Humans have been running since the beginning of time, firstly from predators and more recently for enjoyment and to keep fit! The great thing about running is that you can move more without relying on equipment, travelling to the gym or getting to classes on time. Back in ancestral times, humans had little to rely on in terms of fitness gadgets and gizmos; instead, they embraced Mother Nature’s running shoes – their feet! Read on to find out how you can do the same to help get your workout off on the right foot!
With so many different brands and styles of running shoe available we really are spoilt for choice! But with choice comes uncertainty and choosing the right running shoes quickly becomes confusing and even overwhelming!
When it comes to minimalist running shoes most are pretty similar, designed with three things in mind:
These are all things which conventional shoes add in an attempt to support the foot, but which have been shown to alter our natural biomechanics and even cause more harm than good. Instead, the minimalist approach supports naturally adapted foot function, with a lower and more flexible sole to protect against the inevitable environmental risks – stones, twigs, gravel, grit we’re looking at you! They’re lightweight, flexible and extremely comfortable, and provide some performance-enhancing benefits…
Now we know what they are, let’s take a look at some of the most evidenced benefits of running in minimalist footwear!
We’ve all heard of bicep curls, dead-lifting and yoga – but how do we target our feet when it comes to strength training? By allowing you to move as nature intended, minimalist shoes encourage your feet to do the hard work – not the shoes. This has been shown to increase the strength and resilience of muscles, tendons and ligaments in and around the foot.
Minimalist shoes encourage a midfoot or forefoot landing – as opposed to landing harshly on the heel as with cushioned and raised running shoes. Landing this way is linked with increased biomechanical efficiency when running – meaning more bang for your buck to you and me!
Promoting a midfoot or forefoot landing means avoiding heel striking – when you land on your heels and your feet end up ahead of your hips. Heel striking causes an inhibiting braking action with every stride, so by avoiding this, you can make the most of your natural forward momentum.
Studies have found that running barefoot increases sensory stimulation and coordination, helping you to balance better. As minimalist shoes mimic this barefoot effect, they are also thought to improve both balance and coordination.
By helping to flex and strengthen both intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscles, minimalist running shoes help to protect the structure and stability of the foot. This has been shown to reduce the risk of injury and discomfort, particularly with overuse injuries and chronic foot pain.
One study found that by wearing minimalist shoes instead of their regular pair participants were able to increase foot strength and size, without trying! That’s right, just by wearing the shoes for their usual daily walking and without introducing other foot-strengthening exercises, every person in the study was shown to experience vastly improved muscle strength and size in their feet.
The arch of our feet helps them to stay flexible and also puts a spring in our step! But conventional running shoes with levelled insoles and robust structures can restrict the natural low arch of the foot. Research has shown that minimalist footwear can counter this effect, strengthening the arch of the foot and encouraging that spring-like effect!
Many runners choose to do specific exercises such as toe presses and ankle circles to improve the strength of their feet and make them more flexible. Trouble is, many of these exercises target only the extrinsic muscles. By opting for minimalist shoes you can strengthen your feet from within, promoting all-round increased flexibility and a more natural style of running.
The stronger and more flexible your feet are, the bigger range of motion you will get from them! Minimalist shoes allow your feet to function as they should and as they did for our ancestors, unrestricted and unconfined. This allows them a full range of movement and overall foot freedom!
Without the halting effect of the heel stroke motion you get with conventional running shoes, you can make the most of your full an uninhibited stride! Increasing stride length will allow you to run further quicker, with less strain on your joints and tendons thanks to fewer landings.
The Run Down!
Minimalist footwear allows you to run in the most natural and innate way, allowing your feet to work their natural magic with no constriction – but with an added layer of protection. Hunter and Gather co-founder Jeff is a keen runner and all round athlete and has challenged himself over the years to go further for longer - his latest achievement being a whopping 50 mile running race in Dorest, England.
Having tried many different brands and styles of shoes, he finds that minimalist running shoes help him to perform and feel his best – adopting an ancestral approach to movement and fitness in-keeping with the rest of his ancestral focussed lifestyle!
Remember, if you’re planning on making the switch to minimalist shoes – introduce them gradually for a transition that your body can adapt to. Try walking barefoot around the home and garden too, this will help to stretch out those muscles which have been trapped in robust shoes for decades!
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