Some athletes and sports physiologists are convinced that amateur athletes should gradually move away from maximally cushioned running shoes toward lighter, easier running shoes with minimal sole thickness difference.
Of course, it’s not about the novice runner putting on ultra-light marathon shoes for the first time in his life and beating records in them, earning all sorts of injuries along the way. But to remain dependent on fancy sneakers that forgive all mistakes in technique and footwork is the opposite extreme.
The problem is that such shoes not only impede the development and recovery of weaknesses formed as a consequence of degradation of the musculoskeletal system, due to lifestyle and generally accepted standards of footwear, but also make them even weaker. The predictable result is an increased susceptibility to injury.
The longer a runner has used maximum cushioning and supportive shoes, the longer it will take to safely transition to minimalist running shoes.
These statements make sense, because it is true that overly thick and soft soles dull the foot’s ability to feel the surface and respond to its characteristics (including hardness).
However, hardly all of us were born for long daily runs on asphalt and concrete, so, in my opinion, it is rather dangerous and shortsighted to get rid of the shock-absorbing properties of soles of shoes altogether and go into complete minimalism. You should not use sneakers like Fivefingers and other ballet slippers for long distances, even if your landing technique is perfect.
There are tribes of people who live and run great distances on natural surfaces as hard as asphalt. But there is an obvious difference between them and the amateur runner who has sat in an office half his life.
In some study, it was found that the difference in impact load experienced by the foot between running on asphalt and running on grass did not exceed 15%. This indicates excellent adaptability and excellent musculoskeletal function. In fact, the head between the two surfaces will feel the difference somewhat more than 15%. But the experiment involved experienced runners whose technique was not in doubt.
With beginner runners this percentage can reach much higher values with all the resulting injuries, especially when landing on the heel. Therefore, the use of additional protection and foot cushioning is necessary, at least for the time to improve running technique and strengthen the musculoskeletal system. Of course, if we are talking about classical running on asphalt.
In general, it is certainly good and right to strive to minimize running shoes, regardless of your goals. But the main problem is that amateurs make abrupt and rapid transitions without reducing their current level of exertion at all, and often even increasing it.
Even an experienced runner, when switching to minimal running, is forced to change the motor pattern and involve the feet, which until then might have been rather passive elements of the biomechanical complex. You have to sharply increase the load on some muscle groups and ligaments, such as the Achilles and fascia of the foot.
In light of all of the above, the purchase of lightweight sneakers should be preceded by a smooth transition with a reduction in the height difference of the sole. From 1 cm to 4 mm or less, up to complete absence. Additionally it is necessary to develop the foot in parallel with special exercises. At the same time, the load and distance should not increase, but rather decrease smoothly along with the minimization of shoes.
Only after a complete transition to a new type of running shoe can you very carefully start to return to the usual exercises. But do it in the same way as in the very first training, increasing the distance by no more than 10% per week. Of course, this is all true only if you master safe running and landing techniques.