Minimalism

September 20, 2011 0

© Copyright – 2011 – Christopher Kelsall

I wrote this loose and lightly researched article on minimalism in 2007 for Flotrack, before the popularity of minimalism really took off. I am not claiming any sort of influence regarding the growth in the practice of minimalism by the running community. I was, at that time, just another voice talking about its veracity.

At Flotrack, where the article currently resides, there are several comments from readers who debated the article and the practice. They are interesting to read and add to the article. I have included them below.

Minimalism

Top-level runners have always been known to conduct workouts and race while wearing lightweight trainers or racing flats. Now, finally there appears to be a growing trend towards minimalism in running footwear for runners of nearly all levels and the marketing of minimalism is growing too.

Runners attempt to ride that sometimes elusive, elevated sense of well being, by controlling it. Runners supplement it by eating well, sleeping optimum quantities, training smart and avoiding stressful situations, but is that enough?

When it comes to the lower extremities, especially the feet, there exists a certain lack of control. Our feet conduct random acts of unpredictability, or so it seems. There are a growing number of studies and there are an increasing number of athletes alike who are concerned about the increased impact and unnatural bounce back created by running in big, cushy trainers.

In 1989, Dr. B. Marti studied over 5,000 runners who participated in a 16km race and he found the incidence of injuries in runners using shoes costing more than $95 was more than twice that of runners using shoes costing less than $40. No wonder Olympian Ron Daws was known to purchase the cheapest shoes he could find at his local K-Mart; he may have been ahead of his time.

Have the big shoe companies been spewing information, to sell a solution where a problem may not actually exist? To no fault of our own, we are sold on the big shoe company rhetoric, they throw jargon at us like: stabilizing bars, forefoot cushioning, heel counters, orthotics, molded insoles and other mind numbing propaganda. The seeds are planted and as theory goes: if you hear something enough times you begin to believe it; the rhetoric becomes fact.

A powerful, multi-billion dollar industry is out there marketing bigger, fancier and more technically advanced shoes to the swelling hordes of recreational runners. Our uber-slick, modern rides, festooned with gel-this and giga-that; the so called modern running shoe, currently considered a form of protection, should be analyzed with distrust when wandering into your local Super Sport Store. You are on your own however, as some sales people are also sold on the concept representatives of the manufacturer and have unwittingly become corporate shills.

Recently I was at a coaching clinic, which included no less than 5 past Olympians and 4 coaches. Unanimously they agreed and came to the same conclusion regarding footwear; minimalism is the way to go, barefoot would be better, if possible. The foot needs to be let free to develop.

Commonly suspected, shoe induced maladies:

Plantar Fasciitis-

The plantar fascia ligament is like a rubber band, which loosens and contracts with movement. It also absorbs significant weight. Because of this function, plantar fasciitis occurs from a number of causes. Among the most common believed causes is a sudden increase in running volume or quality. This may be true however, legendary running coach from New Zealand, Arthur Lydiard, referred to plantar fasciitis as ‘North American Shoe Disease’, because runners in North America were purchasing heavy, supportive shoes, where the Kiwis didn’t. PF, was a foreign issue!

Achilles tendinitis-

It is common belief among runners and coaches that the causes of achilles tendinitis are recent changes in footwear and sudden increases in training or the amount of hill training they are doing, inflexibility is another culprit. Not necessarily so, say several studies, the culprit, a stiff shoe at the heel.

Shin Splints-

A primary cause of shin splints is a sudden increase in distance or intensity of your training load. This increase in muscle work can be associated with inflammation of the lower leg area, the muscles used in lifting the foot (the motion during which the foot pivots toward the tibia).

In an attempt to attenuate the apparent shock or slam or impact of running, manufacturers have created the cushioned shoe and have marketed the cushioning vigorously. YOU NEED TO BE CUSHIONED, they tell you, they literally have invented a market; to sell the latest advancement to buyers. Don’t you want the latest? I have recently weaned myself from heavy, stiff shoes by wearing my flats, light-weight trainers and deadened old trainers (for trail) and have experienced absolutely no repercussions. In fact one specific benefit are that two niggling issues have disappeared. One was a chronic yet faint and distant irritation of the plantar fascia and the other was stiffer achilles tendons.

From Nike when describing the minimalist shoe model, Free. ‘For decades, world-class athletes have conditioned their feet.’ From Adidas: The adidas adiZero LT is a lightweight, minimalist running shoe with just enough cushioning and support to get you through your longest workout.

Now this looks like a trend towards rhetoric I can appreciate, if so, I am sold! In my opinion athletes, especially the recreational and beginning runners should not get caught up in the big, comfy shoe market, as foot development is at least as important as developing any other part of the body.

Comments

Anonymous

“I am a fan of minimalism”.

Sal W. Delle Palme 3 years ago

I just started getting into running again this spring and was doing a lot of barefooting because I heard about this new ‘less is more’ minimalistic approach to running. Years ago, I had serious shin problems (tibial stress fracture), so I wanted to ease myself back into the groove of training regularly. I was really surprised at how well my lower legs responded and how little shin trouble I encountered. When you can feel the ground better you can feel all the stresses that you’re lower legs are undergoing, and develop more coordinated muscles and technique. I was able to increase the volume and intensity of my workouts way quicker than I thought I would.

I haven’t had any injuries or anything, even though this summer I made a switch to the expensive cushy-ish Nike Vomeros for roads. I don’t think I really need them, I think they are too expensive and too cushy (although there are worse on the market for sure). I want something like a Nike Free or AdiZero in the future.
I totally believe in the minimalist approach if you are a serious runner, we are genetically designed to run on our bare feet. Look at all the great African runners who developed their aerobic base in youth running miles and miles barefoot.

3 years ago

maybe the people with more expensive shoes run more…thus more injuries. I think the shoe cost logic could skew the results.

3 years ago

also their are articles on minimalsim on pubmed.org

 

curiousgeorge 3 years ago

i’m a human performance major and what i feel that poster is trying to express is that you should find the most minimalist shoe for yourself not that everyone should train in racing flats. one person may be able to train in the ds trainers were as another maybe able to train in the vibram fivefingers

Wetcoast_x 4 years ago

Kidding,

It’s an opinion peice, therefore, that’s my opinion. You decide whether you agree or disagree, no problem, you are entitled.

Read all of Camille’s comments and check out the links, there is more information in her contect within the comments section than my opinion peice.

Cmon,

The shoe companies are trying to sell product, good for them, they are entitled to make money. However, that does not mean there are not shoes, which cause problems. Do some research (via Google) on shod and unshod feet and look at how deformed shod feet really are…it’ll be a paradigm shift for you…open the mind a bit :o)

kidding 4 years ago

i cant believe flotrack let this article be posted, the writer made it seem like this will work for everyone.
well it wont, it will only cause you more injury.
secondly the writer believes that since nine people said it then it has to be true. NO STUDY NO FACTS just im sold

cmon 4 years ago

hey mike c i wouldnt base all of your judgements on this article. do you really think that the shoe companies are trying to scam us.

wetcoast_x 4 years ago

Ed,
Wide hips often result in ACL issues. If they lead to foot issues, can you name some you are aware of?

I ask this because, wide hips, knock knees, low arches etc…cause issues as they are exacerbated or maginified by poor footwear, rather than actually being a problem exclusively unto themselves.

Mike C 4 years ago

Good article. Not a runner though, but interesting to know for the kids benefit. Now I know they don’t need the most expensive high tech shoes for athletic purposes!! Basic and simple is good.

Cheryl_x 4 years ago

Wow, this has turned into a heated debate!

Camille 4 years ago

Hi Ed, while I do not have all of the subject data at hand for the studies below, for the knee study (Õunpuu et al. 2004), it says their population consisted of 13 females and 7 males who were “regular recreational runners”, w/ none possessing any current injuries or previous surgeries. Granted this is a small, average population (~human exercise studies are often difficult to recruit for), it could be assumed that each has their own variations in anatomical design (~knock knees, flat feet, high arches, etc.), with the general conclusion of the data being a reduction in stress to the knee.

On a personal note, having looked at the research and seen patients from all walks of life (athletes to 95 y.o. ladies!), if you are experiencing knee pain yourself, other than things you’ve already pointed out, you might consider:

1. Weight gain/overweight
2. Acute knee injuries at any point in life
3. Any exercises, outside of running, that place excessive stress on the knees (~improper squatting, lunges, one-legged squats)
4. Degree of heel lift in both casual and running shoes (~which can also apply to flats, heel-to-toe difference)

Ed_X 4 years ago

“If the muscles in the feet/lower legs aren’t well developed, why not develop them? Who says you can’t, no matter what your anatomical makeup/age/gender may be?”

The problem with that quote is that people want to run, and they want to run now, and all your information does not take into account knocked knees, low arches, wide hips, etc. Whereas one individual can transition immediately, others may never be able to transition, safely.

These articles are short sighted because they claim minimalism to be a cure-all without exploring the many cases where it cannot be. Who is the target of this article anyways? If it was meant for elite athletes that have a history of running injury free. In that case some facts are more valid, but does the same claims apply to a pseudo-elite athlete, i.e., the bottom 2-3 guys on a D3 team, or to the recreational runner that is training very hard to break 40 min for 10K or to qualify for Boston but seem to get injured several times year, or as I mentioned, runners having had any type of knee surgery, etc.

I hope that I am making an equally valid point, and apologies if I am ignoring your scientific data.

Ed_X 4 years ago

“If the muscles in the feet/lower legs aren’t well developed, why not develop them? Who says you can’t, no matter what your anatomical makeup/age/gender may be?”

The problem with that quote is that people want to run, and they want to run now, and all your information does not take into account knocked knees, low arches, wide hips, etc. Whereas one individual can transition immediately, others may never be able to transition, safely.

These articles are short sighted because they claim minimalism to be a cure-all without exploring the many cases where it cannot be. Who is the target of this article anyways? If it was meant for elite athletes that have a history of running injury free. In that case some facts are more valid, but does the same claims apply to a pseudo-elite athlete, i.e., the bottom 2-3 guys on a D3 team, or to the recreational runner that is training very hard to break 40 min for 10K or to qualify for Boston but seem to get injured several times year, or as I mentioned, runners having had any type of knee surgery, etc.

I hope that I am making an equally valid point, and apologies if I am ignoring your scientific data.

Ed_X 4 years ago

“If the muscles in the feet/lower legs aren’t well developed, why not develop them? Who says you can’t, no matter what your anatomical makeup/age/gender may be?”

The problem with that quote is that people want to run, and they want to run now, and all your information does not take into account knocked knees, low arches, wide hips, etc. Whereas one individual can transition immediately, others may never be able to transition, safely.

These articles are short sighted because they claim minimalism to be a cure-all without exploring the many cases where it cannot be. Who is the target of this article anyways? If it was meant for elite athletes that have a history of running injury free. In that case some facts are more valid, but does the same claims apply to a pseudo-elite athlete, i.e., the bottom 2-3 guys on a D3 team, or to the recreational runner that is training very hard to break 40 min for 10K or to qualify for Boston but seem to get injured several times year, or as I mentioned, runners having had any type of knee surgery, etc.

I hope that I am making an equally valid point, and apologies if I am ignoring your scientific data.

Christopher Kelsall 4 years ago

Spelling errors aside and missing the word, born, I meant born unshod.

Christopher Kelsall 4 years ago

Nice work Camille!

Some of the scientific information validate my feeling that we are unshod and like many man invented comforts, shoes often do precisily the opposite of theri intended purpose.

Camille 4 years ago

Hard vs. soft shoes:
Int J Sports Med. 1983 Nov;4(4):247-51.
Effects of shoe cushioning upon ground reaction forces in running.
Clarke TE, Frederick EC, Cooper LB.

“…The peak VF propulsive force occurred statistically at the same time in both shoes (hard = 85.7 ms, soft = 84.0 ms), but was significantly greater in the soft shoe (hard = 2.73 BW, soft = 2.83 BW).”

Camille 4 years ago

Vertical force:
Int J Sports Med. 2005 Sep;26(7):593-8.
Mechanical comparison of barefoot and shod running.
Divert C, Mornieux G, Baur H, Mayer F, Belli A.
Laboratory of Physiology, GIP Exercice-Sport-Sante, University of Saint-Etienne, France.caroline.divert@univ-st-etienne.fr

“…barefoot running leads to a reduction of impact peak in order to reduce the high mechanical stress occurring during repetitive steps. This neural-mechanical adaptation could also enhance the storage and restitution of elastic energy at ankle extensors level.”

Adaptive mechanics:
J Biomech. 2000 Mar;33(3):269-78. Related Articles, Links
Biomechanical analysis of the stance phase during barefoot and shod running.
De Wit B, De Clercq D, Aerts P.
Department of Movement and Sport Sciences, University of Ghent, Belgium.

“…Barefoot running is characterized by a significantly larger external loading rate than the shod condition. The flatter foot placement at touchdown is prepared in free flight, implying an actively induced adaptation strategy. In the barefoot condition, plantar pressure measurements reveal a flatter foot placement to correlate with lower peak heel pressures. Therefore, it is assumed that runners adopt this different touchdown geometry in barefoot running in an attempt to limit the local pressure underneath the heel….”

Camille 4 years ago

Actually Ed, stress to the knee is less while unshod. Additionally, vertical force is less while unshod and less in a harder shoe vs. a softer shoe. It is a mistake to believe shoes can do a better, or attenuate force as naturally intended.

As related to the knee:
http://web.archive.org/web/20040728050600/http://www.indiana.edu/~hperk500/gcma00a/Abstract159.pdf

“…The runners in this study reduced the demand on the knee by reducing the peak knee flexion, extensor moment and power absorption (and associated eccentric contraction of the quadriceps) during the absorption phase during barefoot versus shod running. These findings may have clinical implications with respect to anterior knee pain, which accounts for up to 30% of all running injuries (5). That is, adopting a foot flat or toe initial contact pattern may reduce the knee loads during stance and thus anterior knee pain.”

Camille 4 years ago

If the muscles in the feet/lower legs aren’t well developed, why not develop them? Who says you can’t, no matter what your anatomical makeup/age/gender may be?

Christopher Kelsall 4 years ago

I was surprised by the photo of the unshod foot, although now it seems familiar frm when we saw images of tribes in South American or Africa of perpetually unshod people. The contricted foot, looks normal at a glance, then looks hideous after an understanding…

Thanks for putting up the URL to that thesis, Joe Schmoe!!

wiglaf 4 years ago

that should say “a pointed toe”.

wiglaf 4 years ago

I feel that the Frees, while being entirely flexible, still have problems in that they contrict the foot with a pointed to, and have a high heel. For the foot to be allowed to work fully, it must not only be allowed to move in all planes, but also the toes must be allowed to spread on contact with the ground. the raised heel shortens the achilles and causes a multitude of minute stresses throughout the body.

What I am trying to do is train the skin on my feet to be tougher, and slowly build the strenth, flexibility, and shape of my foot until it resembles a naturla foot as seen in unshod cultures. granted, this may takes years, and my foot may never fully be rid of the effects of constricting shoes that they have spent most of their lives in, but only good can come of this attempt, I believe.

In the meantime, mocassins and the vibram fivefingers are very good choices that do not inhibit the feet, although i’m still looking for something that could be deemed “socially acceptable”… I don normal shoes for appropriate ocassions, but this has grown to irritate me, since I am now used to being barefoot or in mocassins.

joe schmoe 4 years ago

http://www.shoebusters.com/thesis.html

I suggest reading with a critical eye… but then again, everything should be read with a critical eye. The bits about habitually deformed and weak feet in the western world are true, nevertheless.

Ed_X 4 years ago

Ah, the disclaimer, but you need to realize that people take this stuff seriously, and implement it into their training regiment w/o supervision. Of course, for you it is less of an issue because you are in a neutral shoe, but you need to realize that many people don’t fall into that category. To make matters worse, you have other athletes that train themselves, that are looking for fast results, that don’t understand the basic principles of training, the compulsive racer, the runner where races/training is their social life, etc. There are so many types of individuals that buy into this method of thinking, without thinking.
(apologies for the not-well-written comments, don’t feel like writing up an article)

Cara Hawkins 4 years ago

Oh, and I wanted to point out there is a disclaimer to all articles-at the very bottom of the page. Ed_X-much better response then weak glutes alone, and I have actually started strengthing exercises for my glutes and it seems to have work, but at the same time I have changed alot of probable causes. So who really knows what caused it but I just hope I have fixed it. Shoe wise, well I am in the right shoe now which is a neutral shoe and this was of couse after having my stride looked at.

 

Ed_X 4 years ago

Camille, I understand your point about pronation. I buy that your musculature does more to reduce its effects that shoes, but what if it is not very well developed? Articles like these do not tell runners that they should not attempt minimalism unless their lower limbs are solid, for lack of a better term.

The other concern is shock absorption. What does literature say about compression forces applied into your knee joint w/ and w/o shoes, i.e., how much more of a beating does your meniscus take?

Camille 4 years ago

Hi Ed_X, when comparing shod and unshod conditions, research has found that pronation is actually ‘less’ while unshod. From Lore of Running, 3rd edition, p. 497:

“The softness of the midsole has no marked effect on landing forces during running (T.E. Clarke et al,1983b; Frederick,1986; Nigg et al., 1987). It seems that runners alter their gaits and muscle activation patterns (Komi et al., 1987) when running in harder shoes or when running barefoot. Thus, the degree of pronation is reduced when one runs barefoot (Frederick, 1986; L.S. Smith et al., 1986), a reduction due to changes in running patterns….”

Also, in Stacoff et. al, 1989:

“…The results show that, compared to running barefoot, running with a shoe decreases torsion and thereby increases pronation significantly for the forefoot and rearfoot touchdown conditions. Thus the reduction of torsional movement due to stiff shoe soles could well be a reason for running injuries caused by excessive pronation….”

On an aside: I ‘have’ done qualitative video analysis comparing barefoot and shod running (for a Biomechanics course). There was more pronation and time spent in midstance with the shod vs. barefoot running. I’m not so convinced that the structure of a shoe provides greater ‘support’ than the intrinsic muscles in the feet.

Steve S. 4 years ago

Wow! I have had foot issues for years and my son, Matthew has issues with his heels. I thought this was from flat cheap skater shoes and from what I read perhaps not. He plays a ton of soccer and maybe a cause from the soccer shoe being stiff in the heel as you say above.

Thanks for the insite.

PS I purchased a pair of Nike Free and love the shoe.
Way cheaper in the US than in Canada.

Thanks,

STeve

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