I saw my first pair of maximalist running shoes in a store last summer and I had to do a quick self-check: is it April fool’s Day? Nope, it’s August. This was the shoe I saw on the shelf in a reputable running and triathlon shop:

I was there waiting to pick up my bike but I had to ask about the shoe. And that’s when I learned about the new maximalist running shoe trend. Apparently extra cushioning is what we need to prevent running injuries in 2016. That’s one mighty big pendulum swing when you consider that in 2010 we learned that we need minimalist running shoes to prevent injuries.

Aside from putting an amused look on my face, the Hoka (the clown-like shoe above) brought me back to two conclusions that I have often hold:

  1. Scientists and/or companies claiming that “this is the one true answer” is your first sign that you should be sceptical of everything else that person or organization says. Science is rarely that certain, and it is never that certain before the science has had a chance to be vetted by other scientists. This typically takes years, which means by the time there is evidence that it is “the one true answer”, it’s probably not that exciting any more so nobody is talking about. So pretty much if you’re talking about an amazing new scientific discovery, understand that it may or may not be true at this point. This is not a dismissal of the scientific process. That is sound. It’s an accusation that most of the science that makes it to the mainstream has cut corners out of the scientific process.
  2. There probably isn’t a “one true answer”, but rather there are different best answers for different people and different scenarios. Minimalist running shoes may be the best option for you; so may maximalist. Heck, maybe the running shoes that got run out of town in 2010 are the best option for you. Or maybe running isn’t great for you. How can you tell? Great question. I’m not an expert in running shoes, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that trial and error is probably your best bet.

Unfortunately the “this not that” mangling of the scientific process is also prominent in the nutrition world. I just read an interesting article about how “leptin resistance is the main reason people gain weight and have such a hard time losing it.” Some of you will remember that not long ago “The real reason that you may have struggled to lose weight is insulin resistance.” It would seem that leptin is the maximalist shoe of the nutrition world.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is an engineer turned personal trainer who is both amused and annoyed at the inadequacy of what often passes as science.

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  1. Ya, lots of changes for sure. And yes – appropriate use of quotation marks on science there. Nothing wrong with changes and theories as to why they are better – as long as people don’t claim it’s founded in science.

  2. Hi Elsbeth, love the post. Have been writing similar articles in our small gym newsletter I call them fads a new diet, expensive exercise machine, training theory etc. I think we want instant answers and different ideas all the time and the money makers are happy to deliver what we want to hear. A good scientist is never sure and always willing to change when proven research shows a change to a theory. On shoes a few months ago a company put out a line of retro shoes from 70s 80s and 90s . I decided to try out the 1975 style maybe to relive my youth (what an age give away). Basically they are what would be called minimalist these days, good shoes with no training problems. I would love to see the number of changers and amount of “science” that has occurred over the last 40+ years. Cheers Barry

  3. Sorry to overpopulate your comments section – after reading your response to Sarah’s comment I find myself once again adding my 2c WRT barefoot.

    Over the years my stance on this movement has softened, however the core basic premise of the switch to barefoot is flawed as you’ve pointed out.
    I agree that to a certain degree the shoe is a part of the problem but it is a necessary evil and not the source of the problem.

    My answer to many of my patients re: barefoot and minimalism was that the movement is several thousand years behind the evolution of society.
    As you aptly put it – as soon as we started to stand and walk on hard flat surfaces the notion of
    ‘barefoot is best because that is what nature intended’ went out the window.
    Yes our feet were designed to be shock absorbers and mobile adaptors for the surface we trod upon, however they are now adapting by elongating and flattening out because the surface does not have any undulations or give to allow them ( feet ) to be the wonderfully dynamic structures they were engineered to be.

    It took me years to change my rigid Podiaty based stance on footwear use.
    There is a place where barefoot is beneficial such as soft surfaces like grass, beaches, even trails that are free from hazards that could cause a sharp trauma, or training on soft surfaces
    ( great for proprioception)

    Switching to all barefoot all the time or all footwear all the time is not the solution. I believe it is as simple as the harder the surface the more it is likely that some sort of cushion is required.

    As to types of feet that are best suited to barefoot or cushioning, again I have to agree with your statements – in absence of any research.

    Speaking of research you may want to check out Craig Payne’s blog
    ” research junkie ” I think you will find his thoughts align with yours in many aspects.

    Again, sorry for the length and number of posts – guess you touched on a nerve. 🙂

    The knee is coming along very well thank you – two weeks today & I’m walking full weight bearing without walking aids.
    Just have to get off my butt and do my exercises.
    So you may find me back on your doorstep leading up to ski season.

    All the best.

  4. Great thoughts. I need to pick up her book – her name came up again at the seminar I was just at. That said, I just don’t buy that there’s one thing that is best for everyone. Minimalist appeals to me conceptually, but we stand, walk, and run on concrete. That stuff is hard. Not sure the natural argument can legitimately extend to concrete surfaces. I am also curious about whether there is a foot type that is better suited to minimalist or cushioning shoe. My hunch is that “normal” feet probably fare well in minimalist, high arches probably fare better in cushioning, and not really sure what I think would work best for flat footed folks.

  5. Absolutely! Just add a link back here is all I ask. And I had a feeling you would agree. 🙂 I hope your knee rehab is going well.

  6. Bravo Els – I loooove this, the whole one solution for all and pseudo science approach to foot problems, foot orthotics and running shoes has been the bane of my Podiatry practice since the beginning of the barefoot/minimalist movement.

    I could not agree more with you. ????

  7. Hey elsbeth, good article. I am of the minimalist shoe thinking after reading Katy bowman’s blog at nutritiousmovement.com. Also her book “whole body barefoot” has excellent science in layman’s terms about how to transition to minimalist shoes but not just for running, rather for walking and everyday life. And lots of exercises to help restore foot knee and hip mobility. Highly recommend.

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