The Great Debate

This week an article was published in the Washington Post about how several of the major shoe companies are moving back to more support, more cushioning and more structure in their shoes. The article also states that the “barefoot” movement is over and that what the public want is a softer and more cushioned ride.

Brands such as Hoka One have been promoting this for some time, and the fact of the matter is that there are quite a few very accomplished runners out there, running some spectacular times with these shoes.

In the article, the President of Hoka One is cited as saying that “Runners get just as injured as they ever did and that we really haven’t improved that in the last 30 years”.

I’d like to point out that it was just over 30 years ago that the revolution in shoe design began. Prior to that, shoes were very basic, had little to no support or cushioning, people were running distances that would now be considered over-training and injury rates were MUCH lower.

We all saw recently that Vibram were taken to court and fined 3.75 million dollars in a class action law suit because they “falsely” claimed their shoes make feet stronger. While this situation is unfortunate for Vibram, it shows all the shoe companies that they need to be careful about what they are spruiking. The fact of the matter is that no shoe by itself will make a foot stronger, however I do believe that a shoe CAN make a foot weaker. In the same way that telling an unfit and overweight person to avoid exercise so they don’t get too tired, will help them improve their situation…

When I shared the Washington Post article on the Brewsters Running facebook page, we got a wide and interesting range of responses. The ones I was most interested in were those people who said something like “but I wear supportive and thick soled shoes, and I don’t get injured”. My response to this is – Fantastic! If you don’t have any problems, then you probably don’t need to change anything. More important than the shoes we wear, is our ability to move efficiently and effectively. Some people have developed a running gait that is exactly that, efficient, and that can happen regardless of the shoes they wear. The only problem is that unless you’ve got the technique down, the shoe can and most often will screw things up and lead to strain, injury, blisters, lost training time and ultimately misery.

Over the last 10 or so years, I’ve made it my mission to be the most educated and informed as I possibly can be when it comes to all things running. I’ve run in all sorts of shoes, I’ve run on all sorts of terrain, over all sorts of distances and I’ve even engineered a Master’s Degree so that I got to study barefoot running and its effect on the body. In addition to this, I studied what makes up good running technique and began coaching and holding technique workshops so that people could prevent the injuries BEFORE they happen. The popularity of these workshops is testament to the fact that people are obviously realising that there may be a better way for them to do things.

With all this in mind, I’ve developed some fairly strong ideas on running shoes, what is ideal and what is less than ideal.

Anyone that reads my stuff will know that I’m a fan of minimalist shoes, simply because I’ve seen more than enough evidence in the research, in my clients and from my own experience to know that it makes a whole lot of sense. I’ve also seen some absolutely beautiful running being done in shoes that are anything but minimal, but the beauty in that running comes from the runner, not the shoe. What I advocate is movement in its most natural form. Unaffected by technology that we are “told” we need. Movement that abides by the laws of nature and allows our body to perform as it was designed. Yes, the right shoes can give us the best opportunity to create that kind of movement, and the wrong ones can make it so much harder.

At the end of the day, I come back to the same story that I’ve told time and again… The human body was designed to run, this now is indisputable fact. Our feet have very specific biomechanical and neurological structures and functions that simply cannot perform as they are required to when we package them with too much “stuff”.

Let your feet do the talking, and if they say they are happy, then you must be doing something right.


Run long,

Shaun Brewster.

Leave A Reply (4 comments so far)

  1. Jane
    3 years ago

    Hey Shaun, I also find the research and the evidence around this topic quite interesting. I also work in health and fitness and have heard arguments at both ends of the scale. In the end, to me it seems to come back to the same simple principle as everything else in life. Everyone is different, and there is no perfect solution that\’s going to suit everyone. I currently wear inov8 talons, brooks puregrit 2s and hokas. Depending on the terrain, the weather, and how I\’m feeling. I\’ve had some pretty annoying injuries in the last few years – some traumatic like falling down a ladder and tearing all the lateral ligaments in my ankle, some as a result of trying to get back into training from that and some just run of the mill issues. Before my ankle injury I was running just in minimalist. Returning to running, I ended up with a stress fracture after nf100 and just couldn\’t run much at all. So I tried hokas and suddenly I could build up mileage again. I don\’t love the feel of them, but they meant I could run. Now I\’ve been back into it a while, I wear the inov8 and Brooks more than the hokas but if I\’m sore and tried, I\’ll listen to my body and run in hokas for a day or two. I think that it\’s a matter of not being bogged down in being too obsessed with thinking that only one way or the other is \’right\’. I\’m not a minimalist, I\’m not a maximalist. I believe that strengthening and technique are important but that being focused on this to the point of ruling out trying anything different may well be counterproductive. I just want to get the best out of my body!

  2. Shaun
    3 years ago

    Great philosophy Jane and I’m sure it will work for you.
    You are right, if your body is telling you something, best you listen!
    It is easy to get caught up in being in one camp or another, when the real goal is to run injury free. I wear only minimalist shoes because that is what works for me. I teach people to run with good technique because that is what has worked for me. I recommend less structured shoes for (most) people, because the science and logic makes sense to me.
    But, it has to work for the individual.
    Thanks very much for your comments!

  3. johnny h:-)
    3 years ago

    Hey, wise words spoken. I also switch between trail runners of differing soles/designs depending on conditions. (N.B. Leadvilles & Minimus/ PearlIzumi N2 & N1) and each have their plus points. I\’ve only just started with the minimalist shoe, jumped on the \’old band wagon\’ a little late it appears, however, I can report personally I have felt a significant improvement which transfers across to all shoes. I feel like the minimalist shoe has \’re-educated\’ my style, my technique, think of a chyropractor putting your back into alignment which you thought was true, you wonder why you didn\’t do it any sooner, that\’s the best way I can explain it. So, I\’m going to pursue the \’natural method\’ that we were all born with…

  4. Lachlan
    3 years ago

    Hey Shaun,
    Nice to see someone who advocates minimalist shoes presenting a calm and reasonable argument :-). I too have a certainly seen a wide spectrum of running patients with various issues related to footwear and agree that minimal is often better if you can get there- ie. strength and form to match the footwear of course. I also reckon that for some the transition is far more work than they can be bothered with which is fine if we find something that suits them. Horses for courses. I think half the controversy is caused by the very nature of online commentary- to many \”black and white\” opinions with no acknowledgement that there is nearly always a grey area! I blame the myopic \”barefoot Nazis\” for a lot of the controversy on this topic!

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