Maximal vs Minimal shoes effect on running economy

[00:00:00] Is it finally time to call the minimal issue dead? Is it time to put them in the ground, bury them, put the gravestone on them and say, 2007 to whatever? 2022. Gone, done forever. Well, we may be closer than you think.

[00:00:27] I’m Jesse Funk, the founder of Solpri and the host of this show Runner’s High where we talk about everything running and endurance related. So if you like running or you like endurance sports, click subscribe stick around with me for future episodes. They come out every Tuesday and Thursday.

[00:00:43] Now, today I want to talk a little bit about why you maybe should move away from minimal shoes, and I’ll give some credit to them as well. We’ll leave at the end. I’ll leave a possibility of why you may stick with them. But there’s a new study out from Exeter University that looked at the differences between mid and high cushioned shoes.

[00:01:04] So think you know, something like this guy, this is a mid cushioned shoe, really old here, the Nike Lunar Epic V2 versus a high cushioned shoe, which would be something like the HOKA. So they have really maximal cushioning in them. They wanted to look at the differences between the two types of shoes and figure out, okay, do we have any kind of running efficiency change or any running economy change? Is somebody going to be performing better in one type of shoe than the other? And the results they got were pretty notable.

[00:01:39] Now, the way these researchers put together this study is actually kind of interesting because they’re trying to get a snapshot of runners in a particular period of time, but also figure out how is your body and your running economy affected over time because of fatigue and muscle damage? So often studies are prohibited because of funds.

[00:02:02] Ideally, you could follow somebody over a much longer period of time, but they tried to truncate things and what they did is put people through a moderate intensity run. So think tempo, something like what you would do for our sweat test. Then they did a downhill run and then another moderate intensity run, the last one being assigned randomly assigning people into their groups of either the mid cushioned or high cushioned shoe. 

[00:02:28] Now, what they did was basically take a baseline for that moderate intensity run to begin with that’s when you’re fresh. Then they did the downhill run, which was actually pretty steeply downhill. The point of this was to elicit muscle damage because when you’re going downhill, it’s going to be very tiring and taxing on your major running systems, which is the back of your leg, that chain in the back, calves, hamstrings, glutes, achilles, those kind of things. The things that we need to run fastest, our major movers.

[00:02:57] Then they assign them into those particular groups, whether they were going to where the mid or the high cushioned shoe and repeated that moderate intensity run. Now I should note it’s two days between each of these. So there’s 48-hour intervals, moderate run, treadmill run, moderate run. And what they found was that the people who were wearing the highly cushioned shoe actually had like a little more than three is like 3.2% less oxygen usage than the people wearing the moderate intensity shoes.

[00:03:31] So that is actually a increase in speed or a increase in economy. They’re more efficient wearing the highly cushioned shoe than they were the moderate cushioned shoe. Now, there’s a lot of thoughts about why this may be happening, and I’m going to give some conjecture here to go along with this. So take this with a grain of salt, as with anything I might say, this conjecture again, Exeter University is the one that did this. I think I said Exeter College earlier. So look up their study. I’ll try to link to it down on the description below.

[00:04:09] The thought here is that you’re probably getting some effect with this highly cushioned shoe because the impact isn’t causing as much fatigue on your system. There is, I think, always going to be a balance between trying to find the right shoe for you and that effect, I don’t know that you’re always going to have every single runner in a highly cushioned shoe be more effective or efficient than somebody in a lower running shoe.

[00:04:46] And if you want somebody to give you a counterpoint. I had the absolute perfect guest a while ago, Steven Sashen from Xero Shoes, who goes the complete opposite direction in where it’s absolutely minimal shoes. Now he’s a sprinter versus a distance runner, so there are different things at play. But I interviewed him on the Smart Athlete Podcast, another show I do here on this channel. At the end of this episode, I’m going to link to my interview with Steven.

[00:05:13] You should check him out in our conversation because he talks about why you may be interested in a shoe over a maximal shoe. But one of the things I learned when I was working full time fitting people with medical conditions to runners, the whole gamut of people with shoes is that it’s such a personal choice. There are good guidelines to kind of go with, and that’s why I love to talk about, hence this video.

[00:05:42] But nothing is going to be absolutely perfect for every single person. Case in point myself, I really like these. As I showed you earlier, these four millimeter old school. Now they’re old school. They’re like five years old shoes. I’ve been collecting them as I can, but then I’ve ended up with an achilles issue, so I’ve ended up going with a higher drop shoe, more traditional, kind of fit to try to deal with that nagging injury that’s kind of causing me issues.

[00:06:15] One thing that I found in another study along these lines is that there’s really no incidence of higher injury because of minimal or maximal shoes. Running efficiency, that’s a different study, different time to find support for that later. But thinking about what shoe is right for everybody and are minimal shoes dead? I would say no, because that study, as mentioned, didn’t show that there’s an incidence of injury increase in either shoe.

[00:06:50] However, it comes with a caveat in that if you’re like me and you run very often, if you’re using the more minimal shoes, then you do have a slight increase in the probability of injury versus the more maximal shoes.

[00:07:07] This is why I and people like Jason Fitzgerald from Strength Running, so just wearing different kinds of shoes on different days because we are so prone to overuse injuries because we do the same thing over and over for thousands of steps, day in, day out. When you wear a different shoes, that helps your body adapt to different situations instead of wearing basically the same firing pattern and the same stressors from day in, day out.

[00:07:38] So is the minimal shoe dead? I can’t quite put a lid on it yet, but I can say that I think there’s room for everybody. And if you haven’t tried the more maximal shoes, again, the original study I talked about from Exeter University between mid and maximal, not necessarily minimal shoes.

[00:08:02] If you haven’t tried a highly cushioned shoe yet, give it a go. Check out your local running store, see what they have, try some stuff on, see how you feel, and then see how you adapt in training. Because again, each of us is going to have different needs, especially when it comes to long term training and even on different days.

[00:08:22] So if you want to hear somebody who is a big proponent of the minimalist movement and minimal shoes, check out that interview I did with Steven Sashen from Xero Shoes. Really intelligent, wonderful, funny guy, great conversation I had right here in the sunroom, actually, which is unusual for the podcast. So check that out and I’ll see you on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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