Minimalist Running Shoes - A Case of Deja Vu?

Shoes don't change the way we run Shoes don't change the way we run

The shoe does not change the way we run. Only the person does.

Natural Foot Strike

The promotion of minimalist shoes in the running industry has seen a marked increase in recent years. These shoes have little structure or cushioning and are marketed as promoting a natural foot strike, similar to what would happen if one ran barefoot. However, for many runners, their “natural foot strike” is not a biomechanically sound one in the first place.

The shoe does not change the way we run. Only the person does.

The Original Minimalist Running Shoe

In fact, with regard to minimalist shoes, we’ve been down this road before. Prior to 1960, every running shoe made was inherently a minimalist shoe with little to no cushioning and no medial support to correct pronation. One brand dominated the running shoe market at the time—Adidas. Their shoes, designed for athletes running on cinder tracks, consisted of a piece of leather sewn to a thin platform with track spikes. Voila! The original minimalist running shoe.

Running Biomechanics

However, these minimalist shoes did not correct running form. At the time, jogging was just emerging as a means of exercise for the masses. Those who attempted the sport of running while wearing these shoes, found they had to have virtually perfect run biomechanics in order to run in them safely. Those runners who did not possess biomechanically sound running form, often became injured—calf injuries, most notably. So, by natural selection, those runners with good biomechanics continued to participate in the sport, while those who did not, moved on to another sport.

Fortunately, in the mid-1960’s, Bill Bowerman, the legendary head coach of the University of Oregon track and field team, began to dabble in creating a more cushioned shoe that could be used by a wide range of runners possessing different run biomechanics. This shoe eventually became the first popular running shoe, the Nike Waffle Trainer, and it allowed runners with less-than-perfect run biomechanics to participate in the sport he loved.

Running Shoes for the Masses

During the last forty years, the running shoe industry has continuously engineered and improved the running shoe to satisfy a wide range of biomechanics. To suggest that we should go back to a shoe design from the 1940’s would be akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Today’s technical running shoes allow more people to participate in the sport with or without proper run biomechanics. Again, the shoe does not change the way we run. Only the person does. But for those of us who have not yet mastered the mid- to forefoot strike, modern running shoes allow us to enjoy the sport and run late into life.

Anne Wilson

Anne Wilson is the co-owner and head swim coach of Camelback Coaching, a full-service triathlon coaching company located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Anne swam competitively, including collegiately at the US Naval Academy, before diving into the sport of triathlon. She has competed in triathlons for over twenty-five years and coached full time for ten. For more information, please visit