Sometimes we need to go back to the start and look at the real differences between minimalist running shoes and their adversary: traditional runners. Oftentimes people can get caught up in the hype and lose sight of the factual information behind certain products or apparel. We need to pause and reflect on some of the specific differences that separate these two separate types of footwear.
Sole and Offset
Two of the key distinguishing features that separate minimalist running shoes from conventional runners are the sole thickness and heel to toe offset. Minimalist shoes are typically composed of an ultra-thin sole that is designed to enhance ones tactile awareness of the ground beneath his or her feet. Normal running shoes offer a cushion that is designed to protect the feet from harm and cushion the foot from shock. Offset is a related shoe trait that measures the difference in height between the toe and heel of the foot. The best minimalist running shoes employ zero offset across the entire shoe while traditional running shoes can reach upwards of 20 millimetres.
Forefoot Running vs Heel Striking
The offset and sole thickness directly contribute to whether the person used their forefoot or heel to land when taking a running stride. Forefoot running has been discussed at some length and has been compared to the heel strike in other articles. Suffice it to say minimalist running shoes encourages people to land on the balls of their feet and spread less pressure throughout the leg region while cushioned running shoes increase the strain applied to the feet, legs and back.
Foot and Toe Space
This particular measure tends to vary depending on the actual shoe manufacturer, but in general observation, foot and toe flexibility is greatly increased when using minimalist running shoes. That’s not to say that there is room for the foot to slide around within the shoe, but rather the shoe itself is more flexible allowing the wearer to utilize greater sensory perception with each step. The shielding used on typical runners often completely eliminates any real tactile perception the foot might be picking up. The thick sole mutes the feedback the foot is designed to receive from each step.
These are some of the main differences between minimalist shoes and conventional runners. Many types of minimalist footwear go farther with attributes such as individualized toes and eco-friendly manufacturing methods. What we see here however is a gradual progression to freeing our feet from overactive protection. Barefoot running shoes are designed to give you both the freedom of bare feet as well as the protection of shoes. Recent innovation has allowed us to start to experience the barefoot feeling while drastically reducing any risks.