A few years ago, thanks to the book ‘Born to Run,’ the barefoot/minimalist running movement was the next big thing. While minimalism sort of fell off the radar, it did give way to something that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere: natural running.
What’s the difference, you ask? Minimalism was wearing very little to nothing underfoot – or actually running barefoot. Natural running is working toward that barefoot feeling but being realistic about it. Most runners need at least some sort of cushion underfoot. And if you run in a city or town on sidewalks, running barefoot is generally not an attractive option. So instead of going totally barefoot, running shoe companies started looking at things like stack height and offset.
WHAT DOES STACK HEIGHT MEAN
‘Stack height’ refers to the distance that your foot sits from the ground surface in a pair of running shoes. The amount of material that sits between your foot and the ground is measured in millimeters at two key points: heel and toe.
WHAT DOES OFFSET MEAN
The ‘Offset’ is the difference between the stack height at the heel and the stack height at the toe. Traditionally, running shoes always had about a 2:1 heel-to-toe ratio (most coming in about 24mm-12mm). This helped facilitate a heel strike (and made it difficult to not heel strike in most cases)
One running shoe company that is committed to helping people run more naturally without going shoeless is ALTRA.
The founders of Altra had a big problem with the way traditional running shoes were shaped. “They noticed that the design of most running shoes was hurting runners more than helping them. Elevated heels promote high-impact landing, and narrow toe boxes squeeze the toes out of their natural position.”
It makes sense if you really think about it. Look at your feet when you stand barefoot. Your toes go where they want to go. Then look at the toe box of a lot of running shoes. You’ll see that in a lot of cases, the toe box doesn’t exactly match up with the anatomy of the foot. So Altra created the ‘FootShape’ toe box:
Aside from changing the shape of the toe box, Altra lowered the offset in their running shoes to ZERO. What does that do, exactly?
Well, a lot. Lowering the offset in a pair of running shoes helps your body transition away from a hard heel strike into more of a midfoot/forefoot strike. Studies have shown that a heel strike while running decreases running efficiency while also putting higher impact forces on the body.
To test this idea yourself, take your shoes off. Try running around the house, taking careful attention to strike on your heel. Then, do the same run around the house, making sure to hit more closely to your forefoot.
Do you feel a difference in how hard you’re coming down with each stride? You probably do. Now, natural running is not for everyone. It is something most people have to train their bodies into. But the feedback we have received from runners who have transitioned to lower offset running shoes is almost always positive.
In a pair of Altra running shoes, your heel sits at the exact same height as your forefoot. But rather than going barefoot or minimal cushioning, Altra gives you the amount of cushion you’d expect in your traditional running shoes. So you’re gaining a more efficient way of running without losing shock absorption in the shoe itself.
Altra running shoes are available at all Marathon Sports locations and at marathonsports.com. If you have questions about natural running, we’re your resource! Stop by any of our store locations to chat.
[All images courtesy of Altra]