Do you know about the minimalist footwear trend? I wrote about it near the end of this blog if you feel like doing some research.

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But if you don’t, here is a quick summary: take as much substance as you can away from a running shoe, leaving only a thin sheet of rubber under your feet and some laces to tie it on with. And there you have it: minimalist footwear. These shoes are supposed to help you “get back to nature” and run “as close to barefoot as possible”. And it’s an idea that has caught on like a house on fire. I am not totally against the minimalist trend myself, but I do think it has its dangers. For example: when you sacrifice bulk in your running shoes, you also loose shock absorption.  Some people can get used to this type of set-up; those with perfect biomechanics can afford to let their feet hit the ground with little or no protection.

Not everyone is so lucky however. People who have extra body weight, poor alignment, or high mileage on difficult terrain, have to protect their joints. Sometimes minimalist footwear isn’t going to cut it. A lack of shock absorption under these circumstances can quickly lead to injury. These people need cushion, serious cushion.

A company named HOKA ONE ONE figured this out. More specifically, two shoe designers named Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud. These two guys decided to design a shoe that could reduce fatigue, impact and muscle strain in runners. The name HOKA is a Maori word that means something like “now is time to fly”. Their shoes are intended to be used for distance running, any length ranging from casual 5Ks to ultra-marathons.

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The secret behind the success of HOKA ONE ONE, is the huge puffy midsoles. This allows the outsole to be about 50% larger than traditional running shoes. But somehow, the shoes remain light and nimble. The shoes are also designed to have a slight rocker sole to reduce the energy needed to toe off, at the same time, the flared sole provides excellent medial and lateral stability which reduces both pronation and supination tendencies at heel strike.

HOKA

All good things, right? Right. HOKA ONE ONE is gaining popularity rapidly, especially with the die-hard, mega mileage crowd.  Those runners who tend to be susceptible to overuse injuries are among the brand’s biggest fans. I am a fan myself. Even though I hate running. I got the chance to try on a pair of these cool shoes this spring at the New England shoe show. I was impressed. In the short little jog I took around the convention center I could feel the difference in the shoe’s cushioning. When I took them off and slipped back into my own traditional-style trail runners I had the same disappointed and deflated feeling that you get when you walk on the ground after being on a trampoline for a while.

 Hoka women

Now this blog entry isn’t just supposed to be an infomercial about the virtues of the HOKA ONE ONE brand. Think of this more as an FYI post. I just wanted you all to know that that “minimalist” is not your only option. For every culture there is a counter-culture. I think “maximalist” running shoes might just be the wave of the future – and I wanted to let you all know about it.

Of course, all of this coolness comes with a price. The going rate for a pair of HOKA ONE ONE running shoes is about $160. Which is kind of a lot. Even in the world of expensive running shoes. I think that if this design gains popularity, other brands will begin to mimic the technology and with any luck it will become more affordable.  The marshmallowy midsole is already being experimented with by at least one other brand for about $30 less.

Tecnica version

So keep your eyes peeled. You might see this new trend popping up around you now that you are aware of it. Who knows, maybe you want to try it for yourself.  As a pedorthist, I get a little excited about the therapeutic possibilities of a shoe like this: what if I could use them for an injury recovery shoe? What about the uses for people with degenerative joint issues or arthritis or stress fractures? Wouldn’t those injuries benefit from reduced impact and improved shock absorption? Nobody knows for sure. The technology isn’t old enough to have been thoroughly tested.  But it is innovation and that is exciting…at least to shoe geeks like me.

Walk well.

All pictures and facts from HOKA ONE ONE official website:

http://hokaoneone-na.com/index.html

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