Q: I run ‘heavy’, so I can’t run minimalist style or barefoot style, right? I mean, that just won’t work since I need a good cushion under my feet when I come down hard.
A: No, not right. This is kinda the whole point, actually. The way pretty much everyone runs when you run with ‘traditional’ running shoes is going to be heavy on your body. Even if you aren’t coming down hard, the impact you’re putting on your joints and basically entire skeleton is massive because your legs are rigid and doing nothing to lessen the blow. Run ‘heavy’ or run ‘light’ with a heel strike, and the impact is great.
Running with minimalist (low or zero drop – meaning there is little to no difference in the thickness of padding under your heel as under your forefoot, and neither has a ton under it) or barefoot shoes (or just plain barefoot) with a good midfoot or forefoot strike will turn you into a spring. Your leg joints will have several joints and points where they are bent, and each one will reduce the impact as it moves up your body.
This is similar to how crumple zones work in a car – multiple points are made to bend up or crumple to ‘shed’ force before it hits the passenger cell. This is also how animals run – look at their feet. What we call ‘feet’ on a dog is actually toes, and it’s heel is up it’s leg a bit – they walk (and run) on their tip toes.
Look at runners with prosthetic legs. They are big springs (not the curly kind, but a bent, springy piece of material – I don’t know if it’s metal or carbon fiber or what) with small contact points. These running limbs are mimicking what you’d be doing with a proper barefoot style run.
If you’ve ever seen Christopher McDougal, author of the running cult classic Born to Run (which you MUST read) run, he’s not a twiggy little guy. He’s big. Really big. Very tall, large build. And yet he runs quick, long and light. Why? Form.
So, no, you can’t swear off minimalist style running because you come down heavy on your feet in traditional shoes. You need to adapt your gait and style to take advantage of it, and then you will be light and springy. You need to take your time and adjust while you learn to do it, but you will learn, you will love it, and you won’t go back to your old, heavy, injury-causing style. Have some faith, and go for a (springy) leap.