Athletic shoe trends come and go. Five years ago, serious runners were switching to low-profile minimalist shoes. Now the pendulum has swung toward wearing a supercushioned maximalist model. What should you choose? A University of Cincinnati study this spring found that for people without foot injuries, a lighter, more minimal sneaker with a lower heel helps make feet stronger and more responsive. Transitioning slowly, over at least three months, is crucial.
"You never want to make a radical switch from your go-to sneakers to a barely-there shoe," says biomechanist Katy Bowman, author of Whole Body Barefoot, explaining that a sudden change can cause tendon strains and stress fractures. Minimalist also looks different depending on the activity you do.
A lightweight shoe for a high-impact sport that requires quick side-to-side cuts (tennis, for example) will still have dense foam at the sides for good lateral support. A minimalist shoe for long-distance running may also have more cushioning (though not a higher heel) to help absorb impact. And for strength training, a proper low-profile shoe will be flat and light to keep the heel anchored to the floor. Wear a new shoe only once or twice a week for at least a month, to let your feet adapt.