Youth and Minimalist Shoes

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Ask the Coach

I am a high-school cross-country and track coach, and usually recommend …

Illustration by Jeremy Duncan

I am a high-school cross-country and track coach, and usually recommend that my runners purchase a solid pair of trainers for practice and cross-country spikes for meets. But some are asking if it’s OK to use a minimalist trainer. Should I direct them that way, or are they young enough that it may have a negative impact on their feet and/or training?

—Chad Wooderson, Blue Springs, MO
Most runners should train in as little shoe as they can get away with. This goes for high-school track stars and shuffling old ultrarunners alike. A simple fact is that shoes affect how you run. Too much shoe can have a negative impact on you running form. For example a large heel-rise, cushioned-sole shoe can cause runners to become comfortable with over striding and heel striking. In minimal shoes, the muscles of the feet and lower legs are recruited for stabilization, which in turn reduces injury and allows higher training volume and perhaps faster times.

High-school cross-country coach and professional ultrarunner Sean Meissner of Sisters, Oregon, has been asked the same question, and says, “It’s a very rare occasion when I recommend heavy-duty trainers to a young, fit, high-school harrier.” He recommends that athletes gradually step down from their current shoe to a more minimal model. Meissner believes this will make the transition to spikes much easier.

And, he says, “Not only do light shoes make runners feel fast, they also encourage better form.” Since minimalist shoes have an even (or more even) drop from heel to forefoot, they encourage an athlete to run more “natural.” Without big heel cushioning, you tend to land mid- to forefoot.

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