Smutty Fitness: Minimalist Running Shoes
I would love to know Hayley's thoughts on the barefoot/minimalist shoe running trend. I'm currently training for my 4th half marathon, and I feel like everyone I talk to is trying to talk me into buying a pair of minimalist shoes... mind you, most of those people don't run as far or as often as I do these days. I'm pretty happy with my current "traditional" running shoes, but now I'm starting to worry. Am I doing my body a disservice by continuing to wear my non-minimalist running shoes? Is it possible for her to do a future column about the benefits (if any) to barefoot/minimalist running?
I ran in a “traditional” pronation control shoe for years, completed countless half marathons, half Ironmans and 2 Ironmans, and I was always very happy with my results. But as I started to focus more on just running and trying to increase my speed I started to work on my running technique. If you have ever watched the lead pack in an elite Marathon (Boston, Chicago, London, New York or the Olympics) you will notice that all of the runners are running with a midfoot strike: their hips are pushed forward and their foot strikes the ground directly below their center of body mass. This is how our bodies were meant to run and if you have read the book Born to Run or watched the documentary The Perfect Runner you were probably already aware of that and understand how barefoot running and minimalist shoes help promote this proper biomechanical way of running.
If we look at the marathoners that are 2 hours or more behind these elite runners this biomechanical running style will be hard to spot as the majority of the these runners are heel striking, leaning forward at their shoulders, have their hips pushed behind them and are looking like they are ready for the race to be over. However, a lot of these runners will be in a minimalist running shoe and doing more harm than good to their bodies.
If you are going to wear a minimalist running shoe you need to learn how to run properly. It is a catch 22 however because if you do not wear a minimalist shoe your bad habits will continue to be supported by the traditional running shoe but if you wear a minimalist shoe without knowing how to run correctly you can injure yourself.
What I suggest you do is gradually ease into wearing the minimalist shoes. Begin by using them for your interval workouts only and stick with your traditional shoe for the remainder of your runs. Focus on engaging your glutes to keep your hips forward, striking the ground with the midfoot and using your hamstrings to lift your heels to your sit bones through the recovery phase. Keep your shoulders relaxed and position your body as if it is slightly falling forward from the hips and work on a short and quick cadence. As your running style improves start to wear the minimalist shoes for your tempo runs and eventually add them to your longer runs. You also must make sure that you are going to the gym and strengthening your lower body and your core to ensure you have the strength to run the distance you need to without becoming injured.
I myself have three different pairs of minimalist/neutral shoes which I use for three different types of running. For my track intervals and short tempo runs I wear the New Balance 730 and anything that is 10km or longer I wear the New Balance 890 V2 (this is a neutral shoe however it still promotes a midfoot strike). For my trail runs I run in this shoe, the New Balance 110. A few other options are the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara 3 or the Brooks Pure Flow - both great minimalist running shoes.
Minimalist shoes do not work for everyone but I would not hesitate to recommend them to you considering you are a dedicated runner. Keep using your traditional shoes for your longer runs right now but go out and get a pair of minimalist (or neutral) shoes and try them out on the track or treadmill -- it could be just what you need to take your running to the next level!
Attached - Selma Blair on her way to a workout.Photos: