Sole Man: 12 Things About Maximalist Shoes

Brooks Transcend ($160; 12.2 oz., men's size 9.0, 10.1 oz., women's size 7.0)

Table of Contents

7. Aren’t maximalist shoes unstable or tippy because your feet are so high off the ground?

Some can be, but surprisingly most are not. The biggest reason is because of the widebody profile of the shoes. Most maximalist shoes are 20 to 30 percent wider than traditional everyday trainers, and that additional ground contact creates greater stability. Also, companies have tinkered with a variety of foam durometers, i.e., the firmness of the midsole cushion. For example, some of the original Hoka shoes (circa 2011) had super-squishy midsoles and a lack of sidewall support, which could cause them to easily tip on unstable or uneven footing.

8. Don’t maximalist shoes lessen the proprioceptive interaction between your foot and the ground? And does that make you less efficient as a runner?

Yes, maximalist shoes definitely take away the “feel” for the ground. But some runners say that’s an OK trade-off for having so much cushion. As for the question about efficiency, that’s a good question. It certainly seems logical that it could take away from efficiency, although the relatively light weight seems to offset some of the potential drag of a shoe with such enormous girth. However, for ultrarunners, sacrificing a bit of efficiency can be an acceptable tradeoff for long-wearing comfort and potentially less muscle fatigue after 30, 50 or 80 miles of running. As an personal trial of one, last year I ran a series of six 400-meter repeats on a track in as close to 80 seconds as possible with 3 minutes rest after each, but I alternated each loop between Hoka Bondi Speed shoes and Nike Free 3.0 shoes. What did I find? The differentiation in my heart rate at the end of each 400 was inconclusive—it climbed gradually from the first to the last as I became slightly more fatigued, but it wasn’t dramatically higher or lower wearing either pair of shoes. (And yes, I know that’s not a very scientific test.)

9. Are all maximalist shoes the same or similar?

No, not at all. In fact, every model we’ve tested for the spring is slightly to completely different. Some are very soft and marshmallowy, some are springy and resilient and others are much more firm. Some are fairly light, some are fairly heavy. Some are completely neutral, some offer a significant amount of stability.

10. What’s the best way to find the right maximalist shoe for you?

If you’re interested in trying maximalist shoes, the best thing to do is go to a specialty running store and try a few on and see how they feel. Every shoe in the high cushioning category will feel different than your typical training shoes. As with any shoe, you need to consider several factors—fit, feel, ride, price and how that particular shoe fits into your quiver of shoes. (Hint: Just as with any other shoe, you shouldn’t wear a maximalist shoe for every run or every day of the week.)

RELATED: Running Retailers Speak Out On Shoe Trends

11. What do some people love maximalist shoes while others do not?

So far, those that swear by Hokas seem to all suggest that the extra cushion feels great, but it’s the reduction in leg fatigue over longer distances and shorter recovery time that are most appreciated. There’s also the notion that the high level of foam helps slow the rate of pronation in a less harsh way than a firm media post. Those that don’t like them typically say they’re too heavy or too awkward or too expensive. There are plenty of good blogs about maximalism, including this one at Minimalist Running Shoes and this one from Australian ultrarunner and fitness writer Andy DuBois.

12. Are there any track runners training in Hokas?

Yes. Leo Manzano, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the 1,500m run, is training in Hokas. Hoka even made him a pair of spikes. It’s not likely that they’ll go to market with those, but you never know. Also, former Villanova middle-distance runner Nicole Schappert, a 27-year-old post collegiate runner who has found success on the track as a post-collegiate runner, has recently started running in Hokas. She ran near-world-class times in the 800m (2:02) and 1,500m (4:06) in 2012, but was sidelined with injuries much of last year until she started doing some of her training in Hokas. The new Clifton shoe is the lightest and sleekest model of Hoka yet and, while not a track racing flat, it can be used for longer repeats. The brand also recently signed 26-year-old former UConn runner Mike Rutt, who on Feb. 8 helped his New Jersey/New York Track Club surpass the previous world record in the 4×800-meter relay while finishing second to a team that set the new world record.

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