Overweight runners should think twice about switching to “minimalist” running shoes, which may increase the risk of injury, suggests an Australian study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. These ultra-thin shoes are meant to mimic barefoot movement, which is supposed to be a safer, more natural way to run, though there’s little solid evidence supporting that notion. But because the shoes have no cushioning and can alter running stride and encourage landing mid-foot or forefoot (rather than on the rear foot), researchers have been concerned that they can increase injuries.
The study included 61 trained male distance runners (average age 27), half of whom were assigned minimalist shoes, half regular running shoes; they gradually increased their time running in the new shoes. During 26 weeks of training, those wearing minimalist shoes were 64 percent more likely to experience running-related pain (calf, ankle, or shin) or injury (mostly involving the foot or lower leg). Higher weekly distances (more than about 22 miles) and heavier body weight (especially over about 190 pounds) increased the risk of injury.
“Runners transitioning to minimalist shoes should not increase weekly minimalist shoe distance by more than 1.7 km [1 mile] each week,” the researchers concluded. “Heavier runners should consider avoiding running in minimalist shoes.”