Minimalist shoes have had a lot of attention over the last decade or so, and while some people and “authorities” love them, some hate them. In Part I we want to answer two questions for you:

  1. How do you define what makes a shoe “minimalist”?
  2. Are minimalist shoes better for you?

Question 1: What is a minimalist shoe?

Interestingly enough, a team of 42 international experts came together in 2015 to discuss, debate, and clarify this question. You can read their full report that was published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research here. We’ll highlight the important parts for you. First, here is the definition they came up with:

“Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.”

Not a bad definition, which can be summed up as “less shoe”. Another really interesting aspect of the study was that they also came up with a rating system that scores shoes in five categories. The link explains how you can do this, but for our purposes in this blog the informative part is looking at these five categories, which give you a framework for evaluating your current shoes and those you may be looking to purchase. Here are the categories:

  1. Weight. Less than 125 grams (4.4 oz) is very light; shoes weighing more than 325 grams (11.5 oz) are very heavy.
  2. Stack height. Basically, the thickness of the sole at the center of the heel. Less than 8 millimeters is considered very low (more minimalist) and 32 millimeters and up is considered very high. (An inch is 25.4 millimeters.)
  3. Heel to toe drop. This is a measurement of the difference between the height of the shoe at the heel and the height at the forefoot (where the ball of your foot is); less than 1 millimeter is very minimalist, and 13 millimeters and up is very not minimalist.
  4. Motion control and stability technologies. Basically, all the bells and whistles added to modern running shoes, like multi-density midsoles, thermoplastic medial posts, rigid heel counters, elevated medial insole under the arch, and so on. In the experts’ scoring system, you start with five points, and lose one for every technology included in the shoe.
  5. Flexibility. This category looks at longitudinal flexibility, which is how much the shoe folds up when you press from the heel and toe, and torsional flexibility, which is how much you can twist the shoe when you rotate the toe in one direction and the heel in the other.

In Part II, we’ll simplify the process of scoring shoes to give you a quick and easy way to figure out how minimalist the shoes are, or are not, that you have or want.

Question 2: Are minimalist shoes better for you?

Bottomline… yes. The human foot has 33 joints and over a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This structure (your foot) was built to MOVE, not to be rigidly held in a box. There are several benefits of wearing minimalist shoes:

  • Improves and maintains joint mobility in the foot
  • Strengthens the foot
  • Improves your sense of connection with the ground
  • Improves balance and lower body coordination
  • Improves structural loading throughout your body

Now, this does not mean you should immediately jump from very rigid, heavy shoes to wearing Vibram Five Fingers! Transitioning to minimalist shoes needs to be intentional and, for most people, an incremental process. In Part II we’ll discuss a quick way to evaluate shoes and how to pick the right pair for you. In Part III we’ll outline how to transition to minimalist shoes.

We hope this was informative and let us know if you have any questions.