Running shoes: some sound, scientific (unaffiliated) advice

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The physical and mental health benefits of running need no explanation but what we do want to shine the spotlight on here is the importance of selecting the right running shoe.

Running shoes aren’t just about making a fashion statement. Their primary function is to protect your ankles and feet, as well as other connecting joints and muscle groups.

 Picking the perfect pair for you isn’t always easy though in a sea of technical lingo – but fear not, we’re here to unpack the jargon and point you in the right direction.

What are the data and experts are saying?



Believe it or not, there’s extensive research out there around running shoes. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg but we’ve broken it down into five bitesize sections:

Weight of the shoe



Wang et al (2020) found that the weight of the shoe effected which muscles got most fatigued during exercise. Heavier shoes (> 300g) were found to cause more fatigue in the hamstrings and calf muscles during push-off, whereas the lightest shoes (< 260 g) caused higher fatigue in the calf during braking phases.

Fuller et al (2015) found that shoes which weighed more than 440g had a negative impact on how efficiently the wearers could run.

Sole stiffness



Sun et al (2020) reported that stiff shoe soles can benefit running performance, however soft midsoles can help to reduce the impact of force and load on the muscles.

Thicker soles were found to provide better cushioning and shock absorption, and therefore good for those with a previous injury, or those looking to protect their joints from impact.

Thin soles (aka ‘minimalist shoes’) were found to improve foot muscle strength and running efficiency, as well as strength of the Achilles tendon. This means thin soles are good for those with no preexisting injuries – or those looking to smash a personal best! Although you will have to gradually get used to minimalist shoes and allow time for your feet to strengthen, this can be done by walking in them before you run.

Angles of the joints



Hoitz et al (2020) found that differences in over 3 degrees in joint angles during running changed how muscles worked significantly.

This indicates that when changing from one pair of trainers to another, we need to make sure we do some muscle strengthening exercises to help our bodies adapt without injury.

Pronation (i.e. natural angle of the foot)

Nielsen et al (2014) showed that the pronation of the foot was not associated with increased injury risk, so using a shoe to change this angle is not necessary.

You’ll find lots of trainers on the market sold as ‘pronation shoes’ but unless you have an orthopaedic foot condition and require insoles, there’s little evidence to suggest that they’re actually necessary.

Injury prevention



Nigg et al (2015) say that there is no particular trend or running style that leads to injury – including the shoe type. They believe that it is more down to the strength, fitness and age of the shoe wearer, as well as the volume and type of training they’re doing.

The conclusion?

Well, that your choice of trainer should be based around two things:

Comfort – Do they feel good when you try them on? Are they still comfortable when you’re on the move?

The nuances of your body – Are you nurturing any past injuries? Do you have any physical conditions? What is your volume of training? What kind of functions are you looking for in a shoe?

Our pick:

To help you put our advice into action, we’ve done a bit of window shopping for you.

Here are our runner recommendations:

ASICS Cumulus (£120) – Great for high support and reducing pressure on joints.

Nike Vomero (£129.95) – A strong contender for best performance.

VivoBarefoot Primus (£78) – For those experienced in minimalist running and looking to enhance their foot strength.

Nike ZoomX Vaporfly (£239.95) – Best for breaking marathon records if Eliud Kipchoge’s 2-hour record is anything to go by!

This week’s words of wisdom:

“My mama says they were magic shoes. They could take me anywhere.” – Forrest Gump

 

Running shoes might seem like a hefty investment but in order to improve your running performance and protect your joints and muscles whilst doing it, it’s an investment worth making.