Also called Barefoot Shoes, minimalist shoes are a special category of minimalism because they have a different meaning than what we usually mean by minimalism.
With minimalism the goal is to have fewer material things. Minimalist footwear could mean owning fewer pairs of shoes, or owning shoes that were as small as possible.
But in this case, minimalist shoes means minimal interference with the natural function of the feet. It refers to footwear that allows as much free movement of your natural, unshod foot as possible, while offering protection from injury (stepping on sharp things and having something heavy dropped on your foot) as well as protection from extreme heat and cold.
Minimal footwear allows your feet to behave as feet while still offering a buffer between the unnatural detritus found in the modern world that can cause injury.
Katy Bowman, Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear.
There are 4 main components of minimalist shoes: the sole, the heel, the toe box and the upper.
1. The Sole
Regular shoes are generally rigid and, sometimes, thick. Minimalist shoes have flexible soles and are usually thin enough to feel the contours of the ground through them and allows the foot to respond to the terrain. Ideally the soles are flexible so you can fold it.
2. The Heel
The next important thing about minimalist shoes is that the heel is non-existent. Just calling them ‘flats’ is misleading because many ‘flats’ have a very small rise. Minimalist shoes have a zero drop or a neutral heel. This is important because it allows your body to initiate movements from neutral, or an aligned position. A heel, even a small one, pitches the body weight forward and small adjustments are made in the joints to counteract it. These compensations have a physiological cost.
3. The Toe Box
Minimalist Shoes also have a larger toe box than traditional shoes, because toes are meant to move in all directions while moving, but most traditional shoes shape the toes into some fashionable shape that is considered attractive.
4. The Upper
The upper part of the shoe is why flip flops and slip-ons do not make good minimalist shoes. The upper must secure the shoe to the foot without requiring the wearer to grip their toes or tense the shin to keep the shoe on while walking.
3 More Reasons to Wear Minimalists Shoes.
- To regain foot mobility. The greater the mobility in your feet, the less likely you are to have knee, hip, lower back, pelvic floor, and psoas pain/problems.
- To regain lost calf and hamstring length. Your muscles adapt to whatever position you put them in most often. Wearing a positive heeled shoe (and also prolonged sitting) shortens the sarcomeres in the hamstrings and calves. There are a number of reasons why a person might want to reverse this, such as performing better on the ‘sit and rise test’ (how easily can you get to the floor or even touch your toes?), you want to squat, you have urinary incontinence or pelvic floor pain.
- To get a better booty. When you don’t use the back of your legs much there usually a corresponding lack of development in the gluteal muscles, and you end up with a flat butt.
Transitioning to Minimalist
If you’ve worn rigid soled shoes with a narrow toe box and a heel (even a small one) all your life, make your transition slowly.
1. Begin by lowering the height of your heel a bit and get used to that.
2. Don’t trade in your shoes for flip flops (or any other shoe that requires toe grip to keep them on your feet, because you are just trading in one problem for another.
3. Be aware that your walking gait pattern will probably change so be mindful of doing hard hiking, pounding on city pavement or running while wearing minimal shoes until you build up more mobility (and strength) in your feet.
Some Brands of Minimalist Shoes
Also, stop by my Pinterest page on minimalist shoes I own and ones I admire.