The Future of Minimalist Running Shoes and the Value of Variety

Merrell Vapor GloveThis morning I opened my email to find an alert that the newest edition of SGB Weekly magazine had come out and that it would be featuring a few articles by Thomas Ryan on trends in the running market as gleaned from interviews and discussions at The Running Event.

The Running Event is the major annual trade show for the specialty running market, and is attended by brands showing off their newest product offerings, and retailers trying to figure out what’s going to be hot in the coming year. Based on the articles, the future of minimalism was a hot topic at the show, and I thought I’d add some of my own commentary on things that were written in the magazine.

Asics’ Simon Bartold on Minimalism and Running Injuries

The first article in the issue was an interview with Simon Bartold, an international research consultant for Asics. Simon and I have had our disagreements in the past, but I also think we tend to agree on many issues regarding the etiology and management of running injuries. His interview is interesting, and there are things I agree with, and things I don’t.

The first question asked of Bartold was “ HOW DO YOU THINK THE WHOLE BAREFOOT/MINIMALIST TREND IS EVOLVING?” His response:

“I actually think it’s dead. I think the big vibe around minimalism and barefoot as it existed 18 months ago has run its course.  We’re starting to see a lot of retailers say, ‘We really can’t sell it. Inventories are stacked up. And we can’t find anything to justify it scientifically.’ So it’s going to go back to where it was – what we called racing flats 10 years ago.

WHAT MINIMALIST PRODUCT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?  Mostly the zero-drop footwear and the whole talk of it as a main running shoe for the bulk of people. That’s the story we’ve been told. We’ve been told that if you go to a zero-drop running shoe then your gait will change and you’ll be running naturally like a caveman. But I think the concept has a fatal flaw and I believe people have seen through it. It’s taken 3 or 4 years but I think that concept is dead in the water.”

I both agree and disagree with what Simon says here. Sales at the barefoot-style end of the minimalist spectrum have indeed died down (particularly toe shoes like Vibram Fivefingers, though even those retain a very passionate niche following), and as with any hot trend things settle into place after an initial burst of popularity (and one must be careful not to equate minimalism with extreme barefoot-style and toe shoes). If he’s talking only about the idea that zero drop or barefoot-style is best for all people being dead, I agree with him, but I think only a small (albeit vocal) minority of people ever espoused that belief.

The reality is that minimalism and zero drop are far from dead – one need only look at the number of zero drop offerings coming out in early 2013 from top 7 brands like Mizuno (Be, Levitas, Cursoris), Brooks (PureDrift), and Saucony (Virrata) to see that zero drop is alive and well (not to mention that New Balance has a large suite of minimal offerings, Nike has the Free line, and adidas just released their own “adipure” natural running line a few months ago – of the big 7, seems that Asics is the only one not joining the minimal party, though they are testing the waters with the Gel-Lyte). Even small and niche companies are getting into the market with minimal spectrum offerings – Altra has developed a strong following and has a suite of new zero drop shoes coming in the next year, and Merrell continues to add zero drop models to their stable of offerings (would they be doing that if their sales had totally tanked?).

Minimalism is not dying, it’s evolving. We are learning through self experimentation – for example, I still like to run in a barefoot-style shoe from time to time, but I prefer a bit of cushion for most of my runs, many of which are in zero drop shoes. We are seeing the pendulum swing back a bit away from extreme minimalism, but more low and zero drop cushioned offerings are on the way. Minimalism may be dead for Asics, but then they never set foot in that market to begin with – it’s hard to evolve a product that you never made a go at.

Regarding Bartold’s comment about minimalism going back to the racing flats of 10 years ago, this is a tired argument that I hear too often and that I disagree with completely. Most so-called minimal shoes out there today are very different than racing flats. Flats tend to be stiff, tight fitting, and sacrifice durability for weight (and, ironically, they are almost never flat) – these are aspects that are specifically designed to support running fast, and Asics makes some very good flats based on what I have heard from other runners. In contrast, minimalist spectrum shoes come in a wide variety of weights (compare the almost 10oz Altra Instinct to the sub 5oz New Balance MT00), have variable amounts of cushioning (Saucony Kinvara vs. Inov-8 Bare-X 180), tend to be very flexible, and typically have a wide forefoot. Let’s please drop the “minimalist shoes are just re-marketed racing flats” line of argument.

I also disagree with Simon’s contention that we can’t find anything to justify minimalism scientifically, especially since he himself talks about different needs for different people (and I agree with him completely on this!). We have learned a lot in the past few years about how different footwear can alter forces applied to our bodies, how form training can be used clinically to treat injuries, and how footwear can influence our form. A barefoot-style shoe will alter force application just as a motion control shoe or custom orthotic will, it’s just a matter of understanding how forces are altered so that appropriate decisions can be made for each individual. None of these options are necessarily inherently bad, they’re just different, and one runner might benefit from a barefoot-style shoe whereas another might benefit from a more structured style of footwear.

I don’t want to come off sounding as if I disagree with everything that Bartold says, because I don’t. In fact I strongly agree with what he says here:

“The biggest problem with us as runners in the western world is we tend to run in the same manner, which means the same loading at each step, and the human body is very bad at adapting to that. This whole concept that you should mix the terrain you run on – some hills, some sand, some grass – and especially the look of the shoe to a less structured one at least a couple runs a week is completely logical from an injury prevention standpoint. Running in the same pair of shoes during the week is not varying the input signal enough. If you’re running on a different terrain or using a lightweight, lower drop, more flexible shoe like the GEL-Lyte for shorter, faster runs during the week, you’re not hitting the same repetitive load all the time. You’re not radically changing the experience, but enough to mix up the input signal in a positive manner.”

I’m an advocate for variation. Vary your shoes, vary your workouts, vary your terrain. Mix up force application and I think you will be better off from an injury prevention standpoint. This might mean a minimal shoe on some days, and a Hoka One One on others. There’s nothing wrong with using shoes that vary widely in their properties if it works for you, no need to be dogmatic about one style or another (and this is why I find it confusing that Bartold speaks so strongly against zero drop and barefoot-style shoes in one response and then openly supports variation in another).

I also agree with this:

“If you want to be active, there are risks involved and you probably will get an injury from time to time. And getting in better shape and doing simple exercises to strengthen your hamstrings and butt muscles will likely pay off better than changing your strike pattern. From a footwear standpoint, it’s very hard for us to build anything that we can say will definitely change injury rates because injury is caused by different things and footwear is a tiny piece of the jigsaw.”

I agree that too much emphasis has been placed on foot strike modification – yes, it can make a difference, but it can also cause problems, and one must be careful in making a change. There are also other things that can be done that might better protect you from injury than playing with your foot strike (strengthening, optimizing stride length, varying footwear and training, etc.). I might argue that footwear is more than a “tiny piece” of the jigsaw puzzle based on my own personal experience with a lot of shoes, but I’ll leave it at that.

Brand Views on Minimalism and the 2013 Shoe Market

The second article is titled “Running Market Retains its Mojo” and focuses more widely on trends in the running retail market. Once again I’ll focus mainly on the discussion of minimalism here, which the article introduces as follows:

“In the aisles the talk was still largely about the evolution of the minimalist trend. Marked by the slowdown with Vibram’s FiveFinger franchise, the market appears to be shifting for 2013 away from targeting purely minimal looks to offering a more generous amount of cushioning and structured options in a lightweight package. Heel-toe drops may fall in the zero to 8mm range, but stack heights (outsole to footbed) are coming closer to the 15 to 25mm range.

Nonetheless, lightweight still rules the day with motion-control shoes certainly not making a comeback. Many of the learnings of minimalism, including lean construction, flexibility as well as theories around natural motion and natural transition through the midfoot, continue to work their way into next year’s models.”

This passage really highlights to me the major positive outcome of the minimalist movement. It’s not so much that we now view ultraminimal shoes with no cushion as a viable option for some (but not all, and probably not even most) runners (don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing), it’s moreso that the trend has pushed the market in a new direction away from the old neutral-stability-motion control paradigm where almost every shoe was 10-12mm drop, looked pretty much the same, and weighed over 10oz.

We are now in a market filled with much more variety, and this is a great thing, but with variety comes complexity in choosing the right shoe, and this is where knowledgeable retailers are critical – science may or may not ever be able to tell us which shoe is ideal for you, and help from a retailer experienced with a variety of shoes is critical.

The article goes on to interview reps from various brands who share their thoughts on minimalism. Here’s a selection:

Ryan reports that Scott Tucker of Pearl Izumi feels barefoot and “super-low-to-the-ground, no-midsole” options are “dying away.” Ryan quotes Tucker:

“What we have been calling minimalism is evolving into something else which doesn’t have a name but which brands like Pearl Izumi are addressing,” said Tucker. ”It’s taking those elements that became popular in minimalism evolving them and making sense of it.”

In other words, we don’t know what to call it, but Pearl Izumi are on it! (I might offer that the term “transitional” shoe has been in use for awhile for this niche) Not exactly a winning marketing message, and I’m not sure what elements they are planning to make sense of since the major tenets of minimalism are pretty straightforward (less drop, less cushion, wider forefoot, greater flexibility, more work done by the runner’s body, etc.).

Next we have Dave Jewell of Zoot, who Ryan reports as believing the following with regard to form:

…although the running industry was due for a “reset” since shoes were becoming over-built over the years, he laments that much of the natural discussion is around the midfoot strike.

“I have an active son so I live and breath cross country,” said Jewell. “I go to practices and the coaches talk about running form – staying relaxed, running proud and not slumping your shoulders. These coaches who have been doing this well before these new shoes arrived never talked about midfoot strike. Running has nothing to do with where your foot lands.”

Running has nothing to do with where your foot lands? Nothing???

Now, I’ll grant that foot strike modification has been overemphasized, but there is plenty of science describing how foot strike can alter force application (Bartold even discusses it in his interview) and foot strike modification can be used as a therapeutic tool for some injuries. Just because his son’s cross country coach doesn’t talk about midfoot strike doesn’t mean that foot strike is not important. In fact, the cross country coach at my college (and he’s been coaching a long, long time as well) just sent one of his runners to me a few weeks ago to talk about his foot strike since he has been chronically injured (tibial stress fractures). Heck, prominent runners have talked about foot strike for over 100 years – Arthur Newton, Bill Bowerman, Joe Henderson, Tom Osler, Jim Fixx, Gordon Pirie, Ryan Hall and many others have all had some strong feelings on the topic (and they don’t all agree). As you might guess, I’m not a fan of black and white thinking along the lines of “Running has nothing to do with where you foot lands.” It can matter quite a lot for some people (such as the runners with anterior compartment syndrome in this study).

Let’s move along to what I thought were the best two responses from shoe manufacturers in the article. First is adidas:

“It’s an exciting time,” said Pete Stolpe, marketing specialist, running, Adidas America. “Because never in the history of the industry has there been more companies with more footwear. The individual runner can truly have a choice and a voice of what they want to put on their foot. If you’re a high arched runner, if you’re a forefoot runner, whatever your running gait is, whatever your distance preference is, there’s never been a time in the industry‘s history where you have more companies where each runner can absolutely choose what they want on their foot. The bottom line benefit is runners win because they have more choices than ever before and they have more of a voice. That’s fantastic for the health of the sport and makes it more inclusive as it’s ever been because there’s something for everybody.”

And then Brooks, who demonstrate here why they are now the leading brand in specialty running – this is as fine a statement of how things should be done as I have seen from any brand thus far:

Brooks Footwear Product Line Manager Carson Caprara said the research will seek
to “clear up” much of the ongoing conflicting information in the marketplace but particularly focus on the individual. For instance, the research will seek to explain why someone with chronic running injuries in the past may have suddenly become injury-free when switching to a minimal shoe. Perhaps even more puzzlingly, it will try to understand why someone else when viewed on a treadmill with the exact same gait alignment gets injured when wearing a minimal shoe.

“I think it may entail shifting the paradigm a little bit in how we look at runners and injuries and how we build shoes and that hopefully long term will resonate and make sense for retailers and runners across the spectrum,” said Caprara. “It will have an element of choice, but also bring a little bit of the science back into the equation about optimal running for each individual. And it’s going to focus less on there being one standardized baseline that everyone has to be aligned in this one way to what is your best alignment as an individual and looking at your optimal motion and your optimal alignment and figuring out how to keep you in that alignment as you run. And that’s very different because now it’s, ‘Let’s put a bunch of people on a treadmill and try to align them on the same plane.’ But for some people, that plane may not work.”

“It’s just a matter of not having one point of view but offering choices for runners and I really think that’s resonating,” said Caprara. “We’re not telling runners you have to run minimal or run core. Run them both. We’re going to build them both for your type of foot and you can make the choice on what you prefer.”

The future is not about minimalism, it’s about choice. With the variety that now exists in the running shoe market we can each individually hone in on our needs and preferences. Some of us will wind up being be minimalists, some of us will be maximalists, and neither is necessarily right or wrong. I mostly write about minimalism here on Runblogger because it’s my personal preference and I review shoes that I like to run in. That being said, I have no problem recommending a more traditional style shoe when asked if it’s appropriate and fits within the preferences of a runner looking for advice. Whether we land on our forefot, midfoot, or heel, we can likely find a shoe that will work pretty well with our chosen or unconscious (for those who could care less about form work) running style. We can also find a shoe that will accommodate the varying widths of our feet and meet our aesthetic requirements. We live in an exciting time as runners when it comes to our footwear options, and the shake-up that minimalism caused is a big part of that.

The challenge going forward is not so much adding more variety to the market (don’t get me wrong, innovation should continue), but rather to figure out how best to match a runner to a shoe among the variety that exists. As the Brooks rep points out, the methods we have been using (trying to control pronation so that we all look the same) have not stood up to scientific testing over the past few years. We need to move on, and we need scientists and retailers to work together to develop new and better protocols – neither in isolation will be able to answer this question in a general way for most people. Scientists need to continue to investigate better practices for matching runners to shoes, and retailers need to help scientists understand the footwear business and what methods will be most successful in a retail setting (e.g., it can’t require a million dollar piece of machinery or a Ph.D. in biomechanics to implement it).

The shoe industry has changed, of that there is no doubt. I ran my first mile in a pair of the original Nike Free 3.0’s back in 2009, and now the Nike Free is the best selling running shoe on the market (even if most who wear it don’t run in it). Times change, as do preferences, but I’m confident that we are moving forward in a positive way, and that the events of the past few years have changed the shoe industry for the better. I’m excited to see what the future will bring!

I highly recommend that you read the articles in SGB Weekly yourself: http://sportsonesourcecloud.com/sgbweekly/SGBW_1251hi.pdf

As always, thoughts are always welcome, leave a comment below!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Steven Sashen says:

    I think this is an AMAZING example of a straw man argument.

    To say that “minimalism is dead” when most of the “minimalist” products were/are FAR from truly minimal is the epitome of bad thinking.

    To equate the flattening of VFF sales with some opinion that the market has about minimalism is also way off-base.

    Zero-drop does not necessarily equal “minimal.” Nor does light-weight, for that matter. Even some minimalist shoes that have narrow mid-foot areas are, arguably, not minimalist.

    In other words, the major shoe companies, who rode the minimalist bandwagon by NOT making truly minimalist shoes are now arguing that minimalism is dying… because their non-minimalist products didn’t take off (and threaten the rest of their product line).

    ARGH!

  2. simon bartold says:

    Hey Pete.. I had hoped to finally meet you at TRE.. it is really worthwhile, and it may be worth your while checking it out at some point.

    I thought I would chime in to clarify a couple of points, because as always it is sometimes a little difficult to get an accurate flavour for opinion from the printed word! When I made a comment about minimalism being ‘dead’, it was in the context of the DISCUSSION being dead, in other words, I am not, and never have been anti minimalism, and I strongly believe the truth for most runners lies somewhere in the middle. What this discussion has brought to the table has been incredibly valuable, and has resulted in product that has allowed many runners to evolve, experience different running choices, and, in some cases, have success with recalcitrant injury. I think the argument that minimalist is best, or that traditional is best, is dead, because it will be different for each runner, dependent on so many factors. I think that after the initial rash of enthusiasm spurred by as you point out a very vocal minority (on BOTH sides of the argument), most runners now understand that this is not about “do this and that will happen’, but more..”lets change it up a little and mix the training up using different terrain, different surfaces AND, different, less structured footwear. For some, this different less structured footwear will evolve into the only shoe they wear, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that… providing they do not presume that because it worked for them, it will work for all others. This is akin to the running shoe industry saying (which they absolutely HAVE been guilty of in the past),..”wear only a motion control shoe because it cured my x, y,z. It just does not work that way because of the variability of the human animal!
    i think you hit the nail on the head when you said ‘Minimalism is not dying, it’s evolving. We are learning through self experimentation – for example, I still like to run in a barefoot-style shoe from time to time, but I prefer a bit of cushion for most of my runs… spot on, and if that works for you or anyone else reading this blog, then that is absolutely what you should do because.. it works for you!

    I wish we could have a bit more discussion on the physiological side of being fit to run.. the strength and aerobic side of training, rather than the idea that shoes will magically do it for you..any type of shoe.. or barefoot for that matter. However, the argument got so skewed, so.. angry, the really important things in terms of going faster and injury prevention maybe got overlooked.

    So for me, the argument is dead.Time to move on to new ideas to help the runner. The fact so much new product has hit the market is fantastic for the runner, and gives them choices and opportunities that have not been present in the 30 odd years I have been involved. Bravo!

    Finally, my comment about the lack of science pertains to both minimalist and traditional shoes. Minimalist footwear will decrease your external knee joint moments, so for someone with persistent patellofemoral pain, minimalist or barefoot may well be the answer. But minimalist or barefoot will increase the external ankle joint moments, so the runner has to factor this into the equation and be judicious in their choices. My main beef is with the (somewhat extreme) points of view that insist that a particular way of running is best or will ensure no injury, or a particular shoe or lack thereof will make you run in a particular way (FF RF, MF.. floating!).. This is not necessarily the case for all runners, and that is ALL I am saying.

    Runners come in all shapes and sizes.. some do fantastically with Hoka.. some with Vibrams, some with a Brooks Beast.. the knack is.. to try to figure out what works for you.

    Wishing you and your family a very Happy Christmas and holiday season, and hope to catch up in person next year.

    best

    Simon

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks for the clarification Simon, I think we then are largely in agreement. I had considered attending TRE this year, but it fell in the middle of my final exam week and I couldn’t skip that obviously! Hope to get there next year.

      Quick question (or maybe not) for you – how does the Asics Fluid Axis differ from what adidas did with Formotion?

      Merry Christmas to you and yours as well.

      Pete

      —-
      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      -My book: Tread Lightly: link to ow.ly
      -Blog: http://www.runblogger.com
      -Twitter: link to twitter.com
      -Facebook Page: link to facebook.com
      -Discussion Forum: http://www.runblogger.com/forum

      • simon bartold says:

        Sounds like we are on the same page.. end of the day, no one has all the answers! I am just glad to still be learning! Hope the exam went well.. I still, after all these years, wake up in the middle of the night in November every year, worrying I have not studied enough!
        In relation to FluidAxis vs the Formotion.. the principle is quite different. the Formotion was trying to identify a decoupling around the midtarsal joint, which as you know because of its complexity and biaxial alignment, is extraordinarily difficult. FluidAxis actually takes a simple premise, that most shoes, including a lot of ASICS shoes, are decoupled around the ankle joint axis.. think the Free as an example that is easy to imagine. I am not convinced this is the way to go, so Fluid Axis decouples along an estimation of the STJ axis for the neutral runner. We have built a second shoe that shifts the axis laterally to increase the medial platform for an over pronater. The cool thing about this is that we put absolutely nothing into the shoe, it weighs 7 oz and it is for an over pronater. the lab testing is extraordinary, so i am excited. I know a few other brands are looking in this direction as well.
        best
        s

        • Eric Johnson says:

          hi simon, i’m a run specialty dealer and i’m still not 100% clear on fluidaxis. my rep tried to explain but i’m not sure he understands it either because i get the “it works” explanation.

          1. how does decoupling the outsole/midsole along the STJ axis affect a runner’s mechanics?

          2. i notice there is a decoupling perpendicular to the STJ axis, which i understand works as an improvement over the nike free concept because the shoe will bend at the approximate angle of the STJ axis (which is the angle the foot bends forward as it dorsiflexes when you take pronation into account).

          3. last, it seems the stability paradigm is evolving as well (some day dying). as i understand it, stability shoes do not change how much the foot pronates…they change muscle firing patterns. is that an accurate assessment?

          it seems like the old “stability shoe for a pronating foot” doesn’t quite hold weight according to the literature. i read a lot of the Gait Guys material and they recommend stability shoes based upon foot type…rearfoot valgus, forefoot valgus, etc…not just based upon pronation.

          what are your thoughts on that?

          i was glad to get a better understanding of your philosophy in your reply to pete’s blog post. thanks!

          eric johnson

          ultramax sports
          springfield, mo

          • Pete Larson says:

            Eric,

            Good questions, I’ll let Simon respond if he chooses to, but I thought I’d chime in on one point. I thought a lot about the axis concept when I was testing out the On Running Cloudracer. The way the pods are aligned on that shoe assumes the foot lands smack in the rear middle of the heel and then rolls straight forward through the middle of the forefoot. This is really simplistic and doesn’t account for movement in other planes. I think with the Free it’s not such a problem since the siping is both parallel to and along the long axis of the shoe, which allows a lot of flex in multiple directions. My question regarding the fluidaxis concept is if it has any benefit for non heel strikers. As always, a public release of supporting data would be appreciated!

            Pete

          • simon bartold says:

            Great question Eric, and I will answer in the spirit of this not being an ASICS advert!

            I actually think the concept of motion control died a long time ago, and I have said that many many times. In fact in 2000 I made a little video of the words ‘motion control’ being flushed down a toilet bowl, complete with sound effect! Anyway, one thing I think we all agree on is that shoes did become way too confusing and complicated, and that with the huge advances in materials and manufacturing, not to say some of the real positives from the minimalist/barefoot discussion, there has been a better way for quite some time. I attended a great lecture by Dr. Reed Ferber from University of Calgary, and he opined that motion control shoes suited less than 1 in 500 runners. I agree, although I have always said maybe one in 100.. I will now stretch it out to 1 in 200!

            Anyway.. on to FluidAxis.. or, lets keep it generic and talk about how the geometry of a midsole can be manipulated to assist normal motion. The premise is simple:

            the ankle joint moves in the sagittal plane, i.e. up (dorsiflexion) and down (plantarflexion). It achieves this motion by rotating around an axis aligned roughly perpendicular to the long axis of the foot.. think about driving a nail through your ankle bones, and turning that nail. your foot will move up, and down! Now, these movements are important, especially in the swing phase of gait when the foot must clear the ground, but not as important as the normal and very important motions of pronation and supination. These movements occur around the subtalar joint, the joint immediately below the ankle. The subtalar joint is a joint of the foot, whereas the ankle joint is considered a joint of the leg. The subtalar joint, and its movements of pronation and supination occur by rotation about the STJ axis, which is aligned roughly 15 degrees to straight ahead (sagittal plane), and 40 degrees to the horizontal (transverse plane). Whew.. with me so far? Now, nearly every shoe, by any company, ever made, has its decoupling aligned to the ankle joint axis.. i.e. to a larger or lesser degree a basic grid pattern. If we work on the theory that the STJ is more important in gait and for athletic function, which I believe, the decoupling should align more closely with the subtalar joint axis, which runs obliquely from lateral heel, to medial forefoot. this is what you see in the FluidAxis shoe.

            So the concept is that, for a neutral runner (important emphasis), the shoe should decouple along an estimation of the STJ axis, and should provide a smoother load guidance than a simple grid pattern aligned to the ankle joint.There are exciting possibilities for other sports and also for overpronaters, and the beauty is that the shoe can be built very light because its stability revolves around geometry and not much else.

            Really difficult to explain like this, but if you want a visual, check out link to youtu.be

            Hope this helps Eric

            best Simon

            link to facebook.com.

    • Craig Richards says:

      Interesting that the onus falls on the runner to work out for themselves what shoe best suits them rather than manufacturers understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their product and what sort of runner should or should not wear their shoes.

      Shame you have declined my invitation to include ASICS shoes in clinical trials to provide runners with this information.

      Makes me wonder if you report to the head of R&D or the head of marketing.

      • simon bartold says:

        that is an astonishing lack of understanding of the way things are in the real world craig.. as I have said so many times, people like you are endowing footwear with magical powers it simply does not have. You seem to have a real mental block into the reality of the manufacturing process of modern athletic footwear. perhaps you should start there and work backwards! If you invited me to include ASICS shoes in you trial Craig, you were asking the wrong bloke.. I do not supply footwear, nor do I report to the head of R+D, nor do I report to head of Marketing. I report to the Head of School at the University of Melbourne!
        Merry Christmas
        Simon

  3. Hi again, Peter… interesting article and viewpoints. While we are at the topic of minimalism, transition, etc. I’d like to ask what is your opinion on the way to transition from the “classical orthopedic devices” to minimalist shoes. Browsing through the Natural Running Center website, I came across an article presenting two approaches. The article (The 200-Yard Rule: The Only Way To Start Barefoot Running) is, as the title implies, about transition to barefoot, but in my opinion it could be well adapted to the stage “right before barefoot but still shod”.

    Anyway, the authors advocate against going through a series of shoes with gradually reduced cushioning and stabilization devices. They say “take off your shoes right away and transition by running barefoot starting with very short times/distances, while listening to your body in order to not overdo it”. For our purpose, it could be converted into “put on a pair of minimalist shoes right away and start short and slow, but don’t go through a gradation of shoe types to slowly bring you to the minimalist shoes”.

    Of course, it doesn’t mean that the other shoes (call them “transitional”, or “zero-drop cusioned”, or “low drop slightly cushioned” or whatever) would not have their place. You’re very right in saying that it’s about choice and variety. People have various situations, needs, preferences, and applications… and of course feet :) So, it’s nice they may find something suitable for themselves, not necessarily positioned along a special “transition lineup”. What do you think?

    Cheers from Europe :)

  4. Alex Beecher says:

    Trivia that I hope is presented in a non-nitpicky way: Racing flats got their name to contrast them with track spikes. That is, they are flat on the bottom.

  5. “We’re not telling runners you have to run minimal or run core. Run them both. We’re going to build them both for your type of foot and you can make the choice on what you prefer.”

    The “type of foot” the Brooks rep refers to still seems to point to the pronation spectrum, as evidenced by the Brooks YouTube video [Behind the Laces: Which PureProject Shoe Is Right For You?](link to youtube.com…. They suggest shoes from their minimal range to “pair with” their traditional shoes. So someone in a guidance shoe like the GTS or Ravenna should go with the PureCadence 2, someone in the neutral Ghost should go with the PureFlow, and so on.

  6. Marc Schwartz says:

    Great post Pete! You weren’t kidding this morning on Twitter when you said it was a monster… :-)

    I agree with your points. There is a need for more science, notably when it comes to matching runners with shoes and training. There is so much information online, in magazines and in running stores, that there is already a risk of overload.

    Similar to the the points you raise in your book, notably about educating folks in the stores to go beyond taking a quick look at how somebody walks as the basis for fitting them in support/control shoes relative to pronation is critical. I was initially fitted that way by a very competent staff, yet ended up with an injury to my left posterior tibial tendon after a few months. I ended up with PT, luckily working with folks who were also runners. They changed my posture, stride and cadence and had me go to neutral support, minimal shoes (Kinvara 3s). I have been injury free since, now looking to make the transition to zero drop early next year.

    I can’t say that this experience is generalizable beyond myself, but it is an indication that, as is frequently the case, it is not a one-size-fits-all situation. As I find in my field, which is clinical trials, it is about patient selection and appropriateness of treatment, based upon quantitative outcomes data, while balancing risk/benefit.

    The same needs to happen here with running and only better data along with improved communications, will help move us in that direction.

    Thanks for providing a great forum for this dialog.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Mark, much appreciated! I very much agree with you comments – one size fits all solutions have to go.
      Sent from my iPad

  7. Blaise Dubois says:

    Nice analysis Pete

    Like you, I agree with some points that Simon said. Especially this: “I think the runners are more confused… And the retailer’s are confused as well as half of the podiatrists don’t know what to do… “
 After reading his interview and his answers, I understand Why!


    When you say : “The future is not about minimalism, it’s about choice,” I agree to a consumer point of view. But I will add it’s not about minimalism vs maximalism… it’s about “how much prescribers / retailers / health professionals are influence by marketing without evidence based”

    My Question : Is it normal that the promotion of knowledge over running shoes comes from scientists working for shoe companies? Why Simon Bartold has been presented a conference again this year at “The Running Event”? The title of his presentation this year, sponsored by ASICS: “New Thinking for Running Shoes”.

    Lets just hope that running shoe stores managers and owners have been able to judge the value of his rhetoric… and that they won’t buy these false ideas based on a semblance of scientific platform. To well remind his presentation from last year (The Running Clinic was there), here’s a detailed summary of what’s been told: http://www.therunningclinic.ca

    Blaise

  8. Chadisbarefoot says:

    Typical BS from Asics. Somebody needs to dig up that conversation from a couple years ago where dude said that Adidas “wil never produce a minimalist shoe.” Lol. They’re like Baghdad Bob: “There are no American forces in Baghdad. The Iraqi army has things well in hand.”

    • Chadisbarefoot says:

      Oh, and thank you for a fantastic article yet again, Pete. Please excuse my snark. I am sure that some each and every one of the people who you quoted above have likely forgotten more about biomechanics than I have ever known. Even so, it’s hard to see what is happening at ground-level, to see the trends in sales (very informative posts on here, primarily), know my own personal experience, and yet still think that people – some of the foremost experts in the industry – cannot see the obvious direction that the running shoe world is and has been headed.

  9. Simon Gagné says:

    Great article that highlights a great debate also.

    From the product offer and marketing point of view, I think that we have just passed from on end of the spectrum to the other and now shoemakers are just settling in the middle with the right amount of cushinonning for each type of runner without any unecessary material. It’s a fact that most shoe brands are going to more lightweight and pure design, but they are not forgetting the cushion for those who need it.

    Now, for the scientific aspect of minimalism and barefoot running, I think that a lot of myth were spread with this craze but now, common sense and science are taking it back to a more normal level.

    One of the argument I tend to disagree with is this thing about the nature of our feet that were made to run without the support of a shoe. If we look at it from an evolution and historical point of view, facts show that the human beings have always looked for a way to protect their bodies and that includes the feet. Saying that our body is meant to run barefoot is like saying that our body is meant to be left naked against the sun damages.

    I agree that our feet streghten and can carry us alone without protection, but I don’t think that applies to runners who run long distance 4 to 6 times a week on hard roads. On the long term it could be a real problem to push this idea to the limit. As always, moderation is for me the best option.

  10. Christopher Babb says:

    It’s so surprising to see people in the running industry claiming that minimalism is dead. It’s like they think if they say it, it will be true- which unfortunately is sometimes the case. There has never been more minimalist offerings and people are still getting excited about it. It is definitely evolving, but just because Vibrams is leveling off doesn’t mean some part of the minimalist spectrum won’t be the future for most runners. I organized a race this last weekend a five mile multi surface Christmas Run in the snow with wind chills below zero. Most of the 18 runners brave enough to show up were wearing minimal shoes including everyone in the top 5. I’ve been in a lot of races and this is the first time I’ve seen a majority running minimal. There’s a different shoe style for everyone of course, but saying barefoot style shoes are dying implies we are going back to what we had before and that is certainly not true. I’ll send you a link to the start of the race pictures- very motivating.

  11. Hi Pete. after reading and re-reading your entry plus the article in which this is featured, I was just wondering…if Simon Bartold really meant to say that the discussion between minimalist and traditional shoes is dead then why didn’t he say that in the first place? Unless the entire quote was taken completely out of context, I would think that all readers would interpret his message the same way that you did…and that is one of the top ASICS consultants has just declared minimalism dead.

    The theme and message derived from the first statement of the article was pretty consistent throughout the entire article and after you called him out on this, he conveniently comes out with the PC explanation on what he “actually meant”.

    I also went back a few years ago and read the entire comment exchange between him (*if that was really Simon and not someone else posing as him) and Bill over at Zero Drop and it occurred to me that Simon is a shoot first ask questions later kind of guy. He’ll say whatever it is on his mind and then realize and when other people counter or call him out, he backtracks and adjusts his responses to suit the situation.

  12. I’m from Europe and minimalism surely aint dead here – it’s becomming more and more popular :)

    I’ve been a Asics fan for many years and been running in Asics Nimubs, Cumulus and some of the racing shoes for the past 8 years.

    After starting running in minimalist shoes and barefoot shoes 1. year ago I no longer own a pair of Asics shoes – the ones they got simpley ain’t good/minimalist enough.

    I think Asics have or will loose a lot of their customors if they don’t take a more serious approach to minimalism – they lost me.

    Great side you got Pete and great book (just finished it yesterday). You also got daily readers in Denmark ;-)

  13. Ashwyn Gray says:

    Wow! Thanks, Pete, for relaying this analysis and info from TRE. Really great post all around.
    And, Thanks, Simon Bartold, for chiming in to clarify your quotes!
    This is such a refreshingly educational bit of blogging!

  14. Brian Martin says:

    Hi Pete, great summary. Good to see Simon read my book and is talking up the need for strengthening the posterior! I agree with you about variety, dip in and out of minimalism as you feel like or need to – awesome to have the choice. The great thing is you can now run in shoes with any combination of features that you like. I think the trend is clear for everyday trainers: simpler shoes, lighter, more flexibility, better feel. We then have various combinations of cushion thickness and drop to suit any runner and surface. Great time to be a runner.

    • simon bartold says:

      Hey Dustin and Brian.. could not agree more! great comments, and I think maybe we are now getting somewhere! Dustin.. Ryan sounds like a guy I need to meet, wish i had the chance to chat with him at TRE! End of the day it is and always has been about the runner. Mix up the training.. the footwear, terrain and surface and you have a better chance of staying injury free.. Happy holidays..
      www,facebook.com/bartoldbiomechani…

  15. i agree with more science, but I think people are way too obsessed with statistics and numbers, i’m strongly on the side of letting the body do what it’s meant to do, but i do understand that everyone can’t just do it, they have to work at it

    and i’ll help every step of the way…i also think that kids need to be hit the hardest, it’s easier for them, and if taught early enough, they won’t think much of it when their older

    i think the answer is already there and that science shouldn’t HAVE to show that letting your body do what it’s intended to do without hindrance is important, i understand that some people do have legitimate deformities and conditions, but it’s been ingrained in a lot of people that for some reason, they’re not as normal as they think they really are and the majority of people are born broken.

    anyway, i’ll stop before i ramble more

    great article pete!

    • Pete Larson says:

      The issue I think is not so much that we’re born broken, but that most of us have adapted ourselves for decades to particular types of footwear and those can indeed have long lasting effects on our anatomy. If we all grew up barefoot most of the time then I’d be comfortable saying that barefoot and barefoot style shoes are the way to go for most people. But most of us have not, so we need to find out what works and test how much we can try to reverse decades of adaptation. For one example, I’d never recommend that a woman who works 60 hrs per week in high heels run in a zero drop shoe – science has shown that such women have shortened and thickened Achilles tendons due to chose their footwear usage.

      What’s more, modern society has allowed many of us to lose the strength that our barefoot running ancestors would have had through their high levels of daily activity, and we develop restrictions from habits like sitting in chairs all day in front of a computer screen. So it’s not as simple as saying let the body do what it was meant to do – that’s the ideal, but may not be the reality.

      I do agree that we need to start with kids – I keep mine barefoot or in ultraminimal shoes as much as I can.

      —-
      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      -My book: Tread Lightly: link to ow.ly
      -Blog: http://www.runblogger.com
      -Twitter: link to twitter.com
      -Facebook Page: link to facebook.com
      -Discussion Forum: http://www.runblogger.com/forum

      • the born broken part is about how people are basically treated that way that they NEED said product or they’re doomed to injuries or something, it’s ridiculous

        also, i should have added “as much as possible” to the letting the body do what it wants to part, i know people are weakened, and everyday i notice it more and more and people don’t have a clue

        but i mean that since society has become accustomed to sitting in chairs most of the day, point is that getting off the couch or chair and move needs to be stressed more than it is

        i don’t mean that people need to just move like they’ve been doing it everyday, but just start in the right direction is all

  16. This is a great write up. I’m always looking for easily readable articles to forward to people with questions about why I’m wearing the shoes I’m wearing. I’ve got ok answers, but it’s nice having something to point to, such as this article, that brings in so many moving parts and does so eloquently and concisely.

  17. Great Article.. and I am really glad that simon chimed in right away as well.. We all tend to get defensive at times and the comments that you two shared are refreshing and promising.. I would like to see this kind of discussion within more of the running community.. It seems to be such a touchy subject for everyone.. LOL.. I myself had constant injuries and switched to minimal Merrell Road Glove and Bare Access for my all of my races including my full Ironman race… I can’t deny the changes that I have experienced.. Injury free ever since and I’m getting stronger with every run.. I’ve never felt like this before.. Dr. Ryan Green, my running coach (who was at TRE), taught me a good lesson along my minimal journey when I went all rogue radically pro-minimalism with fists in the air LOL.. He said, “Dustin, There are many shoes, just as there are many tools in your toolbox… You just need to know when and where to use the right tool..” So I couldn’t agree more.. Variety is king.. It took me a couple years to learn that.. But now I know based on my training needs, terrain and how tired my legs are what shoes I need to grab before I run out the door.. It makes the deference.. Thanks for the great article Pete..

  18. Robert Osfield says:

    I can’t help feel that “discussion” being dead as suggested by Simon Bartold is positioning or perhaps wishful thinking rather than a statement of anything close to a fact.

    One can’t make a request for more science and not see the need for discussion of what it uncovers. One can’t just off hand dismiss the studies that have been carried out just because they don’t support your companies current products or that it requires accepting that those companies were selling ill-conceived products.
    If you ignore and don’t want to discuss the results of the science that has been done what is the point of doing any more research?

    There is a point, thankfully the whole industry isn’t as resistant to change as Asics has been. The industry has moved, yes to include more choice, but it’s moved to encompass minimalism, the center of gravity of running shoe industry has shifted with it. If one takes the average of all shoes you’ll find the weight is now lower, the shoe is more flexible and shoe has a more anatomical last.

    This movement wouldn’t have happened without discussion, without pressure from actual runners out in the community. The industry has lagged several years behind where runners are in there needs and wants. It’s been painful waiting for the industry to catch up.

    Simon’s statements about the current minimalist shoes being little more than racing flats of 10 years ago shoes how out of touch he is with the needs of big segment of the running community and what goes into a good running shoe.

    This is Asics loss.

    Long live the discussion, even if it makes some in the industry uncomfortable, it’s the discussion that raises awareness and is big driver for improvement.

Trackbacks

  1. […] across this excellent article on ‘The Future of Minimalist Running Shoes and the Value of Variety‘ thanks to runner786 on Twitter. Some interesting (and conflicting) opinions on the state […]

  2. […] The Future of Minimalist Running Shoes and the Value of Variety […]

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