When the minimalist shoe trend started sweeping the running world about seven years ago, runners of all types—young, old, first-timers, experienced, trusting, skeptical—took a crack at it. Initially it made sense, right? A more natural running gait and a closer connection to the ground was intuitive, it helped improve running form and felt great at first.
OK, so the lack of cushioning and protection took its toll on thousands of runners. One massive class-action lawsuit later, minimalism is, well, a more minimal part of the running scene nowadays. (However, there are still runners who prefer minimal models and there are great minimally designed running shoes available in 2015.)
So what about maximalism? Is it just the latest trend? Is doomed to fall into the same cycle as minimalism or will it continue growing? Most industry experts we talked to have said they believe it’s here to stay. Although Hoka One One is the brand most closely associated with maximally cushioned shoes (and its sales grew at more than 400 percent between 2013 and 2014), several other manufacturers have developed models with innovative cushioning materials and thicker midsole heights in recent years, including adidas, Brooks, Altra, ASICS, Skechers, Pearl Izumi, New Balance, Saucony and Salomon.
That’s not a guarantee the category will stick around—remember, many of the same brands jumped on the minimalist trend—but certainly the variation in product offerings suggests it isn’t going away anytime soon.
“I think it’s definitely going to last,” says Jim Jurcevich, one of the co-owners of Ohio’s Columbus Running Company, the 2014 Running Store of the Year. “I think there are still a lot of people discovering Hokas. With the development of a wider range of models, it will open up new opportunities for more runners.”
When Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud unleashed the first oversized Hokas on the running world in 2010, it seemed like the antithesis to minimalism. But there are plenty of proponents of max-cushioned shoes who believe the extra protection underfoot still allows for a natural running gait. To Hoka’s credit, it has continued to evolve maximalism (see the lightweight Clifton and Challenger ATR shoes as examples) and it is continuing to innovate its shoe line in other ways too (see its forthcoming racing flats and training spikes as examples).
Plus, the story that no brand can really tell is that many runners long suffering from aches and pains have found maximalist shoes to be a godsend. (For legal reasons, no brand wants risk making such a claim, especially after what happened to Vibram and the claims it made about its FiveFingers shoes.) That’s not to suggest it’s the end-all, be-all for all runners—and yes, there are doubters and runners who have tried max-cushioned shoes and gone back to more traditional models—but clearly there are a lot of runners who have found max-cushion shoes to work for them, just as many runners still run in minimalist shoes. And isn’t the customer always right?
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“It’s not a trend, it’s here to stay,” says Henry Guzman, co-owner of Flatirons Running in Boulder, Colo. “But it’s not just the thickness of the midsole, it’s how the shoe is made and how the rockered profile accommodates all gait styles. The cushioning and protection don’t inhibit how you run. That’s what allows you to run—and run long especially—without getting sore or beat-up.”
If nothing else, if maximally cushioned shoes have the ability to extend a runner’s physical longevity or get more people to run more often, the category will remain viable for the foreseeable future.
Based on that, it appears maximalism is not merely a fad. It’s here to stay.
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