The reason why Running Shoes Don’t Work

The particular running shoe model needs to be fixed. Pronation, motion control, cushioning, and stability shoes? Get rid of them all.

It’s not simply barefoot running and minimalism compared to running shoes, the either/or situation a lot of portray it to be. It’s much deeper than that. It’s not even that running shoe companies are evil and out to make a profit. Shoe companies may be achieving the goals they set out for, but maybe the goals their aiming for are not what need to be done. The paradigm that running shoes are built upon is the problem.

Running shoes are built on two central premises, impact makes and pronation. Their goals are simple, limit impact forces and prevent overprontation. This has led to a classification program based on cushioning, stability, and motion control. The problem is that this system might not have any ground to stand on. Have we been focused on the wrong things for 40+years?

I am going to start with the customary statistic associated with 33-56% of runners get hurt every year (Bruggerman, 2007). That is type of mind blowing when you think about it. Since there are a ton of injuries going on, let’s look at what shoes or boots are supposed to do.


As said earlier, shoes are built upon the premise that impact forces and pronation are what cause injuries. Pronation, in particular has been constructed as the bane of all runners. We have become inundated with limiting pronation via motion control shoes. The central idea behind pronation is that overpronating causes rotation of the lower leg(i. electronic. ankle, tibia, knee) putting tension on the joints and therefore leading to accidental injuries. Running shoes are therefore designed to restrict this pronation. Essentially, running shoes are usually developed and designed to put the body in “proper” alignment. But do we really need proper alignment?

This particular paradigm on pronation relies on two main things: (1)over pronation causes injuries and (2) running shoes can modify pronation.

Looking at the first premise, you observe several studies that do not display a link between pronation and injuries. In an epidemiological study by Wen et al. (1997), he discovered that lower extremitly alignment had not been a major risk factor for marathon runners. In another study by Wen et al. (1998), on this occasion a prospective study, he concluded that ” Minor variations in cheaper extremity alignment do not appear effectively to be major risk factors intended for overuse injuries in runners. inch Other studies have reached similar conclusions. One by Nigg et ‘s. (2000) showed that foot plus ankle movement did not predict accidental injuries in a large group of runners.

In case foot movement/pronation does not predict accidental injuries or is not a risk element for injuries, then one has to issue whether the concept is sound or working…

Looking at the second premise, perform shoes even modify pronation? Motion control shoes are designed to decrease pronation through a variety of mechanisms. Most choose to insert a medial post or a similar device. In a study simply by Stacoff (2001), they tested several motion control shoe devices plus found that they did not alter pronation and did not change the kinematics from the tibia or calcaneus bones possibly. Similarly, another study by Butler (2007) found that motion control shoes showed no difference in peak pronation when compared to cushioning sneakers. Lastly, Dixon (2007) found same exact results showing that motion control shoes did not reduce peak eversion (pronation) and didn’t change the concentration of pressure.

This is sort of a dual whammy on motion control shoes. If excessive pronation does not result in injuries to the degree that everybody thinks, and if motion control shoes and boots don’t even alter pronation, exactly what is the point of a motion control footwear?


Impact forces are the additional major scoundrel of running injuries. The thinking goes like this, the more the impact force on the decrease the leg, the greater stress the foot/leg takes, which could potentially result in injuries. To combat this concern, running shoes, particular cushioning ones, are usually to the rescue. Let’s take a look.

The first query is, do cushioning shoes do their job?

Wegener(2008) tested out the Asics Gel-Nimbus and the Brooks Glycerin to find out if they reduced plantar pressure. They found that the shoes did their own job!…. But where it decreased pressure varied highly. Meaning that pressure reduction varied between forefoot/rearfoot/etc. This particular led to the interesting conclusion that their should be a shift in recommending shoes to one based on where plantar pressure is highest for that person person. It should be noted that this reduction in pressure was based on a comparison to another shoe, a tennis shoe. Now i am not sure that this is a good control. Generally, this study tells us that cushioned running shoes decrease peak pressure in comparison with a Tennis shoe.

In an evaluation on the subject, Nigg (2000) found that both external and internal impact force peaks were not or hardly influenced by the running shoes midsole. Which means that the cushioning type does not modify impact forces much, if at all. Yet how can this be? I mean really common sense if you jumped on cement vs . jumped on a shoe foam like surface, the shoe surface area is softer right? We’ll come back to this question in a minute.

Impact Forces: The picture gets cloudier:

But it’s not as simple as described above. In an interesting study by Scott (1990) they looked at top loads on the various sites of likely injury for runners (Achilles, knee, etc . ). All peak loads occurred during mid-stance plus push off. This led to an essential finding that “the impact force at heel contact was estimated to have no effect on the peak push seen at the chronic injury websites, ” and led to speculation that will impact force did not relate damage development.

Further complicating the influence force idea is that when looking from injury rates of those running upon hard surfaces or soft areas, there appears to be no protective benefit of running on soft surfaces. Exactly why is this? Because of something called pre-activation and muscle tuning which will be discussed below.

Supporting this data, other studies have shown that people who have a low peak impact have the same likelihood of getting injured as those with a high peak impact force (Nigg, 1997). If you want to complicate things even further, impact seems to be the driving force among increased bone density.

As a trainer or trainer this should make sense. The particular bone responds to the stimulus simply by becoming more resistant to it, IF the stimulation is not too large and there is sufficient recovery.

Underestimating our Body: Impact pushes as feedback:

Back to the question I asked earlier: How can impact pushes not change based on shoe singular softness and why isn’t running on hard surfaces lead to more injuries?

The problem is, once again, we undervalue the human body! It’s an amazing thing, and we never give it the credit it deserves. The body adapts to the surface that it’s going to strike, if you provide a chance. The body adapts to each shoe and surface adjusting influence forces via changes joint stiffness, the way the foot strikes, and a concept called muscle tuning.

An example of this can be seen with barefoot running, the particular diminished proprioception (sensory feedback) of wearing a shoe negates the padding of the shoe. Studies using minimum shoes/barefoot have shown that the body appears to adapt the impact forces/landing based on feedback and feedforward data. Whenever running or landing from a jump, the body takes in all the sensory info, plus prior experiences, and adjusts to protect itself/land optimally As mentioned over, it does this through a variety of systems. Thus, you stick some padded running shoe on the bottom of your foot and the body goes “Oh, we are going to okay, we don’t need to worry about influence as much, we’ve got this soft part of junk on our foot.

One idea that needs to be further discussed is muscle tuning. It’s a concept recently suggested by Nigg et al. in 2000. He sees impact push as a signal or a source of feedback, as I stated earlier. The body then utilizes this information and adjusts accordingly to reduce soft tissue vibration and/or bone tissue vibration. His contention is that influence force is not the problem, but rather the signal. Muscle tuning is essentially managing these vibrations via a variety of strategies. One potential mechanism is pre-activation. Pre-activation is activation of the muscle groups prior to impact. In this case it serves as a way of muscle tuning to organize for impact and in addition can alter muscle stiffness, which is another way to prepare for influence. Pre-activation has been established with several EMG studies.

Shoes not only influence this, but surface type does as well. As mentioned previously, the change in running surface did not impact injuries rates. Why? Probably because the body adapts to running surface. In an interesting study measuring muscle exercise, O’Flynn(1996) found that pre-activation transformed based on surface. To prepare for influence, and presumably to minimize muscle/bone vibration, when running on concrete pre-activation was very high, when running on the soft track, not so much.

What all this means is that the body adapts via sensory input. It has several different version methods. A shoe influences just how it adapts. The shoe is not really doing anything to alter cushioning, it really is simply altering how the body reacts to impact. It’s a significant attitude jump if you think about it.
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Here’s the summary: The type of shoe and materials of the shoe changes impact NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact characteristics because it alters the sensory comments.

In conclusion on the cushioning concept. Nicely, what are we trying to cushion? Heel impact forces have not been shown in order to relate to injuries, in fact in one study low impact runners had a 30% injuries rate compared to a 20% injury rate in high impact runners. Shoe midsoles do not change, or partially change impact forces anyway. Therefore , not only may cushioning not be the answer, the shoes might not even be carrying out their job. But what about individuals shoe cushioning studies showing enhanced cushioning with their new midsole?! Nicely, the majority of that testing is done using a machine to simulate the effect forces that you experience during operating. That means, yes it may cushion an effect more, but it doesn’t take into account the function of the body adjusting impact depending on feedback.

The reason cushioning doesn’t work? Since the body adapts based on feedback plus feedforward information. These results prompted one notable researcher(Nigg, 2000) to call for the reconsideration of the cushioning paradigm for running shoes.

Barefoot operating?

Quickly, this topic could not be complete without a brief mention of barefoot running. An interesting thing to note would be that the initial peak impact force is absent in barefoot running when compared to running with shoes. What this means is that, the impact forces look like (A) for shoes and (B) for barefoot. That initial little blip in A is the initial impact force. There is a hypothesis that this initial effect force is related to injuries.

A recent study by Squadrone et al. (2009) compared running shoes, barefoot running, and running in Vibram Five Fingers. These people demonstrated reduced impact forces, shorter ground contact and stride length, but increased stride frequency while running barefoot (and in Vibrams) as compared to running with shoes. This is simply not unexpected, but shows that running shoes do in fact alter our normal strides. An interesting point is the reduction in step length but increase in stride rate of recurrence. Shoes tend to promote this lengthier stride at a consequence of terrain contact times and frequency. Preparing because of changes in feedback signaling, increased likelihood to land on heel stretched out, increased weight, all of these lead to longer times on the ground. It’s interesting to note that elite runners all have short ground connections and high frequencies (as proven by the often quoted Daniels study of 180 strides per minute).

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