Let there be light…
There are some pretty light shoes on the market right now and they may be of some aid to you in your running goals. The questions is, how do you decide which lightweight shoes to buy. Let’s start with a little backstory:
Bill Bowerman started Nike with a simple idea; he figured his athletes could run faster and perform better with lighter footwear. At that time it meant measuring his athletes’ feet and making shoes by hand in his garage with a waffle iron. Now keep in mind that these initial customers were high level college athletes with Olympic aspirations. Most of these runners were young and biomechanically gifted. Then, in the late 60’s, Bill Bowerman made another massive contribution to the fitness world and released a book called Jogging which is often credited with creating the running boom. A million copies of the book sold and the runners that emerged were more recreational, running for fitness benefits rather than times. Footwear soon had to adapt to the changing customer base. Cushioning became more important than weight and companies figured out how to compensate for biomechanical issues by adding stability posts and dual densities into midsole design. The new idea was to create footwear with a focus on keeping people healthy and injury free so they could run/jog with whatever frequency they wanted. Yet, despite it all, consumers still held a certain obsession for lightweight footwear and companies have continued to provide.
So how do you choose which lightweight shoes to buy? How do you know if a lighter shoe will even work for you? And lastly, aren’t all lightweight shoes created equal? The answer to these questions isn’t as simple as you might hope, and a lot comes down to each individual runner’s experiences as well as their motivations. What follows is a breakdown of different lightweight categories and a bit of an explanation as to how they differ from one another.
The Lightweight Trainer – This is exactly what it sounds like – a training shoe that has been stripped down a bit to reduce the overall weight of the shoe. If you’re a runner that seldom has issues and remains injury free, this could be an alternative to your daily training shoe. If you’re a runner that suffers from chronic injuries and always has some sort of nagging issue this could be a secondary shoe to supplement your standard trainer once or twice a week. Uses might include track workouts, up tempo runs, or a race. Like a normal trainer, these shoes come in both neutral and stability options, making it easy to accommodate various foot and arch types. Current options in this category include the Asics DS Trainer, the New Balance 870 and 890, the Mizuno Sayonara, the Adidas Boston Boost, and the Nike Zoom Elite.
Racing Flats – To keep things simple, think of racing flats as an exaggerated form of the previous category. Where they differ is that a lightweight trainer still focuses on providing elements of cushioning and support, whereas a racing flat uses the bare essentials of cushioning to keep things as light as possible. As a result, it’s recommended that even the biomechanically efficient runner should probably save these for race day and the occasional track workout. For the injury prone, this may be a category to avoid all together, unless of course you’ve had success with lightweight trainers and feel you’ve conditioned your foot for that next step. Top performers in this category include the New Balance 1400, the Brooks Racer ST, the Nike Lunaracer, the Asics DS Racer, and the Adidas Adizero Adios.
Minimalist Footwear – Minimal has become a bit of a loaded word because its definition could vary depending on who you’re talking to. For some, minimal strictly refers to the Vibram Five Fingers or New Balance Minimus type shoe where the premise is to get as close to barefoot as possible. Others use the term minimal to refer to the offset of the shoe, which is the difference in the height of the heel versus the height of the forefoot. This means the lower the offset is the more minimal a shoe is. In this case, a shoe could still be well cushioned yet minimal. Examples here include the Saucony Kinvara, Hoka Clifton, or the New Balance 980 Fresh Foam. Finally, some use minimal to describe shoes like the Nike Free 5.0, which are super flexible and mimic the natural movement of the foot. These typically provide some cushioning and feature a fairly standard offset. Regardless of which variation you look at, almost every shoe in this category is still lighter than a traditional trainer, although their primary function isn’t to take seconds off race times as much as it is to promote more of a mid to forefoot style of running. If you’re someone who has remained relatively healthy in traditional footwear, this may be a questionable route to take. If you’re someone who is frequently injured and has had no success with traditional solutions, minimal footwear is an outside-of-the-box approach that may help issues by altering form and changing stress patterns. Depending on your needs, history, and body type there should be some variation of minimal that provides a suitable option.
So how do you choose light? If your motives resemble that of Bill Bowerman, where every second in a race counts, the lightweight trainer or racing flat option is probably the way go. On the other hand, if your goal is to alter your form or experience a more barefoot-like experience, minimal may be worth some experimentation. If after all of this you still have no idea which way you’d like to go, you can always stop into any of the Bryn Mawr Running Co locations and run your story by us. In the end, helping customers figure out what works best is what’s kept us in the running business for over 23 years, so we’re happy to help!