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What Are Maximalist Running Shoes?

As I’ve discovered since I got into running, there are so many unique terms that you have to learn, and “maximalist running shoe” is definitely one of them. From its title, you might be thinking, I definitely want that because who wouldn’t want the max?

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 a Hoka One One shoe with its bright colors and maximum cushioning.

Hoka One One is definitely the most popular brand for maximalist running shoes, but other brands do make similar models. 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 are shoes with lots of cushioning that tend to be especially popular with master’s 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 as in the case for one Hoka One One shoe with a stack height of 37mm and 30mm respectively.

Some examples of maximalist shoes include Hoka One One Bondi 6, 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 the goofy looking shoes that were made of super light material and promised to get you as close to running barefoot as possible.

Around that time, Hoka One One also did something revolutionary and designed a super cushioned shoe that had 2-3 times as much cushioning as other running shoes with ultrarunners who were running over 30 miles at a time in mind.

Just like minimalist shoes looked different, so did maximalist shoes, especially Hoka One One with the distinctive rockers. 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?

For runners who swear by their maximalist shoes, they love the shock absorption that they receive from the extra cushioning, helping them to mitigate injuries from overuse. These 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 have to stand 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 advantages to maximalist shoes, like anything in life. First, because there is plenty of 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 the knee load by increasing the impact forces as a runner’s body adapts to the cushiony pillow of a maximalist shoe and risk 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 likely to deform, especially over things like rocks, since it’s so soft.

This means that unlike a harder midsole of a traditional shoe 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 will make everything more comfortable.

Additionally, because they were originally designed for ultrarunners, they are still great for long distances, so 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. For example, one study found that maximalist running shoes help to decrease plantar loading, helpful if you’re trying to recover from a foot injury.

They also work well for runners with arthritic toes because there is extra cushioning in the shoe.

Conclusion

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

For example, I can 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