What Are Maximalist Running Shoes?


Early in the 2000s, there was a movement towards minimalist running shoes. Think lightweight, barely-there cushioning, natural-feel shoes.

But recently, there’s been a shift towards the opposite: maximalist running shoes.

So what are maximalist running shoes, and is it worth getting a pair?

They’re not for everyone, but some runners may find the comfort, design, and feel of the shoes are right for them.

This article will cover what you need to know about maximalist—or max-cushion—running shoes. We cover everything from the benefits to risks and the type of runner who should consider them.

What Are Maximalist Running Shoes?

Maximalist running shoes are shoes with a high stack height and plenty of cushioning.

In most cases, the “max” refers to the cushioning—these shoes have more (often A LOT more) than regular running shoes. As far as stack height, maximalist running shoes have a stack height of 30 mm or more.

While cushioning is the main thing that qualifies a shoe as being maximalist, modern max-cushion shoes also feature dynamic foams that decrease weight but keep the plush cushioning.

Max-cushion shoes became popular when two long-time runners joined together and started a new footwear company. They’d both been wearing Salomon shoes but found that while they were great, they weren’t quite meeting their needs. And so Hoka One, now Hoka, born. From there, other brands started creating their own max-cushioned shoes.

The Benefits of Maximalist Shoes

While maximalist running shoes aren’t for everyone, they have certain benefits. Here’s what you can expect when you wear max-cushioned shoes.

Decreased Risk of Joint Pain and Injury

As they have a thick chunk of cushioning, maximalist shoes absorb shock better than shoes with less padding. This means that a lot of the shock of impact goes into your cushioning and helps provide rebound on the toe-off.

It also means that your joints and muscles are more protected from vibration as you run. You may find that joint pain and muscle strains become a thing of the past when you’re wearing max-cushioned shoes, as long as they have the right support for your feet.

We should note that some experts argue this point and may, in fact, lead to different types of injuries. We’ll go into more detail further in this article.

High Level of Comfort

Maximalist shoes aren’t always soft underfoot. Although there’s plenty of cushioning, the padding can be firm, so don’t expect pillowy comfort with every pair of maximalist shoes!

However, thanks to their superior shock-absorbing abilities, max-cushioned shoes tend to be very comfortable. You won’t feel the bumps and pokes of the ground under your feet, so your comfort level should increase on your runs.

Increased Stability

It might seem like shoes with a higher platform would be less stable. However, many runners have noted that max-cushion shoes seem surprisingly stable, which may be due to their high sidewalls and heel counters, which lock your foot into the shoe.

Many maximalist shoes also have a wider-than-average base, which adds inherent stability. This type of shoe does take some getting used to, but it could be beneficial to those who need a stable shoe.

It’s also important to note that maximalist shoes can come in neutral and stability models. If you need a shoe for overpronation, you should be able to find comfortable maximalist stability shoes, like the Hoka Gaviota or Hoka Arahi.

Easy to Use With Orthotics

Most maximalist shoes are very compatible with custom orthotics. They often have plenty of space inside the shoe and are also usually designed with a wide base, which means even high-profile orthotics should fit nicely.

Are There Any Negative to Maximalist Shoes?

There’s very little research on maximalist shoes, so almost all the pros and cons come from real people’s practical experiences. Here are some potential cons to wearing max-cushioned running shoes.

Harder Landings and Potential Injury

The thick layer of cushioning in maximalist running shoes means there’s much less chance of you feeling the ground under your feet. This can make it hard to anticipate your own landing, so you might hit the ground harder than usual.

Due to this way of landing, you may begin to pronate more than usual. This study indicated that changing to a pair of maximalist running shoes caused the runners to begin to overpronate, which puts them at high risk of injury.

There’s also a chance that landing harder will reduce the positive shock-absorbing effect of the sizable chunk of the cushion. The increased landing force could still strain the joints, leading to injury.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to gradually increase the shoe’s stack height so your feet can adapt. Don’t go from a minimalist shoe to a max-cushioned shoe right off the bat, or your chance of injury could be high.

May Weaken Foot Muscles

The more cushioning you have under your foot, the less your arch and toes feel the ground. This means your foot and leg muscles can weaken over time, as they’re no longer moving in reaction to the ground feel.

If you wear max-cushioned shoes, it’s a good idea to do foot exercises to ensure that your foot muscles stay strong and continue to support you as you walk and run.

Can Make Legs Stiff

Some research suggests that maximalist shoes may cause stiff legs in some people. One study suggests that the impact on the feet and joints is amplified at certain speeds, which may negate the shock-absorbing effects of the cushioning.

However, the research is still minimal. While the above-mentioned study draws attention to a possible risk of maximalist shoes, there’s not enough information to assume that this is likely to happen with everyone.

Heavier Than Regular Running Shoes

Although many brands use technology to make their cushioning lighter and lighter, adding more to a shoe naturally increases its weight.

This won’t necessarily be a problem for everyone, though. Runners used to minimalist shoes may feel like maximalist running shoes weigh them down. If you’re aiming for speed, then this type of shoe is likely to feel like it’s dragging you down.

Who Should Consider Maximalist Shoes?

Max-cushion running shoes might sound great, but they’re not necessarily helpful for everyone. For example, runners who prefer shorter distances might not feel the benefits.

That said, you may benefit from maximum-cushioned shoes if you are a high-mileage runner or prone to developing impact-related injuries.

Long-Distance Runners

Since their conception, maximalist running shoes have been seen at more ultra-running races than any other race. Some races have shown approximately half the runners wearing Hokas, the most well-known maximalist running shoes.

But any longer-distance runner can benefit from the added protection that max-cushioned running shoes offer. The excess padding provides good shock absorption and can help to reduce fatigue in your legs and feet, leading to better performances over long distances.

As long distance races usually aren’t run at the same pace as shorter ones, the impact on the ground is a little less as you land. This means there’s less chance of developing impact-related injuries.

Runners Prone to Impact Injuries

Runners who often suffer from impact-related injuries, such as shin splints, stress fractures, or runners’ knee, may benefit from the shock absorption maximalist running shoes offer.

It’s important to notice that running at high speeds will still increase the impact on your feet. However, it’s generally accepted that max-cushioned shoes are unsuitable for shorter, speedier distances thanks to their heavier weight.

Those Who Want Dedicated Recovery Run Shoes

Max-cushioned shoes can be a good addition to your gear, specifically recovery running shoes. Recovery runs are meant to be slow and easy, so the weight of your shoes matters less.

You shouldn’t be aiming for speed on recovery or weekly long run. So a maximalist shoe can be an excellent choice to wear for these runs, as it will protect your feet from impact—on both long and short distances—as well as reducing fatigue in your muscles, allowing you to perform better.

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Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.