Cushion is in.
“Maximalist” running shoe brand HOKA ONE ONE is growing fast. Traditional players like Brooks and Asics are adding super-cushioned models to new lines, while Altra has steadily added sole thickness to its traditionally minimal shoes.
Vibram, meanwhile, is handing out money hand over fist in a class action lawsuit brought by wearers of the minimalist FiveFingers shoes.
It seems the minimalist running shoe trend is a thing of the past. But is it?
Not so fast, says Dan Steinbrecher, a footwear buyer at Twin Cities Running Company in Maple Grove, Minnesota.
“The pendulum swings back and forth, and every time, whether the fad is minimalism or maximalism, we take away some things,” he says.
“The last go-around [toward minimalism] caused some companies to reconsider the weight of their shoes, and to consider natural body mechanics instead of trying to make shoes that dictate where the foot falls and when.”
In other words, while running shoe companies are backing away from truly minimalist shoes – those models with both low cushion and low heel-to-toe drops – they took some lessons from the minimalist wave and are now incorporating them into higher-cushioned shoes. It’s the best of both worlds.
In addition to lighter shoes, the lasting impacts of minimalism include a lower drop on even highly-cushioned shoes.
Prior to the minimalist running movement, shoes typically propped a user’s heel 10 or 12 millimeters above the position of their toes, a setup that can encourage heel-striking, the boogeyman of the natural- and minimal-running movement. Minimal shoes lowered this differential to four or even zero millimeters to encourage foot-strikes on the midfoot or forefoot, under a runner’s center of gravity.
While Altra’s shoes have gone high-cushion, the brand has retained its signature 0mm differential; the highest differential from “maximalist” brand Hoka is 6mm, and most of its shoes fall between 4mm and 5mm.
And while some traditional brands began offering more minimal models, Saucony went all-in, lowering the differential even on its highly-structured shoes to 8mm. The new thesis for shoemakers is that a midfoot strike plus high cushion is the optimal combination for injury prevention.
As running technology and technique evolve, fads will come and go, and whole brands may blossom then fade away entirely. But, ultimately, all runners – even those who steer clear of this or that trend – will be affected by the technological advances made at the fringes of the running world.
“Extreme minimalism may be dead,” Steinbrecher says. “But in the aftermath, we’ve gotten some great new products thanks to the reevaluation it caused.”
–Alex Kurt has worked in the running industry for nearly three years, most recently as a Field Service Representative for HOKA ONE ONE. He has contributed to Trail Runner Magazine, Running Times, and Roots Rated. He lives in Minneapolis.