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Finding the right “solemate” is one tough code to crack (that’s why it sounds so similar to soulmate). Despite claims that air bubble cushioning, microchip or other state-of-the-art technologies will help to improve our running mechanics and prevent running injuries, evidence on the effectiveness of these features is debatable.
It remains difficult to tell which kind of shoes would be a perfect fit for different runners out there. Most shoes that flood the market these days work more like Tinder dates instead of soulmates: they’re fun and perfect for a casual night out, but not for a long run.
So, before jumping on the hype train, we should look closer at these shoe trends, starting from the talk of the town: minimalist and maximalist shoes.
To sum it up in two words: #throwback shoes. Minimalist shoes are designed to be light, thin and flexible, just like in the 70s when athletes run in thin-soled shoes. In addition, they have no motion control or stability technology.
Some of you may have done the math already and wonder why pay so much for so few features? We definitely don’t want to lose our creds as good bargain spotters in a country where shopping is considered a national “sport”.
The idea behind minimalist shoes is that by running with less cushioning, your muscles will be strengthened by the impact loading. They are like the “Tiger mums” of running shoes; they give our feet tough love so that our muscles will grow stronger and be less likely to get hurt.
Reduce Impact Loading
Counterintuitive as it may sound, running with minimalist shoes may lessen the stress on your legs from running. But how? By telling your mind to stop playing tricks on you.
Experts have argued that running in cushioned shoes make us land on the running surface harder and more carelessly since we tend to believe that our legs are protected for.
But, if we really think about it, there is only so much half an inch of rubber can do to absorb impact on our legs, which can go up to 12 times our weight.
Tarahumara runners own the ultra race with a pair of sandals; Kenyan runners train barefooted, and Roger Bannister, the first man who ran a mile in under 4 minutes, did so with a pair of thin-soled shoes.
Coincidence? We don’t think so. But if you’re thinking of ditching your running shoes now, don’t. After so many years of wearing cushioned sneakers, running barefoot or with super thin-soled shoes will be too much for the muscles to bear and it will likely lead to more injuries. Besides, you’ve already burned so much cash investing in those sneakers.
Should you take it a notch higher and invest in highly padded shoes? For long distance runners, we’re sure anything that keeps you from feeling the long, burning asphalt underneath the soles will get a plus point. But, are highly cushioned shoes really doing their jobs or are they gimmicks?
Stacking cushions that will make you feel like running on a cloud are just half the feature. The other half involves inventing modern shapes and strategically placing the cushions to reduce the impact of landing, such as dynamic midsole foams which minimise the load on the Achilles’ tendon.
Many maximalist shoes offer an excellent blend of minimalist features as well. They are designed with lightweight materials and low heel-to-toe offset.
With a list of other technological features that read like the ingredient list on the back of Pringles, maximalist shoes can surely help to boost our running performance. Albeit hypothetically, since no independent studies have been conducted to back up the effects these features have on running efficiency.
Look no further than Leo Manzano, Olympic Medalist and the fifth fastest runner in the U.S., as well as many other ultrarunners who would clutch maximalist shoes to their graves, to see the benefits of maximalist shoes for runners. Underneath all those cushions of hype, maximalist shoes may be truly beneficial for runners, especially long distance runners.
Which One Fares Better?
Because ain’t nobody got the time and money to test all of them, and we wish we had a definite answer to this question, but it’s hard to tell. What we know is that maximalist and minimalist shoes don’t seem to provide more benefits regarding injuries prevention and improved performance than traditional running shoes.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can transition from maximalist to minimalist running shoes as casually as you change from Nike to Adidas. You need to give it some time for the legs to adjust to minimalist shoes by increasing your mileage moderately for the first few weeks.
Also, monitor your body and running performance after the transition to see if the shoes are a great fit for you. Since running in minimalist shoes, scientifically speaking, isn’t better or worse than in maximalist shoes, it all boils down to your comfort and preference.
Shoes that fit are necessary for runners (plus chatting about shoes is a great icebreaker), but we shouldn’t rely solely on the claims of sneakers advertisement to improve or maintain our running performance.
It’s far more important to train your physiques to ensure that your body has proper support and running mechanics. These exercises aren’t minimal efforts, but done correctly and regularly, they will give maximum benefits for your running performance, with or without shoes.
“What we know is that maximalist and minimalist shoes don’t seem to provide more benefits regarding injuries prevention and improved performance than traditional running shoes.”
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