THE BEST SHOE ‘TECHNOLOGY’ EVER…OR, AT LEAST THIS WEEK
Get ultra flexible barefoot shoes!
Get stiff carbon racing shoes!
Nah, stick with old tried and true designs!
No wait, get mega cushioned shoes!
We always say that it’s a great time to be a runner because of all the great footwear options available. But it’s also a very confusing time to be a runner because of all the great footwear options available! The irrepressible running shoe market always seems to be up to something new. As seasons go by, we face the unyielding onslaught of the next best thing to buy. In almost two decades assessing runners at SoleFit, we’ve seen too many of those runners that have become injured by running in the wrong shoes. For something like running that humans have been doing since the dawn of our existence, it’s quite something that we haven’t come to a consensus as to what kind of shoe is best!
Since the dawn of our existence, some things have definitely changed. Our environment is no doubt different – no savannah plains, lots of roads. Our lifestyle has changed – less hunter-gathering and more emailing, texting, and sitting. And our bodies have changed (to a new environment and lifestyle) which sets most of us up to run a bit differently. So, it makes sense then that we periodically would go back to the drawing board to find the ‘best’ shoe design to accommodate these changes. Are we getting any closer to the ‘best shoe’ with the current trends that we’re seeing? Let’s explore the answer.
…it’s quite something that we haven’t come to a consensus as to what kind of shoe is best!
In the past few years, we have seen some major changes in the trends of running shoe designs. In addition, there has been major growth in research into running injuries. This research has led to insight into the possible correlation of those injuries to our chosen running style, shoe type, surface choice, etc. All of this has challenged the running shoe industry to rethink some of the ‘traditional’ materials, contours, and foot positions they had first envisioned decades ago. A deeper bio-mechanical and evolutionary anatomical understanding stirred up the pot of what might help runners run better, with less stress and eventually faster. (Spoiler alert: many of the best researchers out there still debate and disagree on what we know.)
Anyone who has been running for a few decades can attest to all the trends that have come and gone and that pattern doesn’t seem to change! Anyone remember the shoes we would ‘pump’ up when we put them on? Likewise in our pedorthic care setting, we have seen it all too! What sticks with this pattern of ever changing recommendations of what is the latest ‘best’, is our attempt to help runners understand their individual needs without getting swept up (and often onto the injury sidelines) in the latest hype.
FROM SIMPLE, TO COMPLEX, TO AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE, AND BEYOND
In tracking shoe trends over the last 30 year, we could say that it’s gone from influence-heavy, to influence-minimally, to influence-uniquely. A brief history in the running shoe design space might rudimentarily be summed up like this;
This is quite a broad stroke of the trends which included lots more ‘innovations’ such as pursuits of the bounciest foam, micro-chips within the shoe to adjust cushion and stability on the fly, and shoes with the heels cut down to dissaude heel striking to name a few. Needless to say, the ongoing measures of what’s necessary to improve running, decrease injuries, or improve our running remains a roller coaster ride.
KEEP IT SIMPLE, BEING AN INDIVIDUAL
The answer to the question of ‘what’s the best shoe?’ appears to be a straightforward one but then opens to complexity.
It really depends. Everyone has different needs as a runner and a different physiology. As these ‘trends’ or ‘technologies’ come and go, let’s take a closer look at which are most prevalent running shoe types on the shoe wall in 2020 and who they might suit best:
Conventional running shoes typically have a large amount of cushioning and are divided into various support categories.
Carbon plated running shoes are the newest trend to the running shoe market. The Nike VapourFly 4% shoe shown here was produced with an attempt to help facilitate the first sub 2 hour marathon (which they likely did!).
Maximalist running shoes tend to have a very thick and padded midsole. More and more shoe companies are coming out with their own versions of this type of shoe.
Minimalist running shoes ideally will mimic the human bare foot condition as much as possible (square toe box, thin midsole, flexible). Ideally, this is what we would work most runners back to being able to wear, but it can take a higher level of commitment to transition safely.
Like many aspects of health, it appears that running shoe selection is no different in that there is no ‘best’ shoe for everyone and instead, just a best shoe for an individual. All of the shoe categories listed above have their place on the shoe wall and can match up perfectly to the runner with the right set of characteristics!
We see a lot of runner’s coming through our clinic and take a lot of pride in helping them decide on the right (and left… ) shoe for them. There really isn’t a ‘best shoe’ out there, but there definitely is a best shoe for an individual with their own unique set of variables (such as injuries, current run technique, performance goals, long term foot health etc)!