On Fitness

Minimalist running shoes became all the rage a few years ago when running barefoot emerged as a way to get back to basics and run the way nature intended. Nature is also full of pointy things, so as the trend picked up speed, it created a huge market for shoe companies to start producing minimalist shoes — shoes so thin and light that they provide the feel of running barefoot, but with a bit of protection for sensitive feet.

Proponents of minimalist running claim it improves foot biomechanics and reduces injury risk. They feel wearing shoes causes the small muscles in our feet to weaken and allows the tendons, ligaments and natural arches to take a break.

The trend is losing steam, however, as these claims are coming under attack. Many minimalist runners are now complaining of further pain, shin splints and even stress fractures after ditching their supportive running shoes. Critics also argue that the right shoes can actually correct biomechanical problems and help reduce injury potential.

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Vibram, arguably the most recognizable minimalist running-shoe brand with its FiveFinger toe shoes, just settled a class-action lawsuit, agreeing to pay back $3.75 million to consumers for making unsubstantiated claims that its shoes strengthen muscles and decrease injuries.

Seattle’s own Brooks Running developed its PureProject line to give pro-minimalists what they call their “feel” experience. But they also recognized the collective eye rolls of those that thought, “But what about us?”

“During the development of PureProject and our efforts to define the ‘feel’ experience, we realized there are a number of runners who crave the opposite end of the spectrum, which we call ‘float,’ ” said Jon Teipen, Brooks footwear product line manager.

That’s me! When I run, I want to feel lighter than air, bouncing with each step like I’m, well, floating. But it’s more than just that. I’ve tried numerous minimalist shoes for numerous articles I’ve written on the subject and have never been able to use them for more than one or two runs — enough to get the information I need — without putting them back in the box to collect dust. I don’t have specific or diagnosed running issues, but the repetitive pounding on hard surfaces, unsupported, causes sharp pains in the tops of my feet and ankles. Whether or not you believe running shoes cause those problems in the first place, the fact is, for me, using minimalist shoes was so painful I was forced to stop before any adaptation could occur.

Brooks’ answer to those of us who want to float instead of feel is the Brooks Transcend running shoe. When I tested these supportive shoes, designed on runner insight with a cushioning material that adapts to your stride, I not only felt no pain, but I felt light on my feet, noticed little impact on my joints, and had no idea how many sharp rocks or squishy doggy piles I stepped on.

If you are finding your minimalist shoes are causing you more harm than good, Brooks offers those of us that want to be supported a soft place to land, each and every step of the way.

Kelly Turner: kellyturnerfitness@gmail.com; Turner is an ACE (American Council on Exercise) certified personal trainer and fitness writer. www.KellyTurnerFitness.com; on Twitter @KellyTurnerFit