"Forget Barefoot," Meet Maximalist Shoes
On the heels of last week's news that Vibram is being sued by the Bikila family comes an article in the New York Times titled Forget Barefoot; New Trendsetter, if Not Pacesetter, Is Cushioning (Screenshot above).
Oh how the pendulum swings!
"Maximalist shoes" like the Hoka One One aren't exactly new, but they have become popular enough to catch the attention of shoe manufacturers. Case in point, the NYT article notes that one of Brooks' most popular shoes—the Brooks Glycerin—saw sales increase 29% in 2014. Or a little closer to home, Altra has been producing some "maximalist" shoes for awhile now. Check out the Torin or the Olympus, for a couple examples.
What is going on here? Here's an interesting quote lifted from the NYT article:
Jonathan Beverly, the shoe editor for Runners World, said maximalist shoes like the Hoka incorporated many of the qualities that made minimalism popular, while also mitigating the impact of running on hard surfaces.
“The benefit of the big sole is actually similar to what the minimal movement did; with both types of shoes you have to keep your body and your center of gravity above your feet,” Beverly said. “So you’re running with the same posture as you would if you were barefoot, but with all this cushioning.”
That's a bold statement. Do maximalist shoes allow you to have your cake and eat it, too?
I'm skeptical (and I'm guessing you are, too), but I also am out of my depth—I don't run ultras.
Thankfully, I know someone who does. BirthdayShoes' ultrarunner and reviewer Rob Youngren has been a proponent of keeping a pair of Hokas in his shoe closet for awhile now. For a bit of a refresher, Rob has 50,000+ miles of running under his belt. While he likes minimalist shoes, he sees a purpose and need for a little more something-something underfoot on long runs. The key ingredient to success with beefier shoes is in having the right running form from the start.
Here's a couple quotes from a 2012 interview with Rob on this site that are on point for this discussion. First, Rob spoke to his concern that unbridled enthusiasm for running with minimalist shoes without the proper form could be disastrous:
I also worry about the whole education side. I don't think there is near enough education out there available to the general public which is why there are a lot of people getting hurt trying out minimalist shoes. One has only to peruse BirthdayShoes.com's forums to see that there are a lot of people getting hurt.
It all goes back to form. If your form is bad then running in a "nothing" shoe is going to get you into trouble. At least with a more substantial shoe your poor form might not get you into trouble as quickly. And vice versa if you have good form there is probably not a shoe you couldn't adjust to. So education is the key.
But where Rob really hits it out of the park is when he speaks to shoes as tools:
Realize that there are situations and conditions where using a more substantial shoe (note: I'm not saying you need a traditional running shoe) is very beneficial, like running on very rough terrain or running much longer distances than you may be currently use to.
There is also the performance aspect to consider. Do you want to compete or do you want to complete? If you don't mind just participating in long distance races then you can probably get away (for a while at least) with whatever shoe you're currently wearing.
Now if you really want to maximize your potential you must realize that your handicapping yourself by not using tools that can help you realize that potential. Think about a long trail race, if you don't have to think about foot placement every step, think how much faster you could be? Or with ample underfoot protection (rock plate, modest midsole stack height) you won't have to worry so much about what you're stepping on. All that can add up to a lot of gained time. Much the same applies to longer distances on the roads. At some point your form can break due to fatigue, if you're in a very minimalist shoe you have to necessarily slow down to avoid injury since minimalist shoes can be almost worthless if your form has eroded. So with a bit more substantial shoe, yes even if your form goes at least you have some underfoot protection to see you through the race.
That's basically it. Realize shoes are just tools. Pick the right tool for the job!
That seems like sound advice to me. Indeed, the NYT article quoted the inmitable Jay Dicharry saying as much here: "Some people have a road bike, a commuter bike and a mountain bike, and they all have their purpose."
All of this discussion just reminds me that complexity rules the day when it comes to the human body. What I mean is that it's foolhardy to expect a product to magically solve your problems—whether that product is a minimalist shoe or a maximalist shoe. The human body is too complex for simple solutions.
But that doesn't stop a sizable majority of people from jumping on the latest trend, does it? That's part of human complexity, too—"human nature."
What's your take? Any of you shifted your "toolset" to including more maximalist shoes? How has that worked out for you?
Let's hear your thoughts!