The Minimal Shoe Debate Heats Up


If you’re an exercise geek like me then you may take interest in the latest goings-on over at Zero-Drop, a very fine minimalist running blog.  Three posts are worth reading: “ASICS Have Really Dug In Their Heels,” “The ASICS ‘Minimalst’ Shoe Debate Continues…,” and “The Other Shoe Has Dropped: Dr. Craig Richards Challenges ASICS and Other Shoe Companies.”

It seems that shoe company ASICS is not jumping on the minimal shoe bandwagon like most of their competitors.  ASICS shoe designer Simon Bartold is quoted in the article and he speaks fairly derisively of the movement toward flatter, thinner and more flexible shoes. He demands proof that minimal shoes are healthy and useful for runners.  (Meanwhile, there’s certainly no proof that modern, “good” running shoes are healthy either.)

What’s most interesting however isn’t the article itself but rather the spirited exchange that follows in the comments section where Bertold and the blog author go back and forth over the scientific particulars of this issue.  The discussion gets quite heated and the drama even spills over to another blog. “ASICS vs Zero Drop, Minimalist vs. Maximalist” comes from the great minimalist site, Runblogger.  It’s a very thorough examination of the type of proof that Simon Bertold demands.  The article in fact draws a comment from ASICS’ Bertold that that might be seen as a little bit of backpedaling.

The issue of science and scientific “proof” is a prominent feature of these discussions.  It’s unlikely that any one study will prove 100% whether or not any type of shoe–or no shoe at all–will cause or prevent a given type of injury.  There are many many variables that go into an injury or lack thereof.  (Interestingly, several studies suggest that conventional “good” running shoes matched to foot type do nothing to prevent injuries.)  Further, just because a rigorous study hasn’t been done doesn’t mean that a given cause-and-effect relationship doesn’t exist.  Minimal shoe/barefoot running may or may not in fact be healthier for most people than running in a conventional running shoe but there may be no powerful study that exists that proves either condition.

There’s nothing wrong with examining the anecdotal evidence either.  It’s often the anecdotal stuff that motivates someone to study something, and there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence out there supporting the idea that less shoe is better than more shoe.  I can speak from my observations of clients in the gym (as well as my wife and my own condition) that many people move better and feel better in minimal shoes.  I’m not the only one observing this.  In fact the shoe companies making minimal shoes are responding to the requests of their customers.

Finally, if you find all of this interesting, then you should get over to a recent post at the Science of Sport.  The barefoot running debate: Born to run, shoes & injury: the latest thinking is a remarkably in-depth discussion on the shoe issue.  The Sports Scientists take their subjects very seriously and they always get deep into the science behind athletics.  They discuss the important of running technique and the idea of how to transition from a conventional running shoe to the barefoot/minimal running style.  Very informative stuff there.


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