Minimalist Shoes: Minimal Goes Mainstream

For decades, most training shoes have been built with a 12 to 15mm heel-toe drop, meaning the heel sits 12-15mm above the height of the metatarsal heads. The original intent was to add cushioning, ease the tension of a runner's Achilles tendon and soleus (lower calf) muscles and put the foot in a forward-leaning position. But academic studies and shoe company research have shown that this geometry can perpetuate inefficient, heel-striking form, both because it continually forces the body to re-balance in an unnatural position and because the built-up heel is the first part of the shoe to strike the ground even if the foot approaches the ground in a horizontal position. In contrast, many of these new shoes have heel-toe drops between 4 and 10mm. Whether a runner lands midfoot (near the ball of the foot or metatarsal heads), with a flat foot or even with a slight heel strike in these new shoes is partially based on the specific pace of a run and the runner's physical make-up, which includes relative foot, ankle and lower leg strength as well as the ability to engage the core, glutes and hip flexors while starting a new stride, says Jay Dicharry, MPT, director of the SPEED Clinic at the University of Virginia's Center for Endurance Sport. "It's different for everyone," he says. But most experts agree that it's both easier to avoid hard heel striking and the risk of straining deconditioned muscles and soft tissue in the new, more forgiving moderate minimal shoes without built-up heel crash pads. Saucony created a stir last April when it released the ProGrid Kinvara, a 7.7-ounce everyday trainer (men's size 9) with a 4mm heel-toe drop. For more, visit

Least Is Best: A Guide To Minimalist Running Shoes

If youve been running in traditional shoes for a long time, a romp in the Frees will remind you that you have toes. Nike lists the Frees weight at 7.2 ounces for a mens size 10. ADAPTATION TIPS: Nike recommends you first build your muscles well before making the Free your full or part-time training shoe. Wear the Free around the house for brief periods of time, eventually transitioning to running drills or striders on the grass. Making the Free your primary training shoe (if this is the goal) will likely require months of gradual adaptation to gain the strength and speed benefits the shoe may offer while avoiding any injury complications from the new set of stressors. Pearl Izumi Kissaki, $130 -- Suggesting the minimalist craze has swung too far to the extreme, Pearl Izumis Michael Thompson, designer of the Kissaki, says he wanted to strike a balance. I wanted to create a lightweight, minimalist-inspired neutral shoe that fell into this just right space between the traditional, overbuilt running shoe and the minimal, barefoot footwear that is not practical for everyday use. Indeed, the Kissaki, which Pearl says weighs in at nine ounces for a mens size nine, exists on the heavier end of the minimalist spectrum and might easily be considered a lightweight trainer. For more, visit