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The New Balance Minimus: The Best Minimalist Training Shoe on the Market

Written on June 30, 2011 at 11:38 pm, by Eric Cressey

I get asked all the time what sneaker I recommend for strength and conditioning.  While no shoe is perfect for everyone and all tasks, I’ve certainly grown to love the more “minimalist” options on the market today that simulate barefoot training.  In addition to strengthening the smaller muscles of the feet, barefoot training “accidentally” improves ankle mobility in athletes who have been stuck in restrictive shoes their entire lives.

That said, not all minimalist footwear options are created equal – and I can speak from experience, as I have tried out just about every version on the market today.

My use of old-school Converse All-Stars (“Chuck Taylors”) could probably be considered my original “foray”into minimalist footwear, as I gravitated toward them because they were flat-soled and allowed me to better drive through my heels while squatting and deadlifting in powerlifting.  Unfortunately, they weren’t very comfortable, weren’t particularly aesthetically appealing, and I couldn’t really do much single-leg work or sprinting in them the way that I wanted to because they just felt restricting at the ankles (admittedly, I had the high-top version).  Plus, I always felt like people automatically lived in my parents’ basement and played Dungeons and Dragons because I wore them.

From there, I went to the Nike Free back in 2006 – and was pretty impressed. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm tailed off quickly, as I beat these sneakers into the ground almost overnight.  The panels on the bottoms would fall off all the time when we pushed the sled (we find 3-4 new “pieces” of Free on the floor at CP every day).

And, the sneaker design actually seemed to “de-evolve,” as the upper and sides seemed to get stiffer while the heel lift increased (pictured below is the 7.0, and while the lower digit versions are a bit less stiff, there still seemed to be a general shift toward “normalcy” in terms of heel lift).

Looking for an alternative, I tried on a Reebok Travel Trainer (yes, only one) on in a store – and quickly returned it to the box before lacing up the other sneaker.  It felt so low in the back that I literally thought I’d come out of the shoe altogether if I tried to run – and this was a sentiment echoed by my wife, who owns a pair and has worn them a whopping one time for a training session…a mistake she’ll never make again, as they are buried in some closet with her 13,000 other pairs of shoes.  Using an excavating helmet and my Dora the Explorer flashlight, I managed to find them:

Then, earlier this year, an employee of Vibram Five Fingers kindly gave me a pair of their shoes to try out.  I really liked it for walking around the facility and training my bilateral lower-body lifts, but was not a fan of it for single-leg training, as it beat up my big toe on the trailing leg in lunges.  I’m also a heavy supinator, so it wasn’t a good fit for me with sprinting.

However, I do love the material on the bottom, as it is one solid piece that couldn’t fall apart like the Frees do.  I also liked the pliability of the upper section; it had just the right amount of give.  That said, like most folks I’ve met who wear the Vibram Five Fingers, I could have done without the “Five Fingers” part, from an aesthetic standpoint. It’s the absolute closest you can get to true barefoot training.

Luckily for me, though, the clouds opened up and I finally found a pair of minimalist sneakers that I love “all-around” when I got hooked up with a pair of the New Balance Minimus.  The new “training” shoe, which is pictured below, actually debuted in July of 2011, with more colors and styles added to the product line in the months that followed.  These bad boys are the real deal: durable bottoms, the same upper “feel” of the Five Fingers (they actually collaborated with Vibram on the trail version, which feels similar to the Five Fingers, minus the toes), and just enough protecting at the big toe to keep me from getting banged up on lunges.  There is also sufficient padding in the back to ensure that you don’t slip out like one does with the Travel Trainer.  Tony and I each have a pair, as does the First Lady of Cressey Performance (for the record, Tony’s are the pink ones):

I’ve used it for everything from sprinting, to jumping, to lifting and felt great.  I feel like an absolute rock star because I don’t have to change footwear halfway through a session in my strength and conditioning program, and while that may be a sad commentary on my life, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a damn good training show that I’ll be rocking for the foreseeable future.  It’s also quickly become the single most popular training shoe on the floor at Cressey Performance on a given day, as many of the athletes have followed our lead and been thrilled with their purchases.

You can check out the different styles of Minimus at NewBalance.com.  I also liked this great interview on the research and development that went into creating the Minimus; it’s worth a read if you’re a geek like me.

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67 Responses to “The New Balance Minimus: The Best Minimalist Training Shoe on the Market”

  1. Grant Says:

    Nice insight on footwear CP

    I personally like Chucks and frees

  2. Donny Irwin Says:

    I bought the Minimus Trail a couple months ago.. I love them.. very light

  3. Marko Says:

    You sure know shoes Eric.

  4. Tristan Says:

    Hey Eric,

    Which type of Minimus do you recommend? There’s trail, road and life.

    Tristan

  5. Juliet Says:

    While I have given my feet a beating in my Vibrams (and I have to fight off feeling like a complete tool every time I wear them because of how they look), I love doing squats, DLs, rows, etc. in them. I feel much more comfortable lifting in them than I have in any other shoe.

    That being said, I can’t run in them. Sprinting, yes. I ended up buying actual running shoes yesterday.

  6. Fredrik Gyllensten Says:

    Have you tried any of the newest Nike Free shoes? They have tons of versions now…

  7. Scott Says:

    You mentioned that you like these shoes even though you’re a heavy supinator. Would that make them appropriate for people with high arches?

    Thanks,

    Scott

  8. Andreas Hessner Says:

    good article EC.
    I personally really like the adidas spezial which is actually a handball shoe worn especially by handball goalkeepers in denmark. for good reason it has become a popular choice for a lot of powerlifters and crossfitters here in denmark. i’ve had mine now i think for 3 years (actually bought them for indoor soccer where they are great too). some two years ago i found that they worked great for lifting as well. here why i think:
    – They too work great for allowing me to drive trough the heels i deadlifts and squatting.
    – the’re great for sprinting as they are originally made for handball and is used a lot for indoor soccer as well in denmark.
    – I’ve found that the’re the best fit for me as a supinator
    – they have just a tiny heel lift which seem to set my bad ankle mobility just a little out of play. therefore i like them for olympic lifts as well (if you don’t want to use the cash for Olympic shoes.
    – they last! i’ve had mine for 3 years and use them almost every day. have used them for both soccer, volleyball, powerlifting, olympic lifting, sledpulling, you name it,. They seem to work well all’round!http://www.billigsport24.dk/pi/Adidas_Handball_Spezial40_37603_65.aspx

  9. Andreas Hessner Says:

    hey i forgot about the cool vintage design. I think adidas has made them since the 80’s.. must be a reason why they still do..

  10. Pete Says:

    Hi Eric

    Is this trainer a trial running shoe? I googled New Balance Minimus and found a trainer that is a running shoe but it mentions the vibram sole so I am guessing it the same one?

    Pete

  11. Jake Says:

    Of course, I just bought some sneaks this week. Maybe I’ll take them back in favor of these!

  12. Matt Says:

    You should try Merrell’s new minimal shoe. The Inov8s are also good, althought they don’t support lateral movement very well.

  13. Eric Cressey Says:

    Pete,

    They actually make several models. This is the “trainer.” It just debuted today:

    http://www.shopnewbalance.com/newbalanceMX20BR.htm

  14. Eric Cressey Says:

    Pete – They have several models of the Minimus. The one is the trainer, which is great for strength training.

  15. Eric Cressey Says:

    Scott – I think that just about any shoe can be made “appropriate” for supinators if you want to put a cheap insole inside them for a bit of padding. It doesn’t change the contour of the show.

    That said, I haven’t had to do that with the Minimus. It’s something I’ll keep an eye on moving forward.

  16. Eric Cressey Says:

    Fredrik – I see them coming through my door every single day, and I gave up on them over a year ago, as I continue to find pieces of them strewn about the facility.

  17. Eric Cressey Says:

    Tristan – Go with with training one: http://www.shopnewbalance.com/newbalanceMX20BR.htm

  18. Robert Says:

    Hey Eric,

    There is small company called soft star shoes that seem to have some awsome options on the very minimalistic end. For some time I have been following the minimalistic footwear philosophy and trends and find it makes alot of sence. I know I have made tremendous gains personally with my 5 fingers, but agree that all the attention they draw is absolutely anoying when you are trying to get in a work out.

    The company’s main products are childrens minmalistic footwear, based on the premise that childrens feet should be allowed to develop. My daughter has had many pairs since first learning to walk and we think they are great.

    Just another option to consider -soft star shoes-

  19. Dan Go Says:

    Great suggestion sir. I’m gonna grab these today.

  20. Tim Says:

    Eric

    I haven’t tried the Minimus yet, but that’s mostly because I fell in love with Inov-8’s line of shoes. They have a progression of heel inclination to keep the everyday joe or serious runner who’s used traditional footwear out of an achilles or compartment issue. Plus, if you are a runner, sprint or distance, I LOVE the “plantar band” on the bottom. I have a tibial torsion, and tend to favor one side while pronating on the other, but have been working POSE running and unilateral work to help balance that, and this shoe is my savior. In my dress shoes @ work every day I wear a good, flexible orthotic, but I can and do wear these shoes all the time I’m not @ the office or unshod. Check them out.

  21. Frank Says:

    There’s probably no “one best” shoe for everything. I do most of my training without shoes, if I can’t do that, then go to flat soled shoes if outside so I don’t get cut up, then to running shoes if I’m running. Not as many shoes as your wife, but still a few. Good review on the shoes though, I’ll have to check ‘em out when my current ones stink too much….

  22. Frank Says:

    I have had my frees since 2009 and they are WELL worn in. I still wear them quite often. I bought another pair of frees in later 2010 but they weren’t the same as you mentioned. Looks like I know what shoe I will be getting next!

  23. Travis Says:

    Great post Eric. After using the Nike Frees for the past three years and noticing the changing design back towards a normal shoe with each new version I picked up a pair of the Minimus when Chris Shugart mentioned them in April. Best minimalist shoe I’ve used so far, I know exactly what you mean with the Vibrams on lunges.

  24. Jim Says:

    I wear Nike Aqua Socks, the old water shoes that are no longer made. I bought the last 15 pair in the country and will have them forever. They are great!

    I live in the gym and this is all I wear. Kind of like the ones with the toes in them (LMAO!!) without the toes. Why Nike discontinued them?? I have no idea.

  25. Ileen Says:

    what is the review for over pronators?

  26. Steve Says:

    I too have gone through Frees and found out that all the wear and tear from just working with clients day to day destroys them after several months. They are super comfortable to walk around in though.

    I have never been a New Balance guy but earlier this year a friend of mine who works for the company let me know that anyone who works in the fitness industry can sign up to get 15-35% off all footwear and clothing and free returns online. Here is the link http://www.newbalance.com/profit/

    Needless to say the Minimus is the best training shoe I have come across for versatility. Frees are terrible for sled pushing and I think the heel still has too much give.

  27. Jerry Says:

    Went through basically the same evolution. My Nike Free’s have taken a huge beating and are still relatively intact after 4 years of abuse. I’ve always liked the concept behind the vibrams, but I just think they look ridiculous. I picked up a pair of the minimalist trail about a month ago and absolutely love them.

  28. Anthony Mychal Says:

    Nice post! I wrote about the Minimus Trail not too long ago http://tinyurl.com/3ap7x5k

    Loving the shoe. New Balance did a good job on these.

  29. Jeff Says:

    I’m huge fan of minimalist shoes and have several pairs My most recent favorites are Onitsuka Tiger Tai Chi shoes by Asics. I use them for lifting, CrossFit, and running (shorter distances) Very durable, and great ground feel. I like them as well as Chucks for lifting and as well as Five-fingers for running… and even better than either for metcon workouts.

  30. Stan Says:

    Hi Eric

    Have you tried the Altra Instinct? Sole is similar to Vibram (shaped like a foot) but with a traditional upper so people won’t stare.

  31. Matt Jennings Says:

    Hey Eric,
    I picked up the minimus trail 2 weeks ago and I agree…they rock. Deads felt awesome, sprints ripped…they are all around kickass! They are built with a thick, flex material at fore foot that saves the mesh from breaking down prematurely. My previous kicks were Terra Planas EVO. They rocked until the mesh literally disintegrated at about 6 weeks. Not cool for $160 a pair. Minimus are half that… Cool post brau. Thanks & Peace-Matt

  32. Jay Says:

    Nike Free TR2 are good for all lifts, shoe enables you to easily push through your heels, very light..extremely light and comfortable.

  33. Jon B Says:

    Hi there,

    I wonder if you have any recomendations for basketballshoes?

    Most versons are high tops, is this well though of couse of ankle sprains, or just stupid fashion? In general ballers need more ankle mobility. Do you think I should recomend low shoes to my players in general?

    I think they will increase stability and mobility in their ankles. As well as just learning to use their body in a more effective way. Just want an experts opinion on this(“,)

    TC

    Jon B

  34. Vin Says:

    Hey Eric,

    If you haven’t already heard of them, the Merrell Barefoot shoes are worth checking out, too. The New Balance models definitely look more like regular sneakers, but it looks like the Merrells may be less restrictive. They feel similar to Vibrams, but without the toes.

  35. Bill Boutelle Says:

    Eric: Did you try the Nike Free Trainer? Not as easy to find as the Nike Free I got mine at Nike Store in Chicago an then Nike Store in White Plains NY. I was also very frustrated by how the Nike Free came apart. I have had much more success with this shoe.

  36. Benjamin Says:

    I bought a pair of the minimalist running shoes last month and I could not be happier with them. I own a pair of five fingers but for training and competing in highland games the minimalist is the best! I am definitely going to buy a new pair of the trainers. I have suggested that all my clients get themselves a pair.

  37. Mike Says:

    Eric, have you done any lateral speed/sled work work in them? if so how do the sides hold up and do you feel like your foot is slipping out at all?

  38. J Says:

    Hey EC,

    First of all you’re the man! Thanks for the great post! Two questions for you though:

    1. What do you think about VivoBarefoot shoes? http://www.zappos.com/vivobarefoot-ultra-m-white

    They seem to have the best of both worlds, a vibram’s like “sock” that your foot is in, wrapped around a protective shell with a hard bottom.

    2. I’m a D1 T&F athlete and I’m doing a summer internship now at a very conservative finance/accounting firm. My dress shoes are killing my feet. Can you recommend any dress shoes with minimal heel lift that us office workers can wear without breaking the dress code?

    Thanks! – J

  39. Jason Says:

    Eric,
    Have you tried the Minimus Trail? Just wonderig how those compare to the Minimus Trainer.

  40. Lisa Says:

    Ordered a pink pair just like Tony’s.

  41. John Phung Says:

    Chuck Taylor’s for me.

    Once I wear those out I’ll probably upgrade to the Nike Romaleos weightlifting shoes.

  42. Mike S Says:

    Hi Eric,

    In addition to training, would these shoes be good for everyday walking in order to strengthen an injured ankle.

    Thanks.

  43. Rob Says:

    Eric I recently went to a local road runner store and they in formed me that I should be wearing a stability shoe but hate the way they feel. No ankle or knee problems but my question is how do these feel compared to the frees? Thanks for the great info!

  44. meade Says:

    Eric, have you ever tried the Nike Free SPARQ trainer shoe? These are more durable than the free “running” shoe, they are considered a free “trainer”. I also know many college and NFL teams wear the Nike Free SPARQ when training. I have a pair of Sparq free and Nike Free TR, which i use for lifting, sprinting, sled pushes, walking, and they are not even close to falling apart.

  45. naomi Says:

    Thanks for this article, Eric. I’ve been holding off because so far, nothing has really worked for me and those darned 5 finger things are too wide. I’ll look forward to trying this sneaker out soon. I hope they work for sprinting, which I don’t do often, but when I do, I get shin splints for weeks afterward. But yeah, mostly I need something for good old fashioned lifting that doesn’t have me standing on a 2″ heel.

  46. Tony Says:

    ERIC! Once again you’ve given my wife and me another informative article that makes us laugh as well. “13,000 pairs of shoes…” and “Tony’s pink pair”. I get at least one good laugh with every post–and love it!!! Also, I’m glad you did this review. Last year I was struggling to find some minimalist shoes. I got the five-fingered ones but they began to fall apart pretty quickly and–though I’m not a slave to fashion by any means (just ask my 14 year old daughter) and they haven’t been too comfortable for me due to the toe separation which causes my feet to ache after just a couple of miles of walking. Maybe my feet are weird. As I began reading your post I thought, “Did I miss a pair last time I screened the web for shoes? What did Eric find?” I’m glad that I didn’t….and that it is because these shoes are apparently pretty new on the market. It’s time for my wife and me to get a pair. Happy Fourth! Keep up the marriage of great info & Dave Barry-esque humor! :-)

  47. Darren Says:

    @J–check out the Sanuk Boardroom

  48. Michael Says:

    I’ve see them but thought they were only good as racing flats. I’ll have to try them out. Thanks for the suggestion.

  49. Jon Herting Says:

    @J-

    Try these http://www.merrell.com/US/en-US/Product.mvc.aspx/22874M/0/Mens/Barefoot-Tough-Glove?dimensions=0. This is the link to the Merrell Tough Glove which is the Merrell version of the minimalist sneaker. I have not yet tried them out but plan on doing so in the near future. At first glance they seem like they may fit what you are looking for.

  50. Feyyaz Says:

    Hi Eric,

    Great article, I’m pretty hooked on the NB’s. But did you try and test the innov8 shoes? Especially these look interesting: http://www.inov-8.com/Products-Detail.asp?PG=PG1&L=27&P=5050973125

    Best,
    Feyyaz

  51. Jeff Blair Says:

    Thanks for the heads-up Eric

    Loved the Free but I literally tear through them as well. Going to try this NB….

  52. Fredrik Gyllensten Says:

    Okey.. I’ve had my Nike Free v.3.0 for a year now, and they are still fine :)

  53. scott Says:

    Thanks for the post…

    I still am loving the five fingers (I think I am a stickler for heel lift)…

    My buddy has the new balance and loves them!
    I was checking them out, they look great, some heel lift and some support (which I like to stay away from)
    I am glad the big toe jam thing isn’t happening for me… did I say toe jam? hahaha

    thanks again

  54. Milan Says:

    I got my MX20s today using the Pro FIT program. These shoes are the real deal. I’ll be buying several more pairs just so that I have them for the future!

  55. EricWongMMA Says:

    Wicked post – I’ve been looking around for a new pair of Frees, but after seeing this post, I’ll be on the lookout for some NB20’s.

    I used to be a die-hard NB guy until I discovered the Frees, now I think I’ll be back. Thanks for the post man!

  56. jonathan mcgowen Says:

    Hey Eric,

    How would these shoes work for people who have flat feet? Thanks.

  57. Ken Leary Says:

    Hi Eric,

    I would also like to know if the mr10 would work for someone with flat feet.

    Thanks,
    Ken

  58. Abdi Says:

    Minimus Trail looks like a better shoe for weightlifting than the trainer

  59. joe daniels Says:

    i have 3 pairs of vibrams and just bought the New balance minimus. i have to agree i enjoy the minimus best for cross training and kettlebell work.

  60. Teppo Says:

    Damn, those actually seem like very nice shoes. I just bought a pair of Vibram Speeds and like them, but even while the Speeds look a tad more conventional than most Vibram models, they’re still not exactly “suitable for going anywhere” style-wise. These Minimus shoes though? Well obviously they look like a normal “stylish” running shoes, while having the benefit of the vibram sole. The huge downside? I’m from Finland, and apparently it’s impossible to get them here! There’s no importer, and the online store doesn’t ship internationally. Talk about a bummer!

  61. The Sweaty Glove Says:

    I’m really interested in this shoe. I’ve tried it on at least two different times, and noticed that it is, indeed, a very comfortable shoe, at least standing in the store.

    How does it hold up over time? The foam sole looks a little weak, and I’m a notorious heel striker while walking. I’m curious to know if it can withstand any day-to-day abuse. Does it work well outside of the gym, say for getting groceries or going out and about?

    What about running? Would you recommend them for short runs (I’m a boxer, so I don’t do more than a mile or so each run…)

    Thanks, in advance.

  62. Conor Says:

    Cool post Eric! I’ve been doing a lot of bare foot training since reading your stuff and love the workouts. This is definitely something I’ll look into.
    Conor

  63. Leor Says:

    I picked up a pair of the minimus cross trainers 2 weeks ago and they’re AMAZING. I legitimately have no complaints and feel strong while running, sprinting, swinging kb, deadlifting, unilateral lifts, and doing plyo work.

    Way to go New Balance!

  64. Bryan Says:

    I just bought a pair of NB Minimus cross trainers. I t was between those and the 5 fingers. Now that I’ve used the minimus I know I didn’t go wrong. I’m not saying anything negative about the 5 fingers, I just love these NB’s. There’s a little more cushion in the sole but I can still feel the ground beneath my feet. Super comfy and light. Not to mention way more stylish than the 5’s. Two thumbs waaaay up from me.

  65. Francisco Maia Says:

    Just a quick tip for those who need a more “dressy” shoe for work. I have to work wearing closed toes leathered shoes, and I have found that the Merrell Tough gloves are absolutely amazing for those of us who like the barefeet feeling. Same insole as the Merrell Trail Gloves (Vibran) and very similar to the Minimus as well.

  66. Lauren Says:

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for the info! Now there is a NB Minimus 20v2 Cross Trainer available. What are your thoughts on the 20v2 versus the original 20v1 you recommended? Is one better? Thank you!

  67. Eric Cressey Says:

    Hi Lauren,

    I’ve worn both and really liked them both, overall. The original Minimus was a bit more comfortable, whereas the 20v2 was a bit more durable, but slightly more rigid. Different strokes for different folks!

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