When I ran with my junior high cross country team, I don’t recall any conversations about running shoes being neutral, support, motion control, flats, trainers, maximal, or minimal. The industry very well could have been dealing with those challenges, but to my friends and I, there were running shoes and other shoes.
Now that I’m in the world of road running, we’re talking about shoes all of the time. What’s the weight? What’s the heel-to-toe offset? Is there a medial posting? Honestly, these questions don’t bother me nearly as much as the too oft asked “Minimal or maximal?” It doesn’t really matter what the answer to this question is, because you know just as much about the shoe as you did before you asked it.
Let’s talk about some of the shoes that contribute to these categories.
Barefoot running shoes
What does “barefoot shoes” even mean? I can’t exactly answer that question without speculation, but many of the shoes that fall into that category don’t provide any more minimal of an experience than regular shoes. It would seem that this is a failed marketing ploy during the minimal craze.
Zero drop shoes
Some people consider shoes that are under a certain heel-to-toe offset to be considered minimal. Who actually came up with that qualifier? Altra is a shoe brand that prides themselves on having a zero drop shoe line, yet they’re heavier and more cushioned than many shoes that would not be considered “minimal” at all.
Again, this one escapes me. Race flats are typically geared toward one goal: helping a runner go fast without any other objectives. This usually means that they are light and have very little extra material to lose energy. That being said, my first pair of marathon shoes were the Saucony Fastwitch 6, which has a medial posting. This means that the shoe worked against pronation and kept my foot in a neutral position. This seems very anti-minimalist to me.
Motion control trainers
Following up on my Fastwitch comment, motion control and support does not mean it’s any more specifically geared toward the maximal end of the spectrum. This could simply mean that the shoe doesn’t have any flexibility and therefore doesn’t create much freedom for the foot to move.
Highly cushioned shoes
Finally we get to the shoes that have a lot of people uttering the words “maximal.” Hoka One One is thought to be the pioneers of this sector, and bravo to them for breaking the mold and going their own way. These shoes boast a ton of cushion, leaving you looking like you’re standing on stilts. But does this really make them maximal? In fact, many shoes of this variety have a lower heel-to-toe offset, lighter weight, and less motion control components than many of what some people would call “minimal” shoes.
It’s time to get away from the “minimal vs maximal” mentality and start looking for good shoes that work for us. Get to your local running store and try on a lot of shoes. Don’t let them pigeonhole you in the “what are you running in now and did those work for you?” question. It’s possible that you have gotten yourself into a rut of only wearing what has been categorized as minimal or maximal and you don’t know what actually feels good for your feet and body. “Minimal or maximal” categories are lazy, and running is supposed to be the anti-lazy.