Minimal vs Maximal Cushioning

There are a few different types of cushioning inside of shoes available for purchase. These include minimal, traditional, and maximal cushioning. Different shoes provide various benefits to the wearer, such as minimizing shock absorption on the body or recruiting muscle groups compared to standard shoes.


Shoes with minimal cushioning typically mimic a “barefoot” experience.

These shoes have very little cushioning and have a low heel-to-toe drop ratio, meaning the height of cushioning under the heel to the toe is 0mm. There is also a slight drop that imitates barefoot standing. These shoes are also very flexible, which results in stronger feet and lower leg muscles. Minimally cushioned shoes also increase ankle rotation and Achilles tendon force.

Traditional shoes fit in between minimal and maximal cushioning shoes.

They have an average heel-to-toe drop and an average level of cushioning underneath the foot. Since injuries are common among athletes, minimal and maximal cushioned shoes receive special attention.

Maximal cushioning is not the opposite of minimal cushioning; instead, these shoes have an extra base of cushioning.

Maximal cushioned shoes have a higher “stack height”, which is the height of cushion on the base of the shoe under the foot. These shoes are not classified under a specific heel-to-toe drop but by their amount of cushioning. These shoes provide more protection and stability for the foot. Shoes with maximal cushioning often have a “rocker-bottom” which refers to the curve on the outsole. This outsole can help eliminate injuries to the plantar fascia by reducing the load on the foot.

Determining the best type of cushioning in a pair of shoes depends on injury history and personal preference. Trying on shoes with different types of cushioning can help get a feel of the best kind of support for your feet.

Chen, T., Sze, L., Davis, I., Cheung, R. Effects of training in minimalist shoes on the intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscle volume. Clinical Biomechanics. Volume 36, July 2-16, 8-13.
Greve, C., Dekker, R., Postema, K., Hijmans, J. Biomechanical effects of rocker shoes on the plantar fascia in healthy adults and patients with plantar fasciitis. Gait & Posture 65 (2018) 130.