Will my feet explode if I wear my old sneakers to run?
July 11, 2012 3:18 PM   Subscribe

What's the difference between minimalist running shoes and slim sneakers?

I want to start running this week. Minimalist/barefoot running seems to be the way to go, because when I've run in the past it was hard on my heels and knees, and because I've seen so many minimalist converts. But I'm not sure that I want to drop a hundred dollars into an activity that I may not stick with. What I do have is a pair of very cheap but very comfortable Champion sneakers (pretty much exactly like these).

Assume that I'll be working on my form first with 100ups. If I wear these to run for a few weeks until I decide to commit/save up the money for real minimalist shoes, am I going to completely wreck my feet/legs? What are the actual physical differences that make minimalist shoes "minimalist" instead of just "lightweight"?
posted by specialagentwebb to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
The Champion shoes look like they have reasonably stiff soles (minimalist shoes will not), and they also have a thicker padded heel than I've seen on minimalist shoes.

You won't ruin anything by using these shoes instead of minimalist, but they won't have quite the same impact on your running style - the thing to bear in mind is that when you switch to actual minimalist shoes, you should ramp down your distance again to give yourself a chance to adjust to the new form.
posted by jacalata at 3:29 PM on July 11, 2012

My minimalist shoes (which I don't run in because I don't run) have 0 rise from ground to heel, a flexible mid-foot (where the arch would be if they had arch support, which they don't), and a fairly stiff sole under the forefoot. They can lace in ways that will get a good fit while still having a toe box that's wide enough for your toes to splay out. I've hiked in fairly rough terrain and muddy terrain and sandy terrain and urban terrain, and they've been great in all of them.

I used to wear Chucks, which are pretty damn flat. They were nothing like the Merrells.
posted by rtha at 3:38 PM on July 11, 2012

My understanding of minimalist shoes is that they have as little drop as possible between heel and ball/toes (that is, inside the shoe, your heel and the ball of your foot are both the same distance from the surface of the floor) and the sole is pretty flexible. It's there to protect you from broken glass and other hazards, not to cushion your stride or support your arch.

If you're looking to transition into minimalist running, maybe try running with a "midstrike" which is when you take shorter strides such that you aren't hitting with your heel as in regular running, but with the middle / ball of your foot. You might be able to do that with these shoes, and if it's something that grabs you, maybe you'll start minimalist running next.

You can also look for some old-school racing flats which will have the same minimal drop between heel and ball, but maybe a bit more support. Also, keep in mind that minimalist shoes have infiltrated the market to the point now where you're starting to see them on clearance racks and in places like Marshall's (where I got mine a few weeks ago for $60).
posted by gauche at 3:48 PM on July 11, 2012

The difference between lightweight and minimalist is usually in the shoe design (like others have said, minimalist have almost no drop). I have some Brooks Launch shoes that appear to be a normal running shoe that weigh the same as my Brooks PureConnects (their minimalist shoe). Minimalist shoes act almost like track flats, while running shoes are what you're used to.

My suggestion would be to get some light running shoes (something around 12-10 oz) if you're deciding to run and then get your minimalist shoe as a supplement. You can run the "barefoot style" in almost any shoe. The 100-ups will help, and also try running around the house barefoot to get the feeling of where your foot hits the ground.
posted by neveroddoreven at 3:51 PM on July 11, 2012

I just started running in some Merrell gloves and they are definitely way thinner both in the sole and the upper than your shoes appear to be. If you don't mind looking goofy Fila makes a Vibram Five Fingers knockoff that appears to only be like, $40.
posted by ghharr at 4:22 PM on July 11, 2012

Answering your questions in reverse order:

Minimalist shoes are going to have: thin, flexible soles, little or zero heel drop, breathable/mesh uppers without a lot of structure. Heel drop is the difference in thickness between the heel and the forefoot. By "without a lot of structure" in the upper, I mean internal straps or fabric that lend stiffness. Before there was a category called "minimalist", we would have called these racing flats.

There is nothing stopping you from running in a POSE or Chi style using a heavier/stiffer shoe with more heel lift. Your feet won't explode or anything like that. What a heavier/stiffer shoe will do is be more forgiving if you heel strike. With minimalist shoes or Vibram Five Fingers or barefoot, you get some immediate negative feedback when you heel strike.

The Champions you linked look fine. Since you aren't actually running yet, I would say the most important thing is to just get out there and run.
posted by kovacs at 6:23 PM on July 11, 2012

Why not just run barefoot? That's as minimalist as you can get. And if you're starting from scratch you won't injure yourself too much (thought you will need to let those callouses develop). Even the Vibrim websites suggest transitioning into Vibrims by first running a few miles a week barefoot. Why not just cut out the Vibrims altogether?
posted by Brittanie at 10:27 PM on July 11, 2012

Why not just run barefoot? That's as minimalist as you can get.

Yeah, this is another option, if you can find a place that you feel is safe for your feet. I've only ever enjoyed running barefoot and when I lived up in New Hampshire there was a running track clean enough I wasn't worried I'd step on somebody's broken beer bottle glass or needle or whatever. Now I live in a city where I'd be out of my mind to leave the apartment barefoot, and I found running in ordinary sneakers was just torture, so I was very glad to find some Merrell "barefoot shoes".

Note that, at least according to some, switching even from a small drop down to a minimalist shoes / barefoot stride and back again will have some changes to how you are using your muscles. This is not to say you shouldn't start running however feels right to you. The important thing is to do it. I've just found that I don't do it unless I can do it barefoot / minimalist, so the price of the shoes is worth it to have a workout I like.
posted by gauche at 8:23 AM on July 12, 2012

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