Sole Man: 12 Things About Maximalist Shoes

Hoka Conquest ($170; 11.8 oz. men's size 9.0, 9.6 o.z., women's size 7.0).

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Wondering what maximalist shoes are all about? Here are some answers.

The category of high cushion or “maximalist” running shoes appears ready to explode with almost a dozen brands offering at least one model with oversized cushioning. With some of the new shoes already at stores and more arriving every week, here are some thoughts about the category, the trend and what it all might mean for you.

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1. What is maximalism?

Frenchmen Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, both longtime mountain runners and former Salomon footwear guys, started Hoka One One four years ago based on the concept of oversized design constructs utilized in powder skis, full suspension mountain bikes, oversized tennis rackets and, lately, fat bikes for mountain biking in the snow. In each of those applications, it’s all about having a larger “sweet spot” that aids in performance. Same with “maximal” or “high cushion” running shoes, but it’s only partly about the copious amounts of cushioning underfoot. It also has to do with dynamic midsole foams and, in most cases, modern profiles and shapes. “It’s definitely not just about the stack heights,” says Jason Hill, an inside sales manager for Hoka.

2. Is maximalism the next great thing? Or is it a quirky trend like minimalism? Or worse yet, a short-lived gimmick?

That depends on whether you’re an optimist, a cynic or a hopeless romantic. Word to the wise: maximalist shoes are not for everyone, just as minimalist shoes were not for everyone. And just as with any running shoe, you need to find a shoe that fits your foot and works with your gait and the type of running you’ll be doing. Maximalism is just another option out there. Some runners will love ‘em, some runners won’t. No need to throw stones if it’s not your shoe of choice. (I only mention that because this is the question that will evoke the most spirited social media responses.)

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3. Are maximalist shoes only for ultrarunners?

It is true that maximalist shoes have, so far, been more prevalent at ultrarunning races than anywhere else. In fact, a conservative estimate at some of the country’s biggest ultra races last year would have shown that 40 to 60 percent of the runners were wearing Hokas. Why? Because that extra cushion is appreciated during long hours of pounding. But that principle also applies to running long distances on the roads, which is why more and more marathoners, half marathoners and long-distance triathletes can also be seen wearing Hokas. (Some of the elite American marathoners training in Boulder, Colo., do their long runs and recovery runs in Hokas.) Sage Canaday, a 2:16 marathoner, recently placed second in the Carlsbad Marathon in 2:22:14 wearing a new, lightweight pair of Hoka Huakas. Although he’s not training for marathons at the moment, he did manage to split a 4:54 mile late in the race. Maximalist shoes are increasingly seen at half marathons and marathons, including in every starting wave of this year’s Boston Marathon.

4. Are there any scientific studies tied to running in maximalist types of shoes?

Nope. It doesn’t appear there have been any independent laboratory studies to date. Several shoe manufacturers have conducted their own research within the scope of product development (and engaged some leading biomechanics experts), but those tests, not surprisingly, typically support the shoe company’s marketing pitch. There have been plenty who have offered informed opinions on each side.

5. Are maximalist shoes the opposite of minimalist shoes?

Yes and no. Certainly the high-off-the-ground concept is the antithesis of what the low-to-the-ground sensation of what barely-there minimalist shoes are all about. However, maximalist shoes weren’t designed with a “more-is-more” design motif. Actually, many maximalist shoes have taken a lot from modern minimalist designs—using materials that are as light as possible, avoiding excess materials and incorporating low to moderate heel-toe offsets (anywhere from 0 to 8mm).

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6. How many companies are producing maximalist shoe models?

That depends on what the definition of maximalism is. Just like minimalism, the parameters are a bit arbitrary. But, generally speaking, several brands have at least one model—Hoka One One, Brooks, Skechers, Puma, Pearl Izumi, Vasque, New Balance and Altra. When it comes to new foams, the Adidas Boost foam (which debuted last spring) has some next-generation qualities, even though it has been used in a wide range of shoes from the Adizero Adios Boost racing flats to the maximalist-esque Boost 2 trainer shoes. Pearl Izumi’s Road M2 and Scott’s eRide AeroFoam Trainer 2 also feature high cushioning profiles with new foam configurations, though neither are as thick as some of their contemporaries. And you could make an argument that Nike’s Lunar Eclipse 4 is maximal in nature because of its chunky midsole and it’s dynamic stabilizing platform.

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