What are Maximalist Running Shoes?

[00:00:00] You are trying to figure out what’s the right shoe for me and you’ve seen these shoes, you’ve seen them talked about maximalist running shoes, you’re like, What the heck is that? Well, that’s all we’re going to talk about today.

[00:00:23] If you haven’t been with me here on the channel before, I’m Jesse Funk, this is a show I call runner’s high. And you probably don’t know if you haven’t been here before that. I actually spent a number of years fitting shoes for people with both medical conditions and runners and everything in between. So when we talk about shoes and we’re trying to figure out what the heck is a maximalist running shoe? Well, that is something that is easily answered in that if you’ve ever seen the brand hoka, that’s a maximalist running shoe.

[00:00:50] Now the interior design of the shoe is going to differ. Now this, in particular, is the shoe I run in currently or one of the shoes that I run in currently. Pro tip from running coach Jason Fitzgerald, who I interviewed on the Smart Athlete podcast again here on this channel, hit subscribe stick around and go check that out here in a minute.

[00:01:10] He reminded me of the adage of having multiple pairs of shoes and multiple styles of shoes to run in. I’ve really taken that to heart. This is my main trainer. These have been discontinued as of like four or five years ago, and I’m still holding on to some new pairs because they are so important to me.

[00:01:27] But back to our topic at hand. Maximalist running shoes. So this actually has a relatively plush midsole, which is this foam here, but a maximal shoes even going to be thicker. And that’s one of the defining characteristics it’s easy to see on the outside of these big, chunky foamy bottoms that have all kinds of cushioning, but it doesn’t stop there. There’s actually other things going on. So with that means supposedly you get more stability, you get a bigger, chunky base. So that makes it supposedly more stable.

[00:02:04] There’s also often going to be some kind of support structure in the middle of the shoe. So again, this is the midsole of this chunk. So inside of this, sorry, I’m not going to cut my shoe open inside of the maximal running shoes. There’s some kind of support to try to help your foot do a natural running motion. If you’ve ever tried the Hokas on, they kind of roll you forward. I don’t particularly like it. That’s my own personal bend.

But there are people that swear by them and love them. The other thing is there often be a low heel to toe drop, meaning despite having all that cushioning, the heel to toe drop is when the difference between the padding here and here is minimal. So what you do is you take the amount of padding here, you subtract off this and that’s the difference. So like this is a four millimeter drop shoe, which is a relatively low drop and you’ll find something similar or zero drop, which means they have the same amount of cushioning in the front in the back, in maximalist running shoes.

[00:03:07] Now, two and a half minutes in, or maybe three minutes in or so, we basically covered it. But that’s really not the whole story you have to figure out. Are they for you? And I have some personal opinions on that. I guess I’ll share, but also some opinions of other peoples that have looked into them further.

[00:03:27] As I mentioned, they’re not particularly for me. I’ve worked hard to make my running form much better than it was previously when I ran kind of awkwardly to have better ground feel. So these kind of shoes were developed for ultra runners to deal with the long distances that they’re putting in and the kind of fatigue that sets in and then how form breaks down over that time.

[00:03:53] My personal qualm with this issue is if you’re running for so long that your form is breaking down and your body is no longer able to handle proper running. You should probably stop. And maybe that’s not popular for me to say, maybe I’m going to have some ultra runners, you know, after me now.

[00:04:16] I am not against ultra running, but there is a fine line between pushing your limits and inviting injury. So trying to make equipment to adapt to the failings of your own body, which should be your engine forward? I’m skeptical about it. Have I done an ultra? No.

[00:04:43] So maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but just from the semi outside looking in, I’m concerned about the situation now.

[00:04:51] There actually have been some people that have looked at these shoes in a more scientific setting, trying to figure out velocity of impact, which is how hard somebody is hitting the ground. What happens with them and the person doing the study put people in these shoes, random sets of runners. There’s like 15 15 women, 15 men, something like that, and found that they often actually ended up hitting the ground harder in these shoes than in something with less padding.

The runners themselves may not experience as many issues because of the cushioning. But I think there’s something to be said about the lack of ground feel that comes along with adding all of the padding because ground feel that when you touch the ground with your feet and your ability to adapt to the terrain, whether it’s flat or rocky or concave or, you know, slanted, whatever it is that helps you run the short version, it helps you know how to run what muscles to activate.

So when you don’t have that ground feel in your pushing harder, that means you’re not necessarily activating all of the muscles you need to run maximally. Which is ironic, I suppose, because it’s maximalist running shoes. The issue that they found also is that people ended up overpromising in these shoes, which is a natural motion for foot to roll from the outside to the inside.

[00:06:20] So with the shoe, here it comes. You heel down and then it rolls towards your big toe. That’s a pronation. Overpronation is when that happens in your foot collapses too far to the inside. Then they gave these people that were these test subjects. These shoes let them run them for six weeks and found no changes. They continued to overpronate. There wasn’t an adapt adaptation that happened.

[00:06:45] Now we do have to take some of these studies with a grain of salt. Often they’re only able to get so many people, and it’s a very small sample size to, say, 15 versus all of the people that swear by these kind of shoes.

[00:06:58] But I think a lot of the rules come back to one of my number one things I say about shoes in general, and that is try the shoes on. How do you feel? Do they feel good? Go with that shoe. That’s kind of the golden rule with shoe fitting. So when you go into your local running store and somebody makes suggestions, they’re going to make suggestions based on what your foot shape like, what are the shoes shaped like? What kind of running are you doing? How long are you running for? How do you walk? How do you run? They’re going to ask all these questions. Figure out shoe size, try to fit you appropriately.

[00:07:38] But ultimately it comes down to does this shoe feel good on your foot with a maximum running shoe? If it feels good, you’re probably fine. The only thing I would say is keep your old shoes, as Jason Fitzgerald on the Smart Athlete podcast suggested, have multiple shoes to run in. So if you’re breaking into a new shoes, get them before you need to and then you’re changing styles and you can kind of break yourself into that new running shoe if you’re going the other direction, however, and this is a caveat that isn’t really maximal.

[00:08:14] But if you’re going the minimal direction, you need to spend more time probably breaking it in because it’s going to require more muscle coordination, more muscle strength as you have less padding to be forgiving. So that’s what a maximal running shoe is. That’s kind of my opinion on where they fit in, who they work for. Ultimately, again, if it feels good for you, go with it, try it out.

[00:08:40] There are plenty of people that swear by them. But at the same time, if somebody else likes the shoe, much like this is my friend, this is not the shoe for everybody. It’s just what works for me. So if you find the thing that works for you and your friends all swear by them. Do the thing that works for you, no matter what that is.

[00:09:01] I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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