While the maximalist vs minimalist debate rages. it stands to reason that most new runners are clueless about what the argument is. For beginners, running in a pair of regular shoes is more than enough, but those who have their eyes set on being a runner for a long time need to understand the basic difference.
Maximalists shoes are those with aggressive outsoles, and extra cushioning. These are recommended for those with stability issues or for extreme pronators as they counter that effect. Here’s what a maximalist shoe by the leading brand Hoka looks like. Key characteristics also include less flexibility in the body of the shoe
In contrast, minimalist shoes have a sleeker profile, less cushioning, and are clearly built for speed rather than comfort of the run. They are highly flexible too, and you can twist most minimalist shoes into a circle with your hands. Another key characteristic is the light-weight of the shoe. This is a typical minimalist shoe by New Balance, though some brands like Vibram with their Five-Fingers range take that form factor to the extreme.
The minimalist camp has burgeoned in recent times thanks to the belief that your foot does a great job of stabilising yourself naturally. If you are a pronator, your body has adjusted to that fact through many years of conditioning. So the idea is to let it move freely and allow near-full contact with the ground rather than putting layers of foam and rubber in the middle.
But the hard fact is that despite the studies showing how minimalist shoes change your stride, reduce impact or lower injury risk, there are enough studies on the opposite end of the spectrum too. But shoe enthusiasts struggled to find a right definition of minimalist shoes to have a thorough look at its effectiveness. The thing is the minimalist shoes tag can cover a majority of running shoes in the market. To find a definition, a team at Laval University used an elaborate process backed by experts to come up with a definition, as quoted in Runner’s World: “Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.”
They also came up with the Minimalist Index for a shoe, derived from points assigned to the model for weight, height, heel to toe drop, motion control and stability tech and flexibility. Thereby we get a range of shoes in the minimalist camp that range from ultra-minimalist to not-so-minimalist. This makes it easy for the uninformed runner to make an intelligent choice.
As for maximalist shoes, they have become the preferred option for ultra-runners as the increased cushioning is great to counter long hours of pounding the road. But they have become a common sight at marathons too. While minimalist shoes do make sense for experienced runners, those still learning the nuances would appreciate the ‘external’ support of a maximalist shoe. There’s nothing wrong in any choice at the end of the day, it’s all down to your personal comfort level, but many runners have suggested that maximalist shoes are the training wheels for runners. Once you start noticing the boost in your speed, and the correctness of your running form, it may be time to go minimalist.