Minimal Running Shoes – The Market Of Minimalist Shoes
By Ed. Ramos.
I will admit, my eyes were widened after reading the article written by Scott Douglas on “Minimalist in The Long Run” as it talked about minimalism and the numbers it has on the market.
Minimalism Is Minimal
I was surprised to find that of the total market minimal running shoes only represent less than 10%. Considering my involvement with minimalism and the wealth of information out there on it, along with advertising, that is all. Another interesting thing I read was they pointed out how most of the running shoes are still purchased at stores that a lot of runners would not consider a specialty shoe store. Instead they are still mostly purchased at stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority.
Interestingly, what drives this trend is that companies are more willing to sell what has been considered already to “work” and what potentially will work. I have read other authors online, such as Peter Larson author of “Tread Lightly“, who have talked about how the whole motion control, stability shoes have actually been found to not improve the injury risk of runners. With this type of information, how is it still that the minimalist trend is so small?
Though the trend of minimalism is a small portion of the market, it is leaking and effecting a change in the rest of the market. This is causing the top name brand shoe companies to either get into minimal running shoes themselves, or incorporate the concepts of what minimalist is bringing to the table such as the lower heel to toe drop concept.
My Future Outlook
My perception on the future of running shoes looks good. I believe that the market is continuously innovating and creating more choices. I know I know, to a lot of people more choices is just more daunting because shoes that used to work for you are not being produced anymore. But what you need to understand is that choice is good. It is an evolution to shoes that actually might fit you better or work better for you. It also gives you price varieties on the shoes that work for you.
Would I be upset if the minimalist portion of the market continues to stagnate? No. What I would be upset is if the innovation of shoes stagnates. I like that I have the option to throw on a pair of shoes for trail running, road running, minimalist, maximalist, racing, steeple, cross country, etc. Could I use these shoes for a purpose they weren’t built for… sure. But variety is the spice of life and according to Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running, having a shoe variety could be a way in which to prevent injuries in itself.
Education and the spread of information is what this blog has been created for, and I believe it will be this saturation of information will continue to mold the market and create running shoes that people not only need to wear but desire to wear for health and fashion!
Review of 4 minimal running shoes
For those who are all about minimalist shoes, forefoot running, and barefoot running, this is a wonderful brand of running shoe. Inov 8 is a running shoe company based out of Europe in 2003 specializing in minimalist shoes for runners, ultra-runners, cross-fitters, and trail runners. I originally ran into Inov8 at a local running shop here in Lynchburg that sold a lot of shoes for trail runners. It was the first time I have ever seen the brand before.
The first thing I noticed about them is how comfortable the upper of the shoe felt on my foot. The only thing that was frustrating about them was they were in European sizing. The size that fit was just a little too snug because the shoe is a little narrow for my foot. The half size up was just a little too long. After getting them and wearing them, they stretched out and felt a little better. Stores do sell Inov8′s now in US sizing, so you just have to look around.
I have a pair of all black Inov8′s. I really like them because they do not stain and look dingy over time. Plus, black goes with just about any running clothes I wear. I have seen some of the other styles such as royal blue, black with white trim, and alpine green with white trim. If you like simple, they have simple styles and some with character too.
The Mid Sole
Though this is a minimalist shoe, I find it has some good cushion. I have tried on the first pair of New Balance Minimus that came out for the trails and they seemed kind of hard. The Inov8 f-lite 230 has just enough cushioning to feel like you’re still protecting your feet.
One of the things I like in shoes is durability, and the sole of this shoe has exactly that. I would compare the rubber they use for the bottom of the shoe almost as good as a Vibram rubber. So if you are looking for something to run on trails, this will definitely hold up. There is also a style of this shoe called the Mudclaw. It is basically the same as the f-lite. The difference is, it has rubber spikes like a football cleat in order to get better grip on the trails and in the mud. Personally I wish I had a pair of these at our conference meet in 2009.
To conclude, the Inov8 running shoe is a great shoe for people looking for something to race in on the roads, or if they are wanting a minimalist trainer. This shoe is not for everyone. If you are looking for a shoe that has support, this is not for you. If you are looking for a shoe to stand around in at work, again this shoe is not for you. Other than the slenderness of the shoe, I loved every part of it.
Scott eRide AF Trainer 2
While I was checking out the Altra Olympus the other day to review, I also tried on a couple other shoes including this rocker design shoe from Scott called the eRide AF Trainer 2. I also tried on the first generation because it was sitting there for $45 on the discount rack.
So one thing that I liked about the new update to the AF Trainer is the upper. On the first generation the upper seemed to be two parts that overlapped each other. The section that created the heel cup attached to the mid sole all the way up near toe box. This caused for me a pressure point that was quite annoying no matter how tight my laces were. But on the AF Trainer 2, they reverted back to the classic upper style of the one piece and a tongue. I believe this fit to be more comfortable and didn’t have the friction spot.
The mid sole remains in that rocker form with a slight curvature of the bottom to help stabilize the foot better as you strike the ground. this design is actually specialized for the mid foot striker, but as a mid foot striker I really couldn’t tell the difference between this design and a flat bottom. This does not mean that it is not helping though.
The cushion on this felt somewhat stiff but not unbearably stiff. I wasn’t expecting the ride to be like clouds, but they were just soft enough. The shoe is designed for the neutral runner and does not have any special arch support, which fits me well. And I didn’t notice any unnecessary pressure points from the mid sole.
This shoe has a higher heel to toe drop at 12mm so expect there to be reduced tension on your Achilles tendon with this shoe.
For a road trainer with 29mm of cushion under the heel, this is a light shoe coming in at just over 8 ounces. When I tested it out, I could see myself using this on tempo runs. This is what I liked the most about the AF Trainer!
What Others Are Saying
“Our wear-testers loved the subtle but distinct rocker profile…” Competitor.com
Personally I am not huge on spending $140 dollars but it seems that the shoe industry average is creeping closer to this price. In my years of running I have been growing closer to the minimalist and lighter weight trainers. This shoe is in that category and apparently designed for my foot strike which I enjoy. The fix to the upper definitely changed my view on this shoe, considering the thing I hate most with shoes is friction spots caused by the stitching or something that could cause blisters. This shoe is very light and feels smooth while on the run.
My wife was out with my mother-in-law on a day shopping and getting coffee when they came across to them what was a new running shoe store in town. They told me about it and it wasn’t new, it was just the trail shoe specialty shop that had moved to a more convenient location. So today I decided to stop in there and check out the new place, talk with the guys there, and try on a few pairs of shoes.
One of the pairs I tried on were the Altra Olympus. I was talking with the representative there and he wanted me to see what I thought about them after we had discussed the “Maximalist” shoes that have been coming out to follow the trail Hoka One has set. So I tried on the Olympus to review for you all.
The upper was designed with a wider toe box that seems to contour with the shape of your foot. For those of you who need room for you toes, have wide feet, or have a natural curve to your foot, this will fit you nicely.
Again this shoe is designed to be a spin off of the Hoka’s so they have a lot of mid sole between your foot and the ground, 36mm of it! Your feet sit into the mid sole like the Hoka as well so the heel is still locked in nicely and doesn’t move around. The cushion for this shoe is very noticeable. You definitely can tell that you have give on these shoes, so if you want to run on pillows for your feet and have good response, these will do just fine.
Altra is known well for having plenty of zero drop shoes that replicate that minimalist need. Though this shoe is not zero drop, it has stayed true to its minimalist nature with only a 5mm drop.
One thing I did notice that I was not a fan of which contributed to my overall rank of 7 out of 10, was the toe off for this shoe was like rolling over a foam roller. The aggressiveness of the rocking design seems too much and no matter how I ran, whether heel striking or mid foot striking, I couldn’t get over how I felt like there was nothing under my toes compared to the rest of the foot.
What Others Are Saying
“I do have strong reservations about the max cushioning trend and how it will influence running form, but at the same time have seen many benefits from a move into shoes like Hokas.” – Peter Larson (Runblogger)
“It eats up obstacles on the trails with plenty of room in the toe box in a very comfortable package. Watch out Hoka!” – James Wilie (Trail Runner Nation)
Altra is a great brand with a wonderful selection for people who are looking for something between their foot and the ground while having minimalist specs. I would recommend the brand but this shoe just didn’t quite cut it for me with that toe off. Everything else about this shoe was great, the fit, the breathability, the cushion. So with that said I wouldn’t throw it under the bus. Some people don’t have a problem with it, but for $130, its a big enough problem for me.
New Balance Minimus Road Zero
A few years ago, one of America’s top distance runner, Jenny Simpson, signed a contract to be sponsored by New Balance. This event marked a revamping of the New Balance brand as they began redesigning their shoes, even getting into the minimalist market.
After creating a wonderful minimalist trail shoe called the Minimus, they developed a road version. That first version seems stiff and uncomfortable to some peoples liking and was not as good as the trail version. But since they have come out with a second generation which seems to have eliminated some of the complaints of the first generation.
The most desirable trait of this shoe is that is has a 12mm thick mid sole. For minimalists this is just enough cushion to protect the feet. What was fixed from the first version is that the MR00 is now more flexible than the first generation.
The mid sole is also a 0mm drop. We talked earlier about how the low heel to toe drop may help your resistance to injury when incorporated into your training.
There has been reports of pressure points along the seem of the sock liner due to the stitch. But, this seems to not be noticeable when you are running and doesn’t cause blister causing friction.
A way in which New Balance made the upper more comfortable of a fit is their different style tongue. They overlapped the upper like a burrito which makes it more comfortable while wearing socks with the shoe.
The upper does fit snug around the arch and gives plenty of room with the toe box, so you can be sure your feet will breathe easy.
With the weight of the shoe coming in at 6 ounces, this shoe has the versatility to be used as a lightweight trainer and a road racing flat.
What I find most appealing is that this shoe is only $70 dollars (at the time of writing this article) for such a quality minimalist shoe. With the price of shoes going up these days, you may want to go minimalist just to save money!
What Others Are Saying
“I’ve grown to really like the New Balance Minimus Road Zeros.” – Peter Larson (Runblogger)
“I was excited to try out the MR00. It’s actually the first shoe I have paid almost full price for in a VERY long time. When I laced them up, I headed out for a planned speed workout, and coincidentally ran my fastest tempo run to date…” – Troy Shellhamer (Eat, Run, Sleep)
“The Minimus Zero Road is the best Minimus shoe developed to date.” – Jason Robillard (Barefoot Runing University)
My personal opinion, this shoe meets all of my needs. I run more on the roads so I don’t need a trail shoe, and I love the minimalist midsole. I like wearing my Vibrams but it just is not enough cushion for me on the roads. The Minimus provides the right amount of protection and at a price I can handle. I highly recommend this shoe for the minimalist runner.
More On Minimalist Running Shoes – What is the Heel To Toe Drop?
When you hear the word “minimalism”, what do you think of? If you are a runner you would be thinking about a shoe that has a limited amount of mid sole to cushion your feet. Most people don’t understand that there are other concepts behind the minimalist movement. One of them being the drop from the heel to the toe.
The Heel to Toe Drop
Basically the heel to toe drop is the difference between how high the heel sits above the ground to how high the toes sit above the ground. This is determined about how much midsole has been placed in those areas of the shoes.
Some shoes range from having around 6-10mm difference while minimal running shoes have a difference around 0-5 mm.
Shoes with high drop ratios:
- ASICS GEL-Kayano 20 Running Shoe– 9mm
- Brooks Ravenna 5 Running Shoe – 9.4mm
- Mizuno Wave Inspire 10 Running Shoe – 11.8mm
- Mizuno Wave Rider 17 Running Shoe – 14.1mm
Shoes with minimal drop ratios:
- Vibram FiveFingers Bikila Running Shoe – -0.6mm
- Hoka One One Conquest – 5.4mm
- Saucony Triumph 11 Running Shoe – 6.7mm
- New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Running Shoe – 6.6mm
- Skechers GORun Ride 3 – 5mm w/o sock liner
Why Different Heel To Toe Drop Ratios?
Ultimately the purpose of this ration is to play with the amount of tension that your Achilles tendon experiences during heel strike. When you have a high heel to toe deferential around 10-12mm, you are taking away tension on the Achilles. The lower you go, the more tension you’re putting on your Achilles.
What minimalism says is that when you have high heel to toe drops, you limit your Achilles ability to build up a resistance to strain. This sprouts from the “if you don’t use it, you lose it” concept. When you limit the use of a certain part of the body or limit your activity, it can no longer function the way it did at the higher levels of use. Think about it… this is why when we as runners hate it when we have to take time off from running because we will lose our fitness, disabling us from competing at the level we once ran at. Same goes with the resilience of your tendons. If you limit the movement of the tendon, it will be come weaker.
When Is It Good To Have High Heel To Toe Ratios?
There actually is a good time in which to wear shoes that provide a higher heel to toe drop ratio. This is usually following an Achilles injury where the tendon is recovering. You don’t want to overload your Achilles right from the gait back into running because it is already weak from the injury. But try to transition into lower ratios as you get stronger.
This same concept can apply to new runners, you may want to start your first shoe in something that has a high heel to toe drop then get them lower as you get stronger.
Now do not get me wrong, I am not against shoes that have high heel to toe drops. As I have said before many times, to each his own. If you are wearing a shoe that you are having success in and remaining injury free, keep with it. Remember you can always rotate your shoes around to give your legs variety. Just like you have variety in your training, having variety in which shoes you wear can help with injury prevention. Tyler Matthews from Run Towards Dreams blog says “…I see zero drop shoes as a way to teach my body to run more naturally in training, not as an end all, be all.”
If you have any questions please leave a comment below, and feel free to share this with you friends.