What Are Minimalist Shoes?

While minimalism had been around since the mid-20th century, it became a stronger trend towards the end of the century and into the new millennium. Minimalism’s famous “less is more” aphorism has become “less is now” as an urgent call for today’s consumerist society. In this lifestyle, one has to let go of pain and burden, get rid of discontent, allow more natural movement, and embrace total freedom, among other benefits.

You can feel some of these benefits with “minimalist shoes” — shoes that provide as minimal interference with the feet’s natural movement as possible. They’re shoes that make you almost feel that you’re walking barefoot, allowing your feet to safely and freely explore the joys of natural movement.

Minimalist shoes are generally made from durable but lightweight and flexible material that allows the feet better sensory contact with the ground while protecting them from hazards, such as dirt and sharp pebbles. With their significantly lighter feel, they’re obviously less chunky and clunky than your regular sneakers.

For now, minimalist shoes can be only applied mostly to running shoes – we just can’t foresee minimalist high-heels coming for the time being! 

While the purported benefits of minimalist shoes sound promising, would you want to actually wear them? Because, first of all, they don’t look like the traditional footwear – they are shaped just like a foot, which looks really funny. But if you are a regular runner or a person who loves being outdoors all the time, you will definitely place comfort and natural movement over appearance, right?

If you are interested a getting a pair, you would want to know the two types of minimalist shoes:

  • Barefoot running shoes – They are characterized by their “zero drop” feature – which means the heel of the shoe is at the same height as the ball of the foot for proper posture. This is what your feet do in their unshod state, especially when you’re standing with your bare feet at a level surface. They also don’t offer arch support, minimal cushioning at the heel, and a very thin sole (which measures around 3 to 10 millimeters thick). They have considerably wider toe box for more space and protection to the toes.
  • Minimalist running shoes – They are a cross between traditional running shoes and barefoot running shoes. They have a heel-to-toe drop of between 4 to 8 millimeters, minimal cushioning, and reduced or zero arch support. The toe box is between that of the traditional running shoes and of the barefoot running shoes.

Vibram, an Italian footwear company, was one of the first to launch a minimalist shoe called Vibram FiveFingers in 2005. Initially, they were designed only for yacht racers to maintain their grip on the wet and slippery decks without losing the barefoot experience. Soon, later editions of the Vibram FiveFingers were released as running shoes. Nowadays, minimalist shoes are used as everyday footwear for any purpose – running, water sports, yoga, trekking, traveling, and working out.

Advantages and benefits of minimalist shoes:

  • They help maintain ankle flexibility – since minimalist shoes have little to zero drop, they don’t make you feel like you’re forever standing on a ramp as you’re facing downhill. A conventional running shoe, with its raised heel, puts your calf muscles in a shortened position. Minimalist shoes will never put your calf muscles that way since they don’t have raised heels. The increased ankle flexibility helped by these minimalist shoes also improves the condition of your arches.
  • They help you go pain-free – Athletes, especially runners, prefer to wear as minimal footwear as possible to allow them more freedom of movement with less pain. When walking or running, the heel-to-toe stride results in the impact on the leg, which would be bad for the knee and hip joints. Walking the right way helps you to avoid possible knee and hip pains and injuries, and wearing these minimalist shoes allows you to walk correctly – by landing with the balls of your feet (not the heels first, as most of us think).
  • They promote stronger and healthier feet – Minimalist shoes mirror the natural shape and curve of your feet, allowing them to move as nature intended. Walking in these minimalist shoes has been proven to strengthen foot muscles. It also helps develop your feet correctly, which is good in preventing several foot deformities.
  • Walking and running (almost) barefoot brings you joy – It may sound a bit crazy, but we all know the feeling of walking barefoot. It takes the stress and tension away, bringing you back to the simple joys of everyday life (just think about your childhood, playing in the rain barefoot). Your feet just “breathe” freely when there’s nothing that will otherwise restrict their movement. It feels almost the same when you’re walking in minimalist shoes.
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