at form.

      Minimalist shoes are necessary to run with excellent form, but they’re not sufficient. Run relaxed, especially in the foot and lower leg area. Allow your heel to tap the ground after forefoot/midfoot striking. Don’t over-stride. Envisioning cycling is an excellent way to run with good form: the forefoot pushes the pedal to the bottom of the stroke, then the heel stretches the calf/Achilles, and the recovery begins.

      It’s impossible to run heel first while doing these two drills: (1) running backwards (2) stopping every couple minutes to run in place for 15 seconds.

      Downloading the app, Coach’s Eye, to a phone or iPad ($4.99) will give you the ability to check your perception of what you are doing with the reality.

  2. Great post.

    I translated to spanish and posted it on my blog. I hope you don´t mind.

    Best Regards.

  3. Anderson says:

    Another misconception is that non-minimalist shoes FORCE you to heel-strike, that you need to be barefoot to run properly. This is a ridiculous notion and I am sick of reading it everywhere. I have been running on my forefeet since I can remember, and so have a lot of other people I have run with. NO PF, knee issues, none of that. Never run barefoot in my life, other than incidentally as a kid.

    • MarkC says:

      True! put any shoe on an efficient runner and they will still show a good pattern. it is just tough for the foot and ankle to function with spring with an arch support and elevated heel. You need to create the motion in the talus and the proper eccentric stretch on the calf. Mark

    • Jim Hixson says:

      Congratulations on running midfoot in traditional shoes! Do you realize that you’re losing one-half inch (12mm) in the range of motion of your calf muscles? Perhaps the lack of flexibility in traditional shoes, which prevents the intrinsic muscles of the foot from working fully, is OK, too. Traditional shoes do not force a runner to run heel first, but they encourage it and don’t penalize a runner for running with improper form when running that way.

    • Euan says:

      I am the same. I have always run on my toes, to do otherwise just felt weird, however after switching to minimalist trainers (by accident) I have experienced the following benefits; They seem a little cooler (I can only assume there is a smaller sole so less material to store heat), there is slightly more sensation (which is entertaining and breaks monotony rather than anything else) and by far the best change of all they are much lighter on your feet (I noticed a massive change in this respect

      all in all I run the same but much prefer my new minimalist shoes

  4. When we take off the shoes, there is a self-moderating effect when we land with too much impact on rough, hard terrain due to pain experienced instantly through our sensitive soles, which we respond to by running gently. While, I agree, humans are not designed for the impact of over-striding (more typical in shod runners), we are designed to run with less impact!

    • MarkC says:

      Thanks Ken Bob for replying on our site and you ar right on. Happy barefooting in So Cal. Really cold and dark here….so tough to barefoot the 5am runs :(
      Spring around the bend.
      Mark

  5. Dave Paff says:

    I’m a heavy runner (220) and have run the Chicago Marathon 3 times with NB on. This month I began running on the TM in socks and though its a transition, it feels great. I’m slower and my lower legs initially hurt, it gets better every workout. Having had R Miniscal Repair last year, I think I’m going to be able to get back to running this summer and I’m sold on minimalist shoes. Thanks for the article.

  6. I have a couple of comments.

    1. Long stride does not cause faster running, it is the result of running faster. If the body is moving forward faster, it naturally will cover more distance with each step, unless the cadence increases faster than our speed (which is highly unlikey – when I run 10 minute miles, my cadence is not half of what it is when I’m running a 5 minute mile – though it may feel that way!)

    2. The fine variations of each human body does dictate that running technique will not be exactly the same for all humans. I do agree there are certain basics that will be the same. But there is no sure way for a coach to know how an individual needs to fine tune their own technique for their own body, or to explain to them those adjustment, since the coach cannot feel how those subtle changes are affecting the person. This is why we need immediate and emphatic feedback which lets us know we need to make subtle adjustments.

    This is the biggest reason that learning to run while barefoot (the sole is our most important sensor in this regard) is so very helpful for so many people who have tried running while actually barefoot (not in minimalist shoes – at least not until after they have corrected their technique), especially for people with profound divergences in physical characteristics (eg. leg length differences, malformed hips, etc.)

    • MarkC says:

      thanks Ken Bob for commenting…as always great advice. getting warm here finally and out there barefoot again after a hard winter. this ear took almost no adaptation, even for the skin….so even with age I must be getting more resilient.
      Mark

  7. Anne Gallant says:

    I have not run in about 3 years because of plantar fasciitis. I’ve only started back to run by using minimalist shoes by running 30 seconds and then walking for about 2 minutes. I have gotten up to 2 minutes of running and still 2 minutes of walking. My feet are still really sore at night but they don’t hurt when I run. I run by landing on my forefoot so I guess that’s why it doesn’t hurt when I run.
    I’ve recently gone to my doctor because of the PF and when I said I wanted to run barefoot he said no and that I would be worse though after reading Barefoot Running Step by Step I’m not convinced. Would people recommend Physiotherapy or just go right to barefoot running. I am steering towards the later. How do I transition to barefoot running if I have barely run in 3 years? I do walk barefoot for about 4 minutes
    after my run/walk.
    Has Ken Bob ever come to Canada to demonstrate barefoot running? Everyone I talk to thinks I’m crazy and it’s a small town so I’m a little afraid to start. Would a running track be where I start? Sorry for all the questions. Nothing else has worked for me.

    • MICHAEL DEVANEY says:

      Anne I too have been dealing with pf for 10 months now. First things first in my humble opinion. You need to rid yourself of the usual symptoms…stiffness and pain in the am and again later at night. I myself got custom orthotics, took naprosym for about a week and eliminated running…even if only for a few minutes. Use the exercise bike or elliptical machine. Then you need to wean yourself off the naprosyn and again avoid running…see if the elliptical machine or bike aggravates the symptoms. If it doesn’t that is great news. You really need a priod of time where you are symptom free before you should even consider jumping into minimalist running. However i think it is a good idea to get yourself a pair of minimalist running shoes and just wear them as your body will begin to adapt to having the heel closer to the ground. Then you need to assess things like proprioception (can you stand on one leg for 30 sec w eyes closed) can you raise your big toes while keeping the other toes flat on the ground. I have a lot of difficulty with this and so i am working on that right now. You also need to address issues like strengthening calves for the added stress of running on your forefoot as opposed to heel striking. Then when you do start running without symptoms i would carry my minimalist shoes with me and try short bouts of running with them in the middle or your run and gradually increase the amount of running with the new shoes.

  8. Anne Gallant says:

    Thanks for the comments Mike. I have had custom orthotics for about 5 years and got a new pair 2 years ago because of PF. They helped me the first time I got them but the second pair did not help at all.
    I just started running after not running for 2 years. Any kind of anti-inflammatories have not worked for me at all. After reading 2 barefoot running books I am convinced that it my last option. I have also had Shock Wave Therapy, cortisone injections, physiotherapy night splints, etc. I have also heard that you should do the barefoot running before going to the minimalist. I guess this article is about minimalist running shoes so maybe I’m writing to the wrong people. I am strengthening my calves and strengthening my intrinsic muscles in my feet. Thanks again for the advice.

    • Jim Hixson says:

      Wearing a minimal shoe for everyday activities will provide a passive stretch anytime you’re standing or walking. The intrinsic muscles of the foot will rapidly begin to regain strength and flexibility.

      Light jogging while barefoot on grass (soccer/football field or golf course) will help you prepare your feet and the rest of your body for running in minimal shoes on grass, track, or hard surfaces.

      Wearing minimal shoes will not automatically correct all form flaws. Attention to form is always necessary. This attention is more likely to occur if the information/signals are constantly being received by the body. This does not occur with traditional shoes because they’re relatively thick, stiff, and unstable.

      The short story is this: we’re meant to move barefoot. There is no argument that can prove that a traditional shoe with an elevated heel can allow the body to move even naturally, let alone more naturally. There is also no question that minimal shoes can allow you to walk and run places you couldn’t run comfortably barefoot. Look at them the way you would look at work gloves for your hands. Work gloves protect the surface of the hand while allowing the hand to move without restriction or significant decrease in strength, although they do diminish receptiveness to a certain degree as a trade-off for safety.

  9. John says:

    Minimalist shoes have saved my life. They have eliminated arthritis in both my feet and knees. Everyone should convert to minimalism now and read Born To Run. I have given away the arthritis causing normal trainers and now only run in minimalist shoes or barefoot. We were born with bare feet and normal running shoes were a bane of all my injuries and even caused my arthritis.

  10. Cloxkki says:

    Hi,
    I am an aspiring running technique coach, but not planning to associate myself with any specific “brand” of running technique.

    Currently I have many heated debates with high-level track coaches and athetes. Multiple are current or former natuional champions, some perform at global masters level.

    It’s about #14, shoe heel drop and calf injuries.
    One runner, an M45 with a 1.48 800m in his past, does all his training in “regular” raised heel running shoes. With additional othodics to relieve calf pains. Hard to express how gifted an atlete this is. But always injured to the calfs. Any professional you’ll contact will put you on orthodics and reduced training load.
    It is my vision and experience, and I seek scientific articles on this to settle the argument, that the ankles DO go through a greater range of motion on spikes than on trainers. And that the “spike” range (race load) needs to be conditioned by actually straining the calf, wearing flat sneakers in everyday life (I prefer XC spikes minus the inserts for comfort and looks).
    I have found that when I first wore XC spikes in everyday life, it got me a real nagging sore in teh calfs after just 2 hours of shopping around town. My subsequent tolerance to speed work increased VASTLY after this.
    Now I try to incorporate spike running in training, to prepare myself for races. I have not been able to source/afford proper zero rise training shoes (now wear worn Adizero Rockets and I’m well over 200lb but they’re fine for me), but once I switch to zero drop shoes for everyday life AND training, I expect to be able to endure spike sessions more easily already.

    Can anyone help me toward papers discussion range of motion and the need to condition the calf for the task of running on spikes, or in races at all, by addressing said range of motion through the ankle to flex the calf with lower heeled shoes?

    Thanks a lot for your help!!!

    J
    jgklok@gmail.com

  11. Ryan says:

    Going barefoot and then finding the right min shoe allowed me to keep running. I cirst went totally barefoot and rsn on the roads- ironically easier on my soles than the trails in DC, MD, VA are which are quite rocky. While I am a huge proponent of barefoot/min running, I am not an idealog about it. If regular shoes and stride are working for you great. But if you run into any problems, I recommend giving barefoot/min a try. BUT BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING READ BAREFOOT KEN-BOB’S BOOK ON PROPER TECHNIQUE AND HOW TO GRADUALLY WORK INTO IT. I think most people that have sustained injuries while doing it don’t do it properly and/or didn’t transition properly. The transition will take twice as long as you think. The reason I started totally barefoot is because this gave me the best way to make sure I was running with proper form- because you really can’t run with improper form if you are barefoot- quite simy it will hurt and when our body feels pain it makes us stop- in the case of BF running maki g you run so it doesnt hurt- i.e. with proper BF form. After about a year of totally barefoot on the roads i tried the trails because i really prefer trail running. Running with a bunch of cars wizzing by blowing CO in my face is just not that much fun to me. Problem was that, with a few exceptions- The trails were just too rough for me to run BF. So I first switched to Vibrams FF (the originals) but they had no traction and I was slipping all over. So then I tried Merrell Trail Gloves which I love and highly recommend if you need protection and traction but want very min shoes. But then I had 2 problems- first was when the leaves fell and I couldnt see the rocks I bruised the hell out of my feet in the Trail Gloves. The second was that in my second year I started doing runs over 5 or 7 miles. The first year i built myself up to but likited by self to 3 miles. As I started running more I developed pain in my left achilles. Now this is a problem unique to me because i have a convenitally short left achilles tendon, and i think the extra strretch that the achilles has during BF running was straining it ad my miles increased. So then I tried Merrell Mix Masters with 4 mm rise. They worked great in adding protection to my feet in my autumn runs and providing just enough lift to my heel to keep the stress of my short achilles. Of course by this time I had my BF form down and was running with proper form naturally, so adding a small rise in the heel had no effect on my form. So now I do my longer runs or runs on really rocky trails or autumn runs in Merrell Mix masters, while worki g i some shorter runs either totally barefoot or in the Trail Gloves. Finally, I have found the solution that I think will allow me to keep running for life. Oh, and for court sports like basketball and squash I love an oldy but a goody – Converse Chucks. Sometime we need to forget our “progress” and get back to the way humans did things for thousands of years.

  12. Steve says:

    A lot of interesting information here. But it does seem to me that, after reading all of this, there must be some folks still using traditional running shoes with positive results— ie, injury free. In fact, I would suspect a healthy majority still use them– injury free. How is that possible?

    Anyways. my question is regarding number 15: only shoes for running must be minimalist. Why is this exactly? I know there’s likely more force at play during running, but again: why is it ok– and preferred– to have high drop shoes for walking but not running?

    • Andrew says:

      @Steve,

      I think you’re perhaps misreading the statement. That only running shoes must be minimalist is the misconception. Jim Hixson is suggesting that other shoes in our daily lives should ALSO be minimalist, ideally. The issue that comes into play is that there is a limited market of minimalist shoes outside of running and some casual shoes. There’s no such thing (as far as I know) as minimalist dress shoes I can wear with a suit to meet a client, or minimalist soccer cleats that aren’t very narrow with flexible soles and good ground feel.


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