Science Based Examination of Running Shoes – Great Post by Steve Magness from The Science of Running

The Science of Running

There’s been an awful lot of chatter over the past year about the design of running shoes. There are people that shun them entirely and prefer to run barefoot, others who think barefooting is crazy and stick with their heavily cushioned trainers, and yet others who take a more moderate approach and recognize the potential benefits of various types of footwear (or lack thereof). What’s lacking in much of the discussion of this topic is science – too often people base their arguments on anecdote and opinion, without much evidential support.

Every once in awhile you read an article that stands out in it’s approach to the topic by offering a reasoned series of arguments that are supported by citations from the scientific literature. The following article by Steve Magness from the Science of Running blog is one of those articles:

Why Running Shoes Do Not Work: Looking at Pronation, Cushioning, Motion Control and Barefoot Running.

I found Steve’s post via a link on Amby Burfoot’s Peak Performance blog, and I’m not going to say to much about it other than that you should read it. Better, if you have any interest at all in the science (or lack thereof) behind the design features of modern running shoes as they relate to injury and performance, this article is an absolute must read – if nothing else, it will make you think, and it will make you want to do some further research (if you read this Steve, can you add a literature cited to the bottom of your post so I can look up some of the articles you cite?).

I’ll whet your appetite with a few quotes:

The running shoe model needs to be fixed. Pronation, Motion Control, Cushioning, and Stability shoes? Get rid of them all.

If excessive pronation does not cause injuries to the degree that everyone thinks, and if motion control shoes don’t even alter pronation, what’s the point of a motion control shoe?

Looking at elite athletes, when racing and training, they generally have higher turnover, minimal ground contact time, and a foot strike that is under their center of gravity. Since the majority of elites exhibit these same characteristics while racing, it makes sense that this is the optimal way to run fast. So, why are we wearing footwear that is designed to increase ground contact, decrease turnover, and promote footstrike out in front of the center of gravity? I have no idea.

The type of shoe and material of the shoe changes impact or stride characteristics NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact and stride characteristics because it alters the sensory feedback. The brain is a wonderful thing.

Here again is the link to Steve’s article, please do give it a read: http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2010/01/why-running-shoes-do-not-work-looking.html.

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. It’s a good post.

    What science there is on this topic is pretty clear, and in its entirety, pretty overwhelming. Shoes surely have a use, but one must keep in mind that they’re a tool. Tools that are well designed improve performance, tools that are poorly designed degrade it.

    Sneakers are pretty poorly designed.

    The heel, for instance, serves no purpose. Heels were invented by the Mongols to allow them to stand up in their stirrups and shoot bows in any direction. They work extremely well if you’re in stirrups. European aristocrats adopted them, and made them popular because, as they became shorter from inbreeding, heels made them look taller.

    I spoke to a professional shoe maker last year, and he mentioned that none of the other professional shoe makers could agree on what the correct height of the heel should be. When I told him zero, he pretty much agreed.

    Based on that history, why put a heel on a running shoe? It makes absolutely no sense.

    Most of the rest of the design is equally incoherent.

    Tuck.

    P.S.: this Disqus comment system is dreadful…

    • Pete Larson says:

      Tuck,

      I’m pretty much in agreement with you – if it weren’t for the fact that most of us have been conditioned to wearing heeled shoes, making the switch would be an obvious choice. I still have times when I value a cushioning after beating my feet up in flats for a week or in a marathon, but my hope is that this will become less and less necessary going forward.

      Disqus has been having issues lately apparently. Unfortunately, now that I’ve been using it for so long it’s hard to change, and it does offer me as moderator some benefits above the standard Blogger comment system.

      Pete

      Sent from my iPad

      • The conditioning is the trick. I’ve been at this diligently for a year, and continue to make progress. But I grew up in shoes. No running barefoot memories for me…

        I’m still making progress, but I’m still progressing. It takes a lot of time.

        On the other hand, I just ran my first half marathon. I couldn’t understand how folks could run that distance and endure the pain for so long. In Vibrams, there was no pain, just sore muscles. It was actually quite fun.

  2. Joe The Runner says:

    Love it. You can take it from the horses mouth here – I am a 6’1 runner that has been in minimalist shoes for months now. Greater speed, faster recovery, and despite the initial calf pain I have had no pains.

  3. Dave from Running Tips says:

    I love reading this blog. Steve Magness will be a great collegiate coach or professional coach in the future. I was lucky enough to interview him too. You can see that interview here.

    link to tips4running.com

    • Pete Larson says:

      Dave,

      Not sure if you’re on the Barefoot Ted Google group, but there’s a
      discussion thread on your interview with Steve going on over there. Nice
      work!

      Pete

  4. dnorton says:

    I’m definitely going to be subscribing to his blog. Great post on the problem with modern shoe engineering and classification.

  5. alex and alexa uk boys trainer says:

    The heel, for example, serves no purpose. Heels were invented by the Mongols to let them stand up in their stirrups & shoot bows in any direction. They work well if you are in stirrups. European aristocrats adopted them, & made them popular because, as they became shorter from inbreeding, heels made them look taller.

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