Let me tell you a little about feet: they’re generally treated second class, some times they smell funny, some people have fetishes over them (not I), some people have nasty looking feet and some people pay upwards of $100 to get a foot massage, bath, scrub and apply fancy paint to their toenails (otherwise known as a pedicure). Some may pamper and some may brutalize their feet but one thing’s for certain: you need them!
THE BACKSTORY (skip ahead to Review if you just want the straight review):
When I was about 18 I faced a back injury. I was chilling, chatting with my girlfriend beside me and my bro behind me on my bed, and in true brotherly fashion, Brandon said something smart ass about me. Of course, the only response warranted would be for me to turn around and give him a good beating! Well, I turned around, arm swinging and all of a sudden a loud RIP, POP, GRIND! Yikes! WTF was that and why am I on the floor crying in brutal pain?
The truth is I was never told what happened. X-rays, physio assessments, no real answer. I saw my doctor a few days after the injury. He suggested physio and gave me some anti-inflammitories. All I knew was I couldn’t walk without extreme pain in my butt cheek. Literally: a pain in the ass! Long story short the injury went unchecked for 6 months when I’d finally had enough and got back into light squatting and doing all I could to get my glute stronger. I also went to see a chiropractor who at the time said two things to me: “You don’t have enough muscle on you to hold your skeletal structure in its correct alignment.” I was 5’10” and 136lbs. Scrawny. And, “you’ll most likely need orthotics one day.”
What? Orthotics? What does my feet have to do with my friggin’ aching glute (and now lower back)?!?
Well, it turned out the injury was probably caused by my foot arches collapsing over time, combined with chronically tight hamstrings leading to a string of muscles just ready to pop. So that explosive swing towards my brother was what did it.
9 years later, I do a change of career from a desk job to my current profession where I barely sit down. At the gym I was working at they had a 20+ step staircase which I frequented upwards of 30 times a day. Within 3 months I developed plantar faciitis (burning, painful strain on the plantar/arch tendon at bottom of foot). I literally crawled out of bed one morning, stood up, screamed and dropped to the ground. My feet were not able to support my own weight without brutal pain.
Again to the doctor, again with the anti-inflammitories and sure enough my chiro 10 years ago was right: The prescription was orthotics. So I got them. Luckily at the time I had extended health coverage so the $500 cost was reimbursed. So Kintec Foot Labs did me up a pair and let me tell you: orthotics suck! Changing your entire skeletal structure to be aligned (your bones now move and sit differently) is a process I hated. First my feet still hurt, then my knees, then my lower back, then my upper back, then it went back down to my knees. But you know what…after 6 months I was able to pull off 12-16hr days at work, all on my feet and I was okay. Sure my feet were sore sometimes but who’s wouldn’t be.
No problem, I’ll just wear orthotics the rest of my life. Problem solved. Right?
But I came to hate that idea too. Being limited by my platypus feet. But I found a cool trick: that when I deadlifted (which was often) if I did so in socks or bare feet I could build back up that arch. Really? I could fix this issue? I made good progress with this trick. I was able to get out of my orthotics and just into comfy training shoes half of my day. I was more than happy with that.
Then I read this review: http://ericcressey.com/the-new-balance-minimus-the-best-minimalist-shoe and I decided to walk into a New Balance store.
Now, New Balance shoes have just never worked for me, regardless of the variety. Saucony, Nike or more recently Under Armour just worked better. But 3 months back I tried on a pair of the New Balance Minimus Road shoe (lime/blue one in pic below). Angels started singing, harps playing and a bright light shined from my feet. They felt perfect. First time. Only a few know, but for me shoe shopping was always a nightmare, just like jean shopping, I would have to try on like 30 pairs to get the right one. But first tie up of this shoe and I was lunging, hockey jumping, squatting, vertical jumping and literally scaring the hell out of the staff of the store. These were the shoes for me!
What’s this? A warning on the shoe? That I should slowly acclimate and transition to this shoe starting with only 10% of my running time. Well, I don’t run, I’m just standing around working out so screw it, I’ll just wear them ALL the time. Forget my orthotics. I can’t explain it but I felt every single step of my stride. You literally grip the ground aggressively with each stride. It also forces a mid-foot strike versus the typical heel-toe stride which means more efficient power transfer and less knee strain.
BUT, my feet hurt! Not in an injured way, more like the I just walked 500km straight sort of way. That warning about how it worked the feet, heel and calve muscles a lot more started making sense. AND I started getting a tweaky knee feeling. Whoops, maybe these weren’t the shoes for me. But, then I remembered, here I am again changing how my bones align, how my feet function and maybe I need to have some patience before really putting out a review of this shoe I so wanted to love.
I haven’t worn my orthotics once in 3 months! I don’t need to anymore; in fact they are uncomfortable. I fixed the issue! My feet actually have an arch and it keeps getting stronger!!
New Balance just released their Cross Trainer version of this shoe (my blue/white and my gal’s black/blue ones in picture above) designed specifically for weight training and similar activities. These shoes are a lot closer to Nike Free’s in feel. They don’t emphasize the gripping effect or mid-foot strike as much so they would make a bad shoe for running (especially if you pronate/ankle sag in upon landing)!
What I’ve learned:
1) Feet are very important. Improper alignment of the skeletal structure from the feet up can be the major cause of knee, hip and lower back pain. Being an active person and having a very active job also means I need to take better care of my feet.
2) Get shoes specific to your function. If you’re running, wear a runner (such as the suggested New Balance Minimus Road shoe). If you’re weight training, you need a VERY flat shoe with great lateral support (such as the suggested New Balance Minimus Cross Training shoe). If you’re trail running there is a Minimus Trail shoe. There is also a Minimus Lifestyle shoe for just bombing around in.
3) Spend the money. Look, you can buy a shoe designed for running but then proceed to run, weight lift, walk around and whatever in. That shoe is going to get wrecked within 3-4 months. But you’ve spent $100+ for the shoes so you’re going to stretch that out more like 6-12 months so for 6 months or more you’re destroying your feet. I know it sucks but buy 2 to 3 pairs of shoes, specific to function and wear them only for their intended use. At the end of the day, those 2-3 pairs will last you 2-5x longer essentially costing you the same or less all the while improving your foot health.
About other clients who’ve bought or used the shoe:
Curtis “Big C” Pyke: This guy was having bad ass calve pain during the running training we were doing. Being overweight didn’t help but his cardio capacity was improving so much it was this calve pain stopping him, not his heart rate. His proprioception (balancing signals) were bunk in his old runners as they lifted his heel so far off the ground you’d think his ankles were breakdancing while squatting. So I dragged him down to the New Balance store in Surrey (64 ave/King George) and made him try on a pair of the Minimus Road shoes. He was impressed. But didn’t dig the lime green shoes like mine so ordered a pair of the black/red. The first day he wore them while weight training his ankles stopped quivering. He was also quicker and lighter on his feet. His running wasn’t killing him. It was the shoes.
Jay Kelly: He’s an orthotic victim too. In fact I’m pretty sure he bailed from doing the Spartan Race this year because he didn’t want to run in the mud with his orthotics and god forbid he run in shoes without them! Being the same size foot as I, last week I made him wear my Cross Trainer Minimus shoes for his entire leg workout and aside from doing absolutely EVERYTHING better he was literally dancing between sets hopping around like a maniac. Oh, and he added 15lbs to his best deadlift, setting a new personal recored (PR) for fun. So let’s see, the shoes gave his feet energy back to dance around, he didn’t once bitch about his feet not being in orthotics, and he set a PR by adding 15lbs to his deadlift. Hmmmm, not too shabby.
Tarah Dionne: A avid Nike Free enthusiast (seriously, have you talked with people who love this shoe, you think they were married to it!), when I got my Minimus Road shoe, I had her try on a pair too. She hated it! Right off the bat, she knew it wasn’t for her. Okay, it won’t work for everyone. But her Nike Free’s were dying. Then when I got my Minimus Cross Trainers she tried those too: NOW WE HAD A WIN! They are everything the Nike Free’s are and even better lateral stabilization via the insane gripping power of the bottom of the shoe! I had her lunge, squat, hockey jump, etc around the store (as I tend to do) and in my professional opinion I saw a major improvement in her movement patterns.
You owe it to your walking slaves (your feet) to get into a New Balance store to try on the Minimus line of shoes! And listen to me on this about all shoes: if they don’t feel like magic when you run around the store, squatting, lunging and jumping all over the place (you do that, right?!) then don’t buy them. And if you’re currently in orthotics don’t just stop wearing them. You may need them in your dress shoes or similarly flat, hard rubber, unsupportive shoes. You’ll know if the shoe is right for you or it it’s not. If the Minimus line is not, then look into the dozen other barefoot inspired products currently on the market.
You’ll thank me later when you’re setting PR’s and feeling more energetic. Just know this is a process and it’s going to take a few months. Time and money well invested!