Wear Minimalist Shoes to Maximize Movement

For tens of thousands of years, humans performed daily tasks on their bare feet. Then an assortment of specialized shoes was developed, including a seemingly limitless variety of running shoes. Despite the perceived advantages of foot protection, some fitness enthusiasts have returned to being barefoot, believing it’s a more natural way to walk and therefore decreases the risk of injury for the feet and legs. As a result, several shoe manufacturers have produced specialized “minimalist” shoes to accommodate this. Minimalist shoes allow people to imitate barefoot walking while providing some sole and toe protection. The design allows the feet and toes to spread out and conform to the terrain with each step, rather than being boxed in and stabilized by a contoured and cushioned shoe design. A minimalist shoe is any footwear that lacks high-cushioned heels, stiff soles, and arch support. Some popular examples include:

  • Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
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  • Vibram FiveFingers
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  • Newton MV3
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You are taking a step in the right direction of you are considering switching from traditional shoes to minimalist shoes. Research shows that minimalist shoes are much more beneficial for our bodies and are safer since they provide a more efficient gait and stride. Since minimalist shoes provide minimal cushioning and no mechanical support to the foot arches, the foot is in a more appropriate anatomical position and the foot stabilizer muscles and leg muscles experience greater demands for strength (see figure 1.0 and 1.1 below). 

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*Figure 1.0 – Analysis of foot strike when wearing traditional running shoes versus going barefoot.

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*Figure 1.1 – Foot alignment in conventional shoe versus minimalist shoe.

Here are the pros of wearing minimalist shoes.

  1. IMPROVED BIOMECHANICS AND GAIT.
    • The closer you are to a zero millimeter heel-toe drop (less heel-toe drop = latter heel), the closer you are to aligning your biomechanics and gait to the way nature intended for you to walk. Minimalist shoes tend to shift you into a more mid-foot/forefoot strike (as opposed to heel strike), which can significantly reduce impact forces (i.e. risk of injury) and improve your gait.
  2. LESS RESTRICTION IN THE LEGS AND ANKLES.
    • The higher the heel-toe drop is, the more you restrict range of motion in your legs and ankles. Since walking, jogging, and running by nature involves thousands of repetitions, your body will quickly adapt to the restricted range of motion. The higher heel elevation will result in tight calves and feet and increase risk of injury (e.g. Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, etc.).
    • Think of the heel-toe drop as an exaggerated version of a women’s high-heel shoe. Any form of heel elevation is shortening the calves and placing stress on the wrong parts of your body.
  3. IMPROVED FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH IN THE LEGS AND FEET.
    • Similar to point #2, walking in minimalist shoes forces the muscles in the legs and feet to work harder by moving through a greater range of motion. This will result in he functional strength improvements in your legs and feet, which in turn, reduces your risk of injury as well.
    • The intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscles (which function as important foot stabilizers) experience greater demands for strength. The volumetric growth of extrinsic foot muscles is due to higher strain and greater force generation in the calf muscle when using minimalist shoes.
    • In addition, mid/forefoot landing imposes more stimuli to the front part of the foot, especially for the metatarsophalangeal joint (the joint of the foot and toes). Muscles responsible for metatarsophalangeal joint motions will strengthen this type of landing.
  4. IMPROVED POWER AND ECONOMY.
    • The light weight and more natural feel of minimalist shoes will improve your stride power by reducing the ground contact time (especially if you’re a runner).
    • It also improves your running economy by making it easier to maintain a faster pace.
  5. BETTER PROPRIOCEPTION.
    • Since minimalist shoes have less cushioning and support, you will have a better sense of awareness and feeling.
    • Your feet receive the most sensory output out of every body part. Using minimalist shoes will heighten your senses, allowing your body to experience more sensation of the surface below you.

You should take caution when transitioning to a more minimalist type of shoe. You’re going to engage muscles in your feet, legs and core differently than what you’re used to, partially because you’ll be landing less on your heel with a braking ankle and more near your mid-foot with a more level landing. This will require a period of adjustment, especially if you haven’t been doing general strength or dynamic strength exercises. Additionally, your body will have to adjust slightly for the newfound body positioning since you core will no longer be working as hard to keep your upper body balanced because you’ll be moving in a more natural position without and elevated heel. Here are some simple steps to help you transition into wearing minimalist shoes.

  1. BUY NEW SHOES.
    • Don’t throw out your old pairs just yet, as you will still need them when making the slow transition to wearing minimalist shoes.
    • Look for shoes that have a reduced heel-toe drop (A.K.A. the heel-toe offset or heel-toe differential). The heel-toe drop is the difference between the midsole heel height (rear of shoe) and the midsole forefoot height (front of shoe).
      • E.g. A 4mm drop shoe means your heel will sit 4mm higher off the ground than your forefoot.
    • A minimal drop shoe is generally classed as anything between 0-8mm.
  2. ALWAYS GO BAREFOOT AT HOME.
    • Don’t wear any form shoes or slippers. Walking around your house on different surfaces (e.g. carpet, floor, etc.) will allow your body to adjust to using the proper muscles in your legs and feet that nature intended for you to use when walking.
    • This also applies to those of you with plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, bunions, calluses, blisters or deformed feet. Many foot issues are due to improper footwear, and can be resolved within a matter of days or weeks simply by being barefoot more often and wearing the appropriate shoes.
  3. TRANSITION SLOWLY.
    • Even if you are used to wearing lightweight shoes, transitioning to minimalist shoes will engage muscles in a different way than your body is used to. Going straight from a shoe with cushioning and support to a more minimalist style may increase your risk of injury if not done properly.
    • Start by using your minimalist shoes for one, or a few, hours at a time and then slowly increase the amount of time you spend wearing them for simple daily tasks (e.g. walking your pet, running errands, etc.)
    • Another option is to consider using your minimalist shoes for shorter and fast workouts, and wait until your body has adjusted before you wear them for longer workouts.
  4. ALLOW TIME FOR THE TRANSITION TO OCCUR.
    • The changes and deformities that happen in your feet and toes exposed to conventional footwear takes many years to occur. Thus, the healthy changes and true foot and toe rehabilitation will also take some time to occur. Transitioning to minimalist shoes will, in most cases, work your foot and lower body in a very new and unique way, leading to initial soreness and fatigue in many before the longer-term strength gains and other favorable adaptations occur.
    • After wearing conventional shoes with heel elevation for several years, certain muscles (i.e. achilles tendon) are shortened. The muscles will return to their normal length after conventional footwear is abandoned and your feet can rest on a level surface, but this process takes time. Heat, ice, physical therapy modalities, and proper flexibility and mobility exercises can help with the transition and rehabilitation.

When transitioning to minimalist shoes, you are looking for shoes that offer little to no support and no stability control since the foot in an efficient gait can naturally off set much of the rolling (pronation/supination) that would occur after a heavy heel-strike gait. Essentially, you want shoes that offer just enough protection from the pavement while letting the feet move naturally when walking. Here are some examples of my personal favourite minimalist shoes .

  • New Balance Minimus
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    • 4mm heel-toe drop.
    • Great for those who still want some foot support and stability.
    • Constructed for a more neutral or narrow foot.
    • Vibram® outsole provides maximum surface contact and multi-directional traction.
  • Nike Free Flyknit 4.0
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    • 6mm heel-toe drop.
    • Great for those want a more sock-like fit that will snug your foot with each stride, but still offer some support.
    • Constructed for a more neutral or wider foot.
    • These have hexagon flex grooves for natural range of motion, and rubber pods for traction and cushioning.
  • Nike Hyperfeel
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    • 4mm heel-toe drop.
    • Great for those who want a second-skin, sock-like fit that will provide ultralight support with a contoured fit.
    • Constructed for a more narrow foot.
    • These have a thin web rubber outsole which provides traction and durability for both indoor and outdoor wear, while retaining flexibility.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC TOPICS YOU WOULD LIKE ME TO WRITE ABOUT? Let me know in the comments section below!

REFERENCES:

  • Hong Kong Polytechnic University. (2016, October 3). Minimalist shoes increase leg and foot muscles. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 20, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161003110419.htm
  • University of Virginia. (2013, May 2). Muscle adaptation of transition to minimalist running. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 20, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130502142443.htm
By | 2017-03-23T14:43:16+00:00 March 23rd, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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