Footwear. This fashionable and functional interface between the foot and the ground is often associated with structure, cushion and support. From an early age we have been told that shoes are designed for and necessary to support the health of our feet. Thick soles, narrow toe boxes & excessive cushioning have all become the norm in shoe design but critics say they are actually making our feet weaker.
With foot strength being a necessary part of healthy posture and movement, a disruptive type of footwear has emerged. Enter a category of footwear designed to strengthen our feet.
Meet the Minimal Shoe
Launching in 2009, the minimal shoe market took the footwear industry by storm. One of the dominating shoes at that time was Vibram Five Fingers which featured no cushion, no heel toe drop, no support and pretty much no structure. It was simply – minimal.
This minimal design and lack of structure allows freedom of movement and what foot enthusiasts would call “natural foot function”. All features of the minimal shoe are designed to allow for optimization of natural foot strength and mobility.
The research seems to suggest so.
A 2019 study found that after 6 months of wearing Vivo Barefoot shoes for 70% of the time when shod resulted in a 60% increase in toe flexion strength with toe flexion strength being important to balance and propulsion. Toe flexion strength functionally is extremely important as toe strength is how we balance, push off when we walk and release power. It is essentially the most important action our foot muscles can do.
Another 2019 study by Ridget et al. observed similar results in intrinsic muscle strength after 8 weeks of progressive minimal shoe walking up to 7,000 steps a day. Both of these studies support the increased demand on intrinsic foot muscle strength when in minimal shoes and the resulting foot strength.
Are you ready to make the transition but not sure which minimal shoe to switch to?
A few of our favorite minimal shoes are listed below and are broken down into a couple categories: