Running shoes have developed towards having more cushioning than ever. Shoes have become increasingly cushioned, aimed to ease the impact on runners legs. Maximalism is in, minimalism is out.

There is, however, shoe cushioning paradox in here. Studies show that running injuries have not decreased even though the shoes have become more technical!

Study: Running in highly cushioned shoes increases leg stiffness and amplifies impact loading

Approximately half a billion people are actively engaged in running. Half of them suffer from various types of strain injuries.

Could it be that the shoes have become too sturdy, and too cushioned? Cushioned shoe starts to weaken the natural flexibility of the leg?

Proper running form prevents injuries

The most crucial thing to focus on is proper running form, no matter what kind of shoes you were. Proper running mechanics are the way to prevent injury, not shoes.

Many runners too often rely just on the “right pair” of shoes to handle their injuries. You should first address poor running mechanics. If you rely only on shoe type to fix your damages, you might make things worse.

Do minimalist shoes help to prevent injuries?

Minimalist or barefoot shoes have gained attention during the last decade. But it’s not as simple as ditching your cushioned shoes and switching to minimalist shoes. Minimalist running is not the cure to injuries. Buying a pair of minimalist shoes is not going to make you a better runner automatically.

Minimalist footwear is not one-size-fits-all “hack” to running with better form. They don’t magically turn you into a forefoot striker, and they don’t reduce impact forces and prevent injury just by themselves.

But what helps, is to land with your foot closer to your center of mass. An easy way to get your feet land directly under you is to improve your cadence. Minimalist shoes help improve cadence. Without the raised heel and shock absorption of traditional shoes, it’s easier to feel yourself overstride.

Minimalist shoes allow you to feel your mechanics better. So they make the changes to your form that eventually enable you to run more efficiently and with fewer injuries.

There are several reasons to like minimalist running:

  • natural feeling to the ground
  • strengthens your lower legs
  • improves balance.

But if you’ve been running in cushioned shoes for a long time, you usually carry over the running style you’ve been using before. This is a recipe for potential problems.

A lot of people who have tried minimal running went into it too fast. Making a radical change in form or footwear requires a slow transition. Failure to do this can get you injured.

In cushioned shoes, it’s typical to overstride with heel-strike. Your heel hits the ground ahead of your center of mass.

When you change your cushioned shoes to minimalist, you should land on your forefoot rather than on your heel. If you continue landing ahead of your center of gravity, you add unnecessary stress to the body, and create a new set of impact-related injuries.

It is vital that we change our running form to prevent these types of stress injuries.

Posture and cadence

Two critical aspects are foot posture and cadence.

You need to land on the forefoot. And you need to land under your center of gravity.

This is easier to achieve when you increase your cadence to about 180 steps per minute.

So barefoot or minimalist running is not as simple as ditching your shoes. Running form needs to adapt to the changes. When you are starting out, your calves get easily tired. There is a danger that you start heel-striking again, which gives you additional impact and strain. You need to give your foot, ankle and calf muscles time to develop, if you are going minimalist.

So for the average runner, choosing regular running shoes might be the best option. Don’t fall into the trap that specific shoes can cure all your injuries. Remember that maximum cushioning doesn’t mean that you are injury-free.

You have to take care of your running form too.

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