What are we talking about when we talk about maximal shoes? Let’s talk first of all about a relatively young category of shoes, invented – the legend says – by two Salomon men: we’re talking about Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud, who founded Hoka One One in 2010. They had observed a trend quite evident in other sports that consisted of the oversizing of the tools used: wide snow skis, bikes with big tires (always to use on the snow) to name a few, and they thought, “Why not try it with shoes too?” Which ones could adapt to experimentation? Mmm, extreme running disciplines: ultramarathons!
Indeed, the early adopters of this type of shoe were ultrarunners: in the U.S., almost half of the competitors at these types of races now have maximal shoes. People who run hundreds of miles and rightly have certain needs.
The name “maximal” will have already made you think of its opposite, which is “minimal.” Did they have anything to do with it? Are they called that precisely to imply that they are the exact opposite?
These shoes in truth are not a negation of natural, if anything they represent a more evolved form of it. And they are not just more comfortable shoes (since they have a lot of foam underneath): they are more protective, which is different.
What they have in common with minimal
Of the minimal ones, they retain some features and implement others:
- Have the same drop (heel-to-toe difference) around or less than 6 mm
- Have a wide toe (thus leading the runner to run forefoot, more naturally)
- are very light
And what’s different about them?
The main difference is that they have important midsoles. Very important. In fact, we are talking about several mm of nice solid foam (the Hoka One One, perhaps the most extreme, have midsoles 25 to 35 mm thick). They do not convey any feeling of the ground you are running on, as opposed to the minimal ones, which must by vocation make you feel it.
The midsole and outsole are not only thicker but also have a larger footprint. Everything in short is in proportion, and so, in proportion, is the support surface, otherwise wearing them and running on them might feel unstable, as if you were on little stilts. Instead, increasing the surface area increases grip and … stability.
From ultras to marathons
The fact that maximals protect the feet of those who run hundreds of kilometers well does not mean that they cannot do the same for those who run less, for example, those who run marathons, or half-marathons: in fact, interest is spreading fast, and more and more people are being seen using them even in physically demanding road races but until a few years ago-and still now- tackled with regular shoes.
In an ascending scale, the pattern is as follows:
minimal<traditional running (with support)<maximal
Therefore, it is normal for some maximals to encroach into the domain of those with support.
Who makes maximal shoes?
Many companies are offering maximal models, naturally declined according to the philosophy of each individual brand: in addition to the aforementioned Hoka One One, Asics, Altra, New Balance with the Fresh Foam 980, Brooks with the Trascend, Puma with the Faas 1000.
What kind of running are they suitable for?
Born for ultras, they then began to be used for faster and shorter races as well, from the marathon on down to the opposite extreme, that is, sprint races. Have you ever seen what shoes are used for speed? The exact opposite of maximals: shoes with nonexistent soles, often spiked for running on the track but still not designed to be comfortable, partly because they have to be worn for a short time. Well: Leo Manzano, silver medalist at the 2012 Olympics in the 1500 trains with Hoka’s (they even made him a studded prototype) and other elite athletes use them in the recovery phase from more or less serious injuries, precisely to avoid overloading the injured parts.
Since they are then so protective, they are suitable for trail running (such as the Tecnica Supreme Max 2.0 W), which is done on very treacherous surfaces and subjects the runner’s body to a lot of mechanical stress.
Who are they for?
As mentioned above, they are ideal for those who do very long runs. The golden rule of trying them first always applies.
But they are just as good for people who do a lot of walking or hiking or Nordic walking-the comfort and protection they provide are hard to find in other shoes.
And what’s more: these are singular shoes that will not fail to arouse amazement. They will always be a good topic of discussion, which you now know all about :)