Recently the question came up about minimalist shoes and if I was an advocate of them. In general I don’t think they’re a good idea and here’s why: The primary focus of the shoe is to attenuate ground reaction forces of landing. Barefoot or minimalist footwear fails in this prerequisite.
Now maybe you are scratching your head because many people have transitioned to minimalist footwear and have found joy by getting off of their heels?! So why did the shoes work for select percentage of the population and why do we have others that are non-responders and end up with stress fractures?
The key comes back to our anatomy and myokinematics (our own unique activation patterns). The dispersion of ground force reactions to a large extent is managed by how the tibia transitions over the ankle. Some people are blessed with wonderful enhancements to the tibialis anterior muscle. These folks are naturally able to heel strike and allow the tibialis anterior to eccentricly control the foot to the ground. Others are more dominant in their calves & when they attempt to land on their heel, transmit far too much force to their knees. A better way for them to manage the impact is to land in a relative plantar flexed position and eccentricly disperse the load through their calves.
So if you give someone a pair of unpadded shoes and they are not built to manage the forces through their calves (said another way-get off their heels), even with all the transitioning time in the world they will never adopt a pattern that will protect them from injury. Eventually one of two things happens: the energy requirements for that gait style are too excessive or generalized fatigue of the activity brings on a neurologic malaise and the runner breaks down.
Conversely, if you give someone who was always meant to be dominant with their calves permission to do such, it’s a religious experience!
Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we’ll talk about the softness of the shoes and optimizing your strides.
There is some good data out there that for every ounce you take off your feet, your efficiency increases by 1%. If you want to incorporate some speed training into your regimes-go to a reputable running store and buy a pair of 5K shoes instead of minimalist footwear.
* just don’t go try and run a marathon in your new 5K kicks.