When we talk about running “naturally”, we are talking about running as you might if you took your shoes off and ran barefoot. You’ll find that your forefoot or midfoot will hit the ground first, whereas in padded running shoes, it’s your heel that will hit the ground first. Your centre of gravity will also be further forward.
There is lots of evidence that moving to a more natural running style can help prevent injuries.
Most modern running shoes are heavily padded, especially in the heel. This causes the heel to be higher than the toe, and the heel to strike the ground first. The height difference between the toe and heel is called a differential. The lower the differential, the more natural your running style can be. Inov-8 have shoes ranging from 9mm of differential, which is similar to many modern running shoes, to a 0mm differential, which we’d call a pure minimalist shoe.
Many runners are advised to wear shoes that control excessive pronation, or the “roll” of the foot as it lands. This rolling in of the foot optimally distributes the forces of impact, and it's critical to proper shock absorption. However, there is little scientific evidence suggesting that this helps prevent any injury, and injury rates remain the same. Instead of controlling pronation through a stiff, heavy shoe, inov-8 believes in changing your running style, and improving your overall muscle control in your leg. As your shoes become more minimalist your feet, calves and particularly your Achilles tendon must work harder to control stability, which requires stronger muscles and more flexible tendons.
While a more natural running style can help you prevent injuries, it’s really important to make a planned transition into your new shoes. If you suddenly change from cushioned (heel striking) footwear to minimalist (forefoot striking) footwear you are likely to get injured due to the new stresses on your body.
For example, it’s not advisable to move directly from a highly cushioned shoe into a shoe with a 0 differential. You’ll want to be looking at reducing the differential first, perhaps reducing from 9mm to 6mm for example. You will also want to gradually get your body used to the new shoes and the new style of running they will cause. You might start with running just 5 minutes, twice a week, in your new shoes, and gradually building this up over 3 or 4 months until you are only running in your new shoes. Inov-8 have a Transition Training Program you can follow to help the transition into minimalist running shoes without injury.