Specializing in orthopedic and sports physical therapy, Brian Hoke co-owns and directs Atlantic Physical Therapy, a private practice in Virginia Beach, VA. He works with athletes of all levels—from recreational runners to elite professional and Olympic athletes. Brian also serves as a member of Vionic's Innovation Lab.
The “maximalist” shoe is the opposite end of the pendulum swing when compared to the “barefoot running” shoes that were all the rage a couple of years ago. The idea is that more shock absorption is better. This is accomplished by a much thicker, cushioned midsole.
There are differing opinions about the maximalist trend. People who struggle with over pronation have excessive motion what’s called the frontal plane, or the foot’s “side-to-side” line of motion. Because the foot sits up much higher on this extra thick midsole, it may actually cause pronators even more trouble. Shoemakers have tried to address the instability that comes with the added midsole height by also making the shoe wider. However, when we walk and run, we do not land on the center of our heel— we land on the outer edge. A wider heel with increased surface area gives the foot a larger area upon which to collapse inward, worsening the initial pronation.
Some versions of this trend also feature a “tapered” front and rear which gives them a “rocker sole” effect, allowing the foot to rock backward and forward while walking. This can effectively reduce the load on the ankle and the ball of the foot in the “forward/backward” line of motion, which we call the sagittal plane. The problem is that many people also have problems in the “side to side” line of motion, which we call the frontal plane. Vasyli and Vionic products are carefully designed to reduce excessive motion in this plane.
The ideal midsole for an athletic shoe would be "surface specific.” It would need to have a higher level of cushioning for hard manmade surfaces (a bit more at the heel since over 70% of runners make initial contact with the ground there), and a moderate amount of cushioning for organic surfaces, like grass and dirt, which tend to be softer. For runners running on these natural surfaces and for those electing to adopt more of a forefoot strike pattern, a thinner, lighter sole with additional forefoot cushioning would be ideal.