What’s the deal with those crazy running shoes?

Max Boettner is a licensed athletic trainer for the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute.

Max Boettner is a licensed athletic trainer for the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute.

Last October, Max was watching friends finish a marathon and thought to myself, “I can do that!”  He’s set two new goals for himself this year: launching an 18-week marathon training, and blogging all the way to the finish line.  Here’s his latest installment:

Since I am completely new to running, I spend a lot of time talking to people with experience and doing a lot of research on various topics from training programs, to nutrition, to footwear.  One thing that kept consistently coming up was the use of minimalist shoes. 

I’ve heard from some people how great they are,  but I’ve heard from others how terrible they are and how they’ve caused a lot of injuries.  My education and reasoning told me that having shoes and orthotics that control faulty motion should be better than letting your foot move around uncontrolled — but so many people run in minimalist shoes, something has to be good about it.

Since I’ve heard both sides, I decided that it was something I needed to research so that I could understand it better and have an informed discussion.

I started where everyone who is on board with minimalist shoes tells you to start, reading the book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  The book was very interesting for a couple reasons.  Not only was it a fascinating story the author told, but there was some solid science and research in there as well.  The book definitely increased my interest into looking into more research.

Since that book came out in 2009, there has been a lot of research done on barefoot running vs minimalist shoes vs normal running shoes.

Essentially, everything I read said the same thing:

  • there is no evidence that shows cushioning in the shoe decreases impact on your legs, and
  • running barefoot or in a minimalist shoe can decrease the forces translated to your feet and knees but none of this points to any difference in injury rates.

Also, barefoot or minimalist running forces to you mid-foot or forefoot strike and take shorter, quicker strides instead of heel striking and trying to lengthen your stride.

After all of this, I was still no closer to deciding what was better for me, so I decided I was just going to try it out.  And if I was going to do this, I was going to pick a shoe most closely resembled barefoot running and I ended up with a pair of Vibram Fivefingers.  I had learned that most of the horror stories that ended up with stress fractures were due to people not taking the appropriate time to transition into the different style shoe, so I am making sure that I do this appropriately.  I started just by walking around in them for about a week before I ran in them.  And when I started running in them I would only go.5-1 mile.  I was still doing longer runs in my normal running shoes.

I have finally started to go for runs in the 2-3 mile range once or twice a week in the Vibrams and I can’t even express how much better I feel in them.  With the shoes being so light, I feel more athletic and less like I am lumbering around.  The calf pain and shin tightness that I experience in my normal running shoe is gone when I run in the Vibrams.

I am not encouraging or endorsing either minimalist shoes or typical running shoes.  I just want you to be aware of what is out there.  If you are struggling with injuries, switching might be something to consider.

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to research the best options and take your time breaking in ANY new kind of shoe!

Don’t give up the sport — give up the pain! Visit the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute at 13 Wisconsin locations, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, browse our YouTube channel, or call our hotline at 1-800-219-7776.

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2 Responses to What’s the deal with those crazy running shoes?

  1. Mitch Lewis says:

    Great blog entry. Thanks. I’ve been wondering about minimalist shoes, but was reluctant to take the plunge because I didn’t have the kind of information that you just provided. Thanks so much for taking the time to investigate this so thoroughly and write it up so clearly. I see a pair of minimalist shoes in my future.

  2. A.B. says:

    Just picked up my Adidas Adipure Trainers and I’m using them for my power lifting workouts. OMG they are wonderful. When I’m lifting heavy weight I feel more stable than ever before. They really do make a difference. And my wife hates them, which is even more entertaining to me. I think I might threaten to wear them out to dinner next weekend.

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