By Amber Sayer
I know that there are mixed opinions about the pros and cons of maximalist running shoes among running coaches, biomechanics, and runners themselves, but I find that maximalist running shoes, which are those with a thick stack height, or a lot of cushioning, definitely have their benefits for certain runners and walkers.
I personally tend to gravitate towards Hoka running shoes or other maximalist running shoes because I have chronic arthritis in certain joints and the extra cushioning is very helpful.
But, are maximalist shoes good for you?
What are the pros and cons of highly cushioned running shoes?
What are the best maximalist running shoes if you want to try running in the most cushioned running shoe?
In this article, I will discuss the benefits of walking or running in maximalist running shoes, the potential drawbacks, and my picks for the best maximalist running shoes.
What Are Maximalist Running Shoes?
Maximalist running shoes are highly-cushioned running shoes with a very thick sole.
Maximalist running shoes are essentially the antithesis of minimalist running shoes, which have virtually no cushioning between your foot and the ground.
In contrast, maximalist running shoes have a significant amount of cushioning material between your foot and the running surface, which is referred to as the stack height of the shoe.
It is easy to recognize maximalist running shoes in a lineup of other running shoes because there is a taller “platform“ or thickness to the sole of the shoe in a maximalist vs conventional running shoe.
A maximalist running shoe might have upwards of 2 to 3 times as much cushioning material or thickness relative to a traditional running shoe.
Are Maximalist Running Shoes the Same As Zero Drop Running Shoes?
One common point of confusion is the difference between stack height and heel drop in a running shoe.
Stack height refers to how much material is between the bottom of your foot and the running surface.
Most running shoes have two different stack heights: one in the heel of the shoe and one in the toe.
The heel tends to be thicker to help cushion impact forces when you land since the majority of recreational runners are heel strikers.
The heel drop, or heel-to-toe drop, refers to the difference in the stack height between the heel and the toe of the shoe.
Interestingly, maximalist running shoes are often low-heel drop running shoes or even zero-drop running shoes, which means that the difference in the stack height from the heel to the toe is relatively small or 0 mm.
Is it Bad to Run in Maximalist Running Shoes?
Although the extra cushioning in a maximalist running shoe can be perceived as being more comfortable, one study found that running in maximalist running shoes actually increased impact forces.
In another small study, female runners experienced higher vertical loading rates (the speed at which the body is subjected to impact forces) and higher peak impact forces while running on a treadmill in maximalist vs regular running shoes.
To try to rule out whether these differences were due to the fact that the runners were unaccustomed to running in maximalist running shoes, a subsequent study retested the same concept after giving runners time to acclimate and train in maximalist running shoes.
The same results were found and the researchers also noticed that the runners displayed different biomechanics in their running stride when wearing maximalist running shoes (more eversion at toe-off and plantarflexion at initial contact).
Finally, a study found that running in max-cushioned shoes increased ground contact time.
These studies indicate that wearing maximalist running shoes may not decrease the risk of injuries and may potentially increase injury risk for some individuals.
Are Maximalist Running Shoes Good?
The primary purpose or benefit of maximalist running shoes is to absorb more of the impact stresses when you are running or walking.
In this way, the plush cushioning in a maximalist running shoe is thought to reduce the amount of shock or stress that travels to your feet, ankles, shins, knees, legs, and hips.
Indeed, many runners and walkers, particularly those with arthritis or joint pain, find that it is more comfortable and less painful to run in maximalist running shoes.
A small study demonstrated that running in maximalist shoes decreases plantar pressure, especially in the forefoot.
Moreover, a review of 63 studies found that maximalist running shoes with softer or thicker midsoles can definitely enhance cushioning, with one study measuring the decrease in impact forces to be 35% in maximalist running shoes compared to minimalist running shoes.
Are Maximalist Running Shoes Good for Knee Pain?
The extra cushioning in maximalist running shoes may help with knee pain.
According to Dr. Timothy A. Karthas, DPM, a Podiatrist and marathon runner himself, “The cushioning of a shoe helps to ease the forces of impact on any joints of the lower extremity, including the knee.”
Dr. Mauricio Garcia, MD, an Orthopedic Surgeon and the Senior Project Manager for Hyper Arch Motion Sneakers, agrees that maximalist running shoes can be ideal for knee pain because they provide cushioning and support.
“Shoes act as a shock absorber, so if you’re dealing with knee pain, you should prioritize shoes that have excellent cushioning, especially in the heel and forefoot area. This cushioning works to reduce the force felt in your knees during activities like running and/or walking,” explains Dr. Garcia. “Shoes should also have a stable midsole to help prevent overpronation because the force from your foot and leg rolling inward places extra stress on your knees.”
4 Maximalist Running Shoes that I have Used
Hoka was one of the first running shoe companies to hone in on specializing in maximum cushioned running shoes, targeting ultra runners and masters runners who might seek extra cushioning to attenuate joint impact forces.
However, while Hoka is still an industry leader in making highly cushioned running shoes, many of the other top running shoe companies have introduced at least one or two maximalist running shoes into the lineup.
Here are some of my other recommendations for the best maximalist running shoes:
1. Brooks Caldera 6
This is one of the best maximalist trail running shoes. It has a 6 mm heel drop and excellent traction, as well as a rock plate to protect your toes from hazards on the trail.
2. Brooks Ghost Max
This is a great maximalist road running shoe with a low heel drop (6mm) and a surprisingly lightweight build (9 ounces). There is also a built-in meta rocker to help facilitate the heel-to-toe transition and I love that it comes in wide and extra-wide sizes.
3. Saucony Triumph 21
If you want more of a traditional running shoe feel, you will love this Saucony maximalist running shoe because it has a 10 mm heel drop. The Saucony Triumph 21 running shoe is also surprisingly lightweight for how much cushioning you get, weighing in at 8.8 ounces.
Plus, the shoe is vegan and made from recycled materials. Saucony is committed to improving the sustainability of footwear, which is certainly a mission I can get behind.
4. Puma Magnify Nitro 2
I haven’t run in Puma shoes for years, but I was intrigued by this maximalist shoe. It is super lightweight (8.6 ounces) and has a standard heel drop compared to Hokas (10mm). I found it to be nice and responsive with great rebound despite being well cushioned.
Ultimately, studies have concluded that the “best running shoes to prevent injuries” are those that you personally find to be the most comfortable.
If, like me, you find that your feet and legs feel better running in maximalist running shoes, this type of highly-cushioned running shoes may indeed be the best choice for you.
If you are interested in maximal cushioning walking shoes, check out our guide to the best HOKA running shoes here.