Barefoot running is nothing new—elite track athletes and marathoners have been running barefoot or in ultralight, minimalist racing flats since the early part of the twentieth century.
This sparked fascination among some ultramarathoners and in 2004, Vibram came out with the FiveFingers, a rubber-soled shoe with separate toe compartments designed to protect the pads of your feet while simulating the experience of running barefoot.
After Christopher McDougall’s bestselling book “Born to Run” launched running barefoot or with minimalist shoes into the mainstream in 2009, even recreational runners began looking to minimalist shoes as a way to run faster and with fewer injuries.
Altra launched its first minimalist shoe in 2010, coining the phrase “zero- drop,” which refers to the difference in elevation between where a runner’s toes sit in a shoe and where their heel sits. In contrast, a traditional running shoe has a drop of about 12mm, with the heel sitting higher than the toes. Unlike the Vibram FiveFingers, Altra’s shoes kept a more traditional shape except for a wider toe box, to let runners spread their toes and increase stability when landing on the ball of their foot.
The same year, Hoka One One launched its first low drop shoe, the Mafate, calling it a “maximalist” running shoe. With a drop height of less than 5mm and a revolutionary stack height (the height in millimeters at which a runner’s foot sits above the ground in a given shoe) of nearly two-inches, it was designed to be lightweight and to offer extra padding for running long distances.
Ten years ago, only industry nerds would know those terms. Today? Stack height and drop are labeled next to almost every shoe on the wall in Vermont’s leading retail stores.
Here are a few new minimalist and maximalist shoes for 2019, plus some brand new models that are inspired by them.
How to Make the Switch to Zero Drop
1. Get a gait analysis
A physical therapist can teach you about the latent biomechanical tendencies that affect your gait and how they do or don’t make you more prone to certain injuries and what type of shoe you should look for. “I like to recommend a 100,000-mile check- up to the athletes I work with. Kind of like an oil change,” says Davis. And it’s a good idea to get instruction from a pro—a coach or a physical therapist—who can guide you as you embark on re-learning how to run.
2. Take it slow
If you are a heel striker, expect it to take longer. “The transition should take three to six months,” says Stanton. He recommends track workouts, such as hundred-meter intervals, alternated by days with long walks. “Then begin to run very gradually on trails or other soft surfaces, as if you were starting from scratch.” Wait for a lull in your running schedule to make a change to your form.
3. Start with a low-drop shoe
Consider starting out with a low-drop shoe with a little stack height to help you ease into longer runs without injury.
5 New Minimalist and Maximalist Shoes for 2019
There’s a new crop of zero drop, maximalist and minimalist shoes out for this season. The most important thing, thought, is that they fit well.
(Road shoe, Drop: 0mm, Stack height: 23mm, Price: $90)
New for 2019, this is a top recommendation for people who want to experiment with running on their midfoot or want to use an affordable zero drop shoe for occasional workouts to improve their running form at the track.
(Road shoe, Drop: 7mm, Stack height: 23mm, Price: $149)
What Skirack’s Kyle Darling calls a “minimalist- maximalist” shoe, this model uses brand new Helion superfoam, which provides lightweight cushioning in the form of pods that flex underfoot.
(Trail shoe, Drop: 5mm, Stack height: 25mm, Price: $130)
Topo was founded by Tony Post who helped launch Vibram FiveFingers. New for 2019, the Ultraventure features a Vibram sole and a wide toebox with a narrower heel than most Altra models. It’s suitable for someone who heel strikes on pavement but wants a lower drop shoe with a lot of control for running on their mid or forefoot on steep, mountain trails. It’s also compatible with gaiters. One reviewer said, “If Hoka One One and Altra had a baby, this would be it.”
(Minimalist trail shoe, Drop: 0mm, Stack height: 2-5mm, Price: $99.99)
This minimalist shoe is made of vegan materials and has a 5,000-mile sole warranty. Built on the same model as Xero’s popular Prio, this features 3mm lugs, 3mm of foam padding and a removable 2mm insole.
Featured Photo: A runner takes to the trails in the Xero Terraflex. Photo courtesy XeroShoes.