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Are you a minimalist or a maximalist? What cops need to know about footwear trends

Before buying a minimalist or maximalist shoe or boot, review the following factors in order to choose the best fit


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By Joseph J. Kolb, MA
P1 Contributor

A police officer’s feet endure many stresses, aches and pains associated with prolonged standing and walking as might be seen on a patrol beat, parade duty or traffic accident, as well as the explosive multi-directional bursts of speed required in a suspect foot chase.

Just like athletic shoes, manufacturers have been taking a close look at the demands of public safety, offering a variety of utility shoes and police duty boots in an attempt to make policing a little more comfortable and functional while mitigating acute and chronic lower extremity injuries.

The functional differences between minimalist and maximalist shoes can be profound in policing duties and preferences. (Photo/PoliceOne)
The functional differences between minimalist and maximalist shoes can be profound in policing duties and preferences. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Minimalist and maximalist sound like terms associated with art. In fact, they are associated with a growing trend in footgear that started about a decade ago, and something all patrol officers should consider when selecting a shoe to hit the streets with.

Before buying a minimalist or maximalist shoe or boot, review the following factors in order to choose what is best for you.

How to pick the right fit

After decades of research on running shoes, experts agree that one style of shoe does not fit all. Picking the right fit is dependent on a variety of factors:

  • Foot type: Are the feet or high arched, rigid or flexible? The foot is comprised of 26 bones that are connected by a vulnerable network of tendons and ligaments.
  • Weight: The heavier one is the more pressure is put on foot structures. Just walking increases forces through the lower extremities and spine that is 2-3 times your body weight. Running increases these forces tenfold.
  • Length of time on feet: “Oh, my aching feet!” is a phrase heard all too often among police officers who walk a beat.
  • Activities associated with policing: Typically short bursts of quick multi-directional speed executed to apprehend a suspect.

Minimalist vs. maximalist design differences

Basically speaking the two terms relate to the amount and location of padding and support a shoe possess. As the names imply, one has very little, while the other has more.

Minimalist shoes are designed to be light, thin and flexible, which translates to no motion control, cushioning or stability, but an increase in functionality. For an officer chasing a suspect running in different directions over a short distance this may serve them well. Minimalist shoe manufacturers theorize that by running with less cushioning, your muscles will be strengthened by the impact loading on the foot and lower leg muscles. Buyers must be aware however that these shoes require a gradual break-in period for the feet and lower leg muscles to adjust and develop.

One manufacturer recommends a very gradual transition from regular foot gear to the minimalist brand to allow the calf and foot muscles to adjust and strengthen. It is recommended to wear the minimalist gear for one to two hours per day for a few weeks then gradually increase the time as the lower extremity muscles strengthen.

Janet Simon, a podiatrist based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, says that while this design is light, it does require a breaking-in period.

The maximalist shoe is designed with extra cushioning, especially in the midsole area to mitigate lower extremity and spinal shock that could alleviate leg and back fatigue in prolonged standing. The extra cushioning also adds more than 50 percent shock absorption that a standard utility boot affords. It may appear heavy and clunky, but lightweight material keeps the shoes only a few ounces more than the minimalist shoe. The style design of the maximalist boot also allows for a smooth heel-toe rocker motion, which can improve gait.

Conclusion

The functional differences between minimalist and maximalist shoes can be profound in policing duties and preferences. The maximalist shoe is built for cushioning, especially for officers with pronated or flat feet where stress is generated through the lower extremities and spine during prolonged standing and activity. Conversely, a minimalist shoe has essentially no structural support, but in time can develop feet and leg muscles while increasing functionality.

“The answer as to which shoe to go with is based on specific foot types that function a specific way,” says Simon. “If an individual is biomechanically sound, they should alternate between a minimalist shoe and one with greater support.”


About the Author
Joseph J. Kolb, MA, is the executive director for the Southwest Gang Information Center, master instructor for the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy and instructor in the Criminal Justice program at Western New Mexico University.

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