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What Are Maximalist Running Shoes?

There are so many unique terms that you have to learn when you get into running. I went through this myself. I thought I had heard just about everything during the first couple of years. After reading so much and learning so much, what else was there? But then… “Maximalist Running Shoe.” From the name, you might be thinking, “I definitely want that. Wait…what is ‘That’?” I mean, who wouldn’t want the max? Whatever the max might be.

In this article, we’ll talk about maximalist running shoes and the type of people who should wear them. If you’re not exactly sure what a maximalist shoe looks like, just think of Hoka One One, with its maximum cushioning and sky-high stack height.

Hoka is definitely the most popular brand for maximalist running shoes, but other brands do make similar models. The original maximal shoes are built around plush cushioning. But with the advent of carbon-plate shoes such as the Nike Next%, big stack heights are entering the mainstream, so the maximalists’ time is coming. By the end of this article, you’ll know if you’re someone who should consider buying a pair of Hokas or any kind of maximalist shoe.

What are Maximalist Running Shoes?

Maximalist running shoes feature lots of cushioning. Lots of cushioning. The super-plush ride tends to be especially popular with masters runners. They are shoes with a high stack height, which refers to shoe material between your foot and the ground.

Typically, shoes have two different stack heights: one in the heel and one in the forefoot. With the exception of shoes that are “zero drop” in which both stack heights are equal, typically running shoes have a slightly higher stack height in the heel.

This is because runners tend to land more on their heels, needing a little extra cushioning there. For example, a neutral or traditional running shoe might have a stack height of 28mm in the heel and 20mm in the forefoot.

Maximalist shoes are much more likely to have a stack height over 30mm in both heel and foot. One Hoka One One shoe is designed with stack heights of 37mm and 30mm respectively.

Some examples of maximalist shoes include Hoka One One Bondi 7, likely the most popular maximalist shoe brand, Sketchers GoRun Ultra 2, New Balance Fresh Foam More v2, and ASICS 33-M.

All you need to do if you want to know if running shoes that you have or are looking at are maximalist shoes is look at the stack height. If it’s around or over 30mm, they are maximalist.

What is the History of Maximalist Shoes?

In the 2000s, Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run popularized minimalist running shoes. Yep, that’s right—the opposite, more or less, of maximalist shoes. Known for their low heel-to-toe drop, meaning that the stack heights are similar, minimalist shoes transformed the running world.

Soon way more people were trying goofy-looking shoes made of super-light material and promising to get you as close to running barefoot as possible.

Around that time, Hoka One One also did something revolutionary: design a super-cushioned shoe that had 2-3 times as much cushioning as other running shoes. Ultrarunners running over 30 miles at a time were the target market.

Just as minimalist shoes looked different, so did maximalist shoes. Hoka One One is known for their exaggerated stack heights, but distinctive rocker outsoles also contributed to their revolutionary aesthetic. They quickly became popular for older runners, ultrarunners who loved the extra cushioning, and anyone else who wanted a soft, pillowy shoe.

What are Some Benefits of Maximalist Shoes?

Runners who swear by their maximalist shoes love the shock absorption from the extra cushioning, helping them to mitigate injuries from overuse. The following are some of the advantages runners who wear maximalist shoes can experience.

Increased Cushioning

With the higher cushioning in maximalist shoes, runners can experience less impact on their legs, knees, and feet. Additionally, the extra cushioning means that the shoes feel good walking or running.

Indeed, some people even wear maximalist running shoes on a regular basis for activities that don’t include running. For example, they are very popular with nurses who are on their feet for long periods of time.

For many people, having more cushioning means fewer injuries, and that’s obviously a benefit that every runner wants!

Increased Stability

For runners who need a little extra stability, maximalist shoes are great because they have higher side walls, meaning that your feet will stay nice and secure in the shoes. If you’re older or have had an ankle or other foot injury, you might appreciate this added stability.

Can Use With Orthotics

If you need orthotics, most maximalist running shoes can accommodate them given that the shoes tend to be a little bit wider. One podiatrist even notes that orthotics often go hand-in-hand with a maximalist shoe approach.

Are There Any Disadvantages of Maximalist Shoes?

Yes, there are some disadvantages to maximalist shoes, like anything in life. First, because there is so much extra cushioning, they can weaken arch and toe strength. It’s the opposite of what minimalist shoes purport to do—make your foot stronger like it would be naturally.

Additionally, some people argue that maximalist shoes can increase knee load, by increasing the impact forces as a runner’s body adapts to the cushiony pillow of a maximalist shoe. This risks injuring the knee.

For example, one study found that maximalist shoes were more likely to cause a stiffer leg than traditional running shoes, perhaps indicating why cushioned shoes do not eliminate impact-related injuries.

Finally, there is an increased chance for a twisted ankle because the foam that keeps your foot nice and safe in the shoe is more likely to deform, especially over things like rocks, since it’s so soft.

This means that unlike the harder midsoles of traditional shoes that would protect your ankle, a maximalist running shoe can leave your ankle exposed if the foam cushioning warps at all.

What are the Best Uses for Maximalist Shoes?

While you can wear maximalist shoes all the time as trainers and racing shoes, they might be better served as specialized shoes. For example, they are great for recovery runs because they make everything more comfortable.

Additionally, because they were originally designed for ultrarunners, they are still great for long distances. You can always pull them out for your weekend long runs.

Finally, they are great for runners recovering from injuries, especially foot injuries like plantar fasciitis. One study found that maximalist running shoes help to decrease plantar loading, helpful if you’re trying to recover from overuse.

They also work well for runners with arthritic toes, because of the extra cushioning.

Conclusion

As I’ve come to discover, almost everything in running has its benefits at different times and for different people. I have several friends who are masters runners who wear maximalist running shoes and nothing else. It seems to work great for them, and keeps them from injury.

However, I also know that I lean toward a neutral/minimalist shoe because I don’t like all that extra stuff (and I haven’t dealt with injuries). But I can see where maximalist shoes could be useful to me and definitely to others depending on their needs.

I’ll readily admit that running with maximalist shoes for a recovery run sounds like heaven: I’d rather run walking on pillows than super flat shoes!

The Wired Runner