The Re-emergence of the Minimal Running Shoe

This just turned up in my alerts “The Re-emergence of the Minimal Running Shoe” …. hmmmm, I was puzzled. I thought the opposite was happening and maybe I had missed a swing back the other way. For example a few months ago, Lower Extremity Review covered it this way: The rise and fall of minimalist footwear. I had to investigate:

The Re-emergence of the Minimal Running Shoe
Irene S. Davis, PT, PhD
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, Ahead of Print
The running shoe has gone through significant changes since its inception. The purpose of this paper is to review these changes, the majority of which have occurred over the past 50 years. Running footwear began as being very minimal and then evolved to become highly cushioned and supportive. However, over the past 5 years, there has been a reversal of this trend with runners seeking more minimal shoes that allow their feet more natural motion. This abrupt shift towards footwear without cushioning and support has led to reports of injuries associated with minimal footwear. In response to this, the running footwear industry shifted again towards the development of lightweight, partial minimal shoes that offer some support and cushioning. In this paper, studies comparing the mechanics between running in minimal, partial minimal, and traditional shoes are reviewed. The implications for injuries in all 3 conditions are examined. The extension of the use of minimal footwear for other populations besides runners is discussed. Finally, areas for future research into minimal footwear are suggested.

This is actually a good review of the emergence of the minimalist running shoes that occurred from around 2009 and the forces and factors that underpinned it and I enjoyed reading it. For those with access to the full text, it is worth a read.

I need not have worried about missing a new trend that I thought I might have when I first caught the title. The only problem with the above review is that its about a couple of years behind current trends as it does not mention the declining interest in barefoot running and minimalist running shoes that has been occurring since around at least mid- to late 2012. Sales of minimalist shoes have declined pretty much every month since then to the point where minimalist running shoes probably now only make up around 3-5% of the running shoe market. The trend has gone all the way to the super maximal cushioned running shoes to the point now where the super cushioned Hoka One One running shoes probably now outsell the entire minimalist category of running shoes.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise…and it does not matter what you and I might think about all this….. runners have voted with their feet.

Davis IS (2014). The Re-emergence of the Minimal Running Shoe. The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy, 1-19 PMID: 25211531

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2 Responses to The Re-emergence of the Minimal Running Shoe

  1. Kevin A. Kirby, DPM September 12, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    Unfortunately, this paper was published about three years too late to be current and not appear to be old and dated. Minimal running shoes are dying a slow death in most Northern California running shoe stores only to be replaced by maximalist running shoes like the Hoka. Now, if the title of paper was “The Re-emergence of the Cushioned Running Shoe” then that would be more newsworthy….especially since running shoe stores can’t even give away the previous king of minimalist running shoes….Vibram FiveFinger shoes.

  2. Melinda October 3, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    the problem with the concept that runners have voted with their feet is that it suggests that what is good for the majority is good for the individual. As someone that does very well in minimalist shoe, it was wonderful to have a wider selection and more options that I have ever had before in the last couple years. It didn’t mean that it was the right option for everyone – and from the numbers it’s obvious that for many runners going back to the traditional shoe was better. So be it. Although I’m all in favor of applying evidence based concepts (I’m medically trained) I think when it comes to specific situations such as shoe fit (saddle fit for horses comes to mind too) applying the popular vote winner option to everyone, that works for “most people” doesn’t account for the fact that there is a very small margin between works great and not. You can show me a multitude of studies that explains why I should run in a certain mm drop shoe, but at the end of the day, I’ll pick the shoe that my feet feel best in after fifty miles. A saddle that fits “most horses” doesn’t work for a 100 miler if it doesn’t fit my particular horse. I’m not even convinced that the top selling shoe at any particular moment represents any sort of “vote”. In fact, the speed of these trends IMO represent perhaps a large contingent of runners that are in some way unsatisfied with their current options and are looking for “the one”. Is it a bell shaped curve where most of those runners will fall into a certain shoe spec? Or does the optimum shoe for any given runner follow a more evenly distributed in multiple categories including cushioned, minimalist, motion control etc?

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