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Minimalist Running Shoes

Andrew Nagy
From the Print Edition:
Andy Garcia, March/April 2014

The latest look in running shoes may feel (and sometimes look) a little funny, but it may save you a lot of grief. For many, running is a painful experience, not an enjoyable exercise. Studies have shown that 30 to 70 percent of runners suffer a repetitive-stress injury each year. So why bother? For starters, running is one of the most efficient and convenient methods to burn loads of calories and shed extra weight. But the real reason that people keep on trekking, many runners attest, is the floaty, happy sensation felt after a long run, when morphine-like brain chemicals called endocannabinoids are released—the runner’s high.

To enjoy a nice jog and avoid injury, we advocate switching your running gait and purchasing a pair of minimalist running shoes. The soles of minimalist shoes are thin and thus encourage a runner to use the safer “forefoot-strike” stride in which the lateral ball of the foot, and not the heel, is the principle point of impact. Studies have shown that a “heel-strike” stride places much more strain on the hip and knee, thus increasing the risk of injury.

Altra’s The One ($100, altrazerodrop.com, bottom) is a good transition shoe for someone looking to switch from heel- to forefoot-striking. While The One offers a bit of cushion like a typical running shoe, the company’s Zero Drop design means the heel is not elevated, but instead is even with the forefoot, naturally aligning the feet, back and body posture. A wide toe-box better follows the natural shape of the foot, too, allowing the toes to relax and naturally spread out.

Reebok’s new ZQuicks ($90, reebok.com, second from bottom) weigh less than 9 ounces and are good for not only running, but minimalist cross-training, too. The soles resemble tire treads and are incredibly flexible, providing cushion but still a relatively flat heel. The snug, bootie-style fit makes quick pivots and explosive moves easier.

Vivobarefoot’s Stealth shoe ($120, vivobarefoot.com, second from top) are made of lightweight, breathable mesh and sport a sole that is only 3mm thick. The wide toe-box allows your foot’s arch and toes to load, splay and recoil—encouraging natural shock absorption in your stride.

The distinctive split toe of the Topo RX ($110, topoathletic.com, top) encourages natural foot positioning and is designed to provide more stability and better ground feel. While the Y-shaped sole of the shoe makes it fit snugly from heel to midsole, the toes are allowed to spread.

For most of human history, running has been performed either barefoot or wearing only thin-soled shoes. So we say embrace evolution and cast off cushiony running shoes. Your joints and muscles will thank you for it.

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