Tag Archives: maximalist shoes

From maximalist to minimalist footwear (and back): a lesson in resilience, and in “shifting the burden” systems.

The popularity of the trend of minimalist (zero-drop, low-cushioning) shoes has coincided with a sharp increase in running injuries, according to some sources. This has caused a large amount of community, media, and legal blowback on minimalist shoes, the most salient of which is the recent class-action lawsuit against Vibram, for misleading advertisement.

Misleading advertisement should always be punished. Vibram peddled their five-fingers shoes as the solution to running injuries. They are not. They should never have been advertised that way.

But this blowback has created an unfortunate tendency: blaming the minimalist shoes themselves as the cause of injury.

They aren’t the cause. Although this may seem contradictory, it is the fact that so many people get injured when switching from “maximalist” (shoes that are highly-cushioned; often with an elevated heel) to minimalist shoes—but not vice versa—that suggests that minimalist shoes are better for the biomechanics of human running.

This apparent contradiction can be resolved—but in order to do that we must look at the issue from a systems thinking perspective. And for that, we have to begin with the concept of “resilience.”

Continue reading From maximalist to minimalist footwear (and back): a lesson in resilience, and in “shifting the burden” systems.

Don’t run above your pay grade: the (not so) hidden dangers of maximalist shoes.

There is a segment of the running community that continues to insist that maximalist shoes are the way to go, and that minimalism is nothing but a “fad.” This insistence goes against every biomechanical and physical principle that I can think of. One of the ways in which maximalist shoes violate these mechanical principles is by having wide soles. This is incremental: the more maximalist, the greater the violation.

When running in maximalist shoes, the impact forces incurred during the landing phase are much greater. Take for example the following picture, which shows the back of a shod and an unshod foot. When the foot is fully pronated at the point of ground contact, the sole forms an acute angle with the ground. The vertex of the angle is the outside of the foot; the point of contact. When the runner is unshod, the sides of this angle aren’t very long. I represent this as the innermost arc (from the vertex). However, when the runner is shod, the sides of the angle are much longer; this is the outermost arc.

shoe vs. foot

Because the arc is much longer when the foot is shod, the inside of the foot will accelerate over a comparatively longer distance (the length of the bigger arc) in order to lay flat on the ground. This means that the overall forces that travel up through the foot and into the leg are that much greater when running in big-soled shoes.

There are two important points here: first, the modern running shoe was designed to artificially extend the stride. As the stride extends, the impact forces are greater and greater. This isn’t a problem when the runner’s muscles have developed to extend the stride; most likely they have also developed to absorb and dissipate those increased impact forces. But when the stride is lengthened artificially, the runner hasn’t “earned” the right to interact with those forces—and they’ll get injured.

Similarly, the shod foot in particular has no business having a wider sole. By definition, a habitually shod foot is weaker than a habitually unshod foot. And because the forces created upon landing/supination are much greater when shod than when unshod, the possibility of injury skyrockets: the weakened structure is generating with forces much greater than those which the stronger structure would ever generate.

That’s a bit of a problem.

But there is a second point to be made here: this analysis is based on simple physics and geometry. And yet, the multibillion-dollar running shoe industry pays very little heed to the physical, biological, and mechanical principles by which the body moves, and by which it grows and develops.

Out on the road, halfway into the marathon, the maximalist/minimalist debate doesn’t matter. Out there, you aren’t debating the minimalists. You’re debating physics. You’re debating biology. You’re debating geometry. If the worldview that you approach that debate with doesn’t heed the relevant laws and principles, you’re going to lose. In direct measure to how badly you lose this debate, will be the magnitude of your injuries.