If you’re a runner, you’ve probably experienced some kind of soreness, pain, or injury at some point. This is because your feet, heels, ankles, knees, calves, quads, and hamstrings are subjected to an incredible amount of pressure and strain when you run. For decades, so-called experts have told us that cushioned footwear is the best way to guard against such injuries. But now there is a decided movement towards “minimalist” or lightweight running shoes.
The merits of heavily cushioned versus lightweight running shoes is one of the biggest debates in the sport today. I personally believe that lightweight running shoes, ones that have almost a flat sole and mesh uppers with very little support throughout, are better for you than the models full of padding, gel, or “air”. I am not basing this on any scientific research — but that does exist if you want to check it out for yourself. Rather, my recommendation is based purely on personal experience.
I made the switch to lightweight running shoes after reading a book about how humans were basically meant to run barefoot. The argument the author made essentially went like this: when you run barefoot, you naturally land very lightly on the balls of your feet. This significantly reduces the impact on the lower part of your body. When you run in cushioned footwear, however, you’re more likely to slap down with full force on every step. While a padded shoe can absorb some of the impact, there’s still plenty of room for injury. Try it yourself and see how differently you move when barefoot.
Unfortunately, going barefoot isn’t a viable option for those of us that live in urban areas full of cement sidewalks and asphalt streets. The next best thing, then, is lightweight running shoes that don’t interfere with the natural movements of your foot. When you know that your shoe isn’t providing all that cushioning under your heel, you’ll adjust your stride so that you land at mid-foot or on the balls of your feet rather than flat-footed. The result is a less jarring impact with each step, which can reduce injuries.
While I am fully on board with lightweight running shoes of the minimalist variety, I can see why others are still more comfortable with the cushioned models. After all, lightweight running shoes go against almost everything we’ve been taught. Advertising execs have helped spread the belief that we need heavily padded footwear, so a lot of us just take that view for granted. But data shows that there has been no decrease in the number of injuries reported by runners in the past few decades, which is odd since all that high-tech footwear is supposed to be providing extra protection.
If you’d like to make the switch to lightweight running shoes, I suggest that you do so very slowly. It will take your body time to adjust, so if you try to rush things, the results might be disastrous. Give them a try and see how they feel!