I’m currently investigating this question and the answer may turn out, surprisingly, to be: “none”.

I’ve been aware, for about 10 years, of research showing that athletes had higher injury rates with the expensive, state of the art, built up shoes than they did with cheaper, simpler shoes. Now a number of athletes are moving toward “minimalist” or “barefoot” approaches to footwear.

There was a very interesting presentation at our last ICAK meeting in June showing that shoes that are inflexible or have a “rise” (the difference between the sole thickness at the ball of the foot and the heel) of more than 7mm (about 1/4 inch) would cause problems with gait mechanism. The arm and leg and wrist and ankle muscles work together to give us a smooth, healthy walking or running motion. It seems that the wrong kind of footwear interferes with this normal “teamwork” between the upper and lower body.

Since I got back from the meeting, I’ve been reviewing the literature and research on this issue. I’ve also been experimenting on myself and my family with minimalist or barefoot styles. I’ll have more as we go along.

One thing I can tell you is that, if you’re used to a lot of support, the muscles in your feet may have atrophied and, if you try to go minimalist or barefoot, you need to do it slowly. This is also true if you’re used to a large “rise” between the toe and the heel. All your muscles work differently when your heel is on the level your were born with. With heels over about 1/2 inch, muscles in the back of your legs may shorten and may need to be stretched out for barefoot styles to be comfortable. This is especially true if if you want to run in barefoot styles and injury can result from too quick a transition to barefoot or minimalist running.

In future posts I’ll talk more about my own experiences and different shoes I’ve tried both “high end” and “low end” price-wise.