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Beware All the Hype–What Exactly is a Minimalist Running Shoe?

Thoreau was the nation’s first true advocate of minimalism-- living simply, honestly, and within one’s means.

Considering all the marketing buzz now surrounding “minimalist running shoes,” it will become increasingly difficult to separate facts from fiction, to ascertain the real deal from phony pretenders. “Minimalist shoes,” judging by the recent RoadRunnerSports website is defined as such: “Lightweight Training Tools for More Efficient Running.” But lightweight is not the same as minimalist, since both the heel and cushioning can be excessive in size and comfort. A lighter shoe only makes sense if it allows one to land on the middle or forefoot, and not the leg-jarring heel. True minimalism should be gauged by weight, tread thickness and flexibility (you want your feet to be on speaking terms with the ground), and what is called the “zero-drop” -- the height differential between heel and mid-sole (the less, the better). In other words, flat is where it’s most definitely at-- especially in terms of achieving the optimal neutral stance for a more natural stride. (The highly anticipated Minimus by New Balance, for example, that will be reaching stores in the Spring will have a heel to forefoot drop of 4mm, whereas the standard running shoe is three times as great.)

While many of the “m” shoes currently being sold on the RoadRunnerSports website and elsewhere are a vast improvement over most running shoes, it would be helpful for all runners looking to transition to a new style of injury-free running and footwear that the shoe companies and retailers started hewing to a more precise set of guidelines and definitions regarding what a minimalist shoe truly is. Until that happens (and which is highly unlikely), it’s runner beware. Just because a shoe is being marketed and sold as “minimalist, “ doesn’t mean it is. “A goose is a goose, still, dress it as you will,” observed that maestro of minimalism, Henry David Thoreau.