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Rotating Running Shoes: Thoughts From Saucony

The concept of rotating shoes is one that I have written about many times, as have others in the running blogosphere. Yesterday I posted about how foot strike changes with running speed, and I touched on the fact that different shoes might thus be appropriate for different workouts. I’ve also written about a study that suggests that rotating shoes might reduce injury risk.

The reality is that a segment of the running community has long recognized the value of rotating shoes for different workouts or to keep the legs fresh. However, there are more than a few runners who would never consider doing so and to whom the concept of a shoe rotation is totally new and a bit scary.

A fair number of the injured runners I see in the clinic do all of their training on roads in a single shoe (or maybe two very similar models from different brands). Often when I bring up the idea of rotating shoes the response is something along the lines of  “It’s OK to do that???” Many are receptive to trying something different, but when I tell them it’s ok to mix a new shoe in with their current one on different workouts they seem perplexed.

I’ve long wondered why running shoe companies and retail stores aren’t more vocal about this concept of a shoe rotation. It seems like a win-win (provided the runner can afford multiple pairs of shoes). I’ve asked a few retailers and brand reps about this, and there seems to be some sensitivity about the possibility that a customer might feel they are being pushed to buy something they don’t need. Shoes are expensive after all, and getting more expensive every year.

I was pleased therefore when I came across this post on rotating shoes on the Saucony blog. Sure Saucony is a very biased party here – rotating shoes means selling more shoes, and what shoe company doesn’t want to sell more shoes?

I do think that the article makes good sense, and it’s written by Spencer White, head of the Saucony Lab. Spencer is a good scientist, and I’ve spent a few days with him down at Saucony HQ (he did a full gait analysis on me with their force treadmill and 3D kinematic setup). He and I share a lot of common ground in our thinking about shoes, running form, and injuries, and this paragraph pretty much sums up my own thinking on why rotating shoes makes sense:

“Our bodies are best at doing one thing: Adapting to the environment and the stresses we expose them to.  For runners this means that our bodies adapt to the stress of running, becoming fit and strong. But… because running is so repetitive, it can occasionally overstress our bodies, especially when we increase training intensity. Every step loads the same tissues in the same way as the previous step.  Running shoes can affect how the stress of running is distributed within the tissues of your body.  By wearing different shoes on different days, you may avoid overloading any one muscle, tendon, bone, or ligament while simultaneously strengthening others.”

Spencer goes on to talk about shoes and speed:

“If you run at different speeds on different days, or on different surfaces (if you don’t do this, you should!), you may find that a shoe that feels just right at a training pace feels too mushy for intervals, or that the racing flat that works so well for a track workout just feels jarring when running more slowly on the run home. For many runners, a shoe that compresses more feels like it works better with their stride at slower paces, while a shoe that compresses less feels like it works better with their stride at faster paces.”

Read Spencer’s full post here.

I personally liken running shoes to golf clubs. A golfer would never play 18 holes with just a putter. Golfers have a bag full of clubs that each has an intended purpose. In a similar manner I think some runners would benefit from having a few different shoes to use for different purposes. Find the most comfortable shoe you can find for most of your mileage. Get a flat for days you run a bit faster. A trail shoe to maximize variation by getting yourself off of the road once in awhile. I think that by mixing things up you’ll avoid hammering your body with the same repetitive stress every time you run, and this might reduce your chances of getting hurt.

What do you think, do you find value in rotating shoes?

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science

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. Rotating shoes has probably saved me from injury and allowed me to run on days due to one ailment or another that I may have otherwise not made it out the door. My shoe arsenal includes Altra Instincts up to Brooks Cascadias. I’ve noticed Asics even advertises shoes that maybe complementary to each other like rotating the Super J-33 and the GT-2000, biased that it maybe. I’ve only been running for a little over two years, and I thought rotating was part of the game. Great continued posting on the subject.

  2. While I do agree that buying enough running shoes so as to have a decent rotation is a costly proposition, I think it can also be rationalized that having a shoe rotation spreads out the wear-and-tear across the individual pairs, making them last longer. So maybe having a shoe rotation isn’t that much more expensive than sequentially replacing pairs as they get worn out, at least when you think of it in terms of total outlay over time.

    • Trail Running Dad says:

      My first thoughts are the same as Zed’s – it shouldn’t really cost a runner any more to have several pairs of shoes, as you’re still getting the same mileage out of each pair. Rather than having one pair that lasts 3 months, you have 2 pairs that last 6 months (for a very simplified example).

      The benefit to shoe companies wouldn’t necessarily come from rotation in and of itself – but rather if rotation allows runners to run more consistently/avoid injury, they’ll put on more miles and thus need shoes more frequently. But that’s a somewhat more minimal increase in shoe outlay – I don’t see any reason why rotating shoes should be seen as any more expensive, really.

    • Good point!

  3. It is almost to the point that if you find shoes you like you buy at least two pairs of them because styles change. I am guilty of this so my question is: is running in a different pair of the same model considered rotation from your definition?

  4. My Other Car's the Tardis says:

    Some of us w/IMS* are happy to read this advice. =)

    *Imelda Marcos Syndrome

  5. I have never rotated running shoes until recently. Not only that, but I’ve also started rotating my running surfaces. I now do about 1/3 of my running on trails, a little less than that on the track, and the balance on the roads. I do think that this has made a difference in my body not taking the same pounding on the same surface for every run.

  6. Sorry, but I must be the dumbest runner out there. Don’t I use different muscles and tendons in my foot when I speed up, slow down, do hills, etc? I get the trail shoe versus road difference, just like I have a road bike and a trail bike. But when I ride my bike hard I don’t change the tires, their pressure, my seat height etc. Didn’t you write in your book that you foot somewhat does what it wants in a shoe regardless if it is a motion control versus neutral shoe? When my legs feel dead, I don’t change my shoes, I take a day off. Don’t get me wrong, I love buying new running shoes but its more because I fall for the hype not for foot strength reasons.

    • Kinematics may be similar, but forces change with properties of the material underfoot. This is the entire basis for the function of orthotic devices, they change how forces are applied to tissues moreso than they actually change motion. Shoes are basically orthotics.

      And yes, vary speed, hills etc. is great, and I’ve said that a bunch of times. But a lot of runners don’t vary speed, avoid hills, or don’t have access to them. Many just do the same route at the same speed every time they go out, and they might do that 4-5 times per week.

  7. If the foot can’t feel the brain invents

  8. Barefoot populations?
    Do they rotate their feet?

  9. It need not be expensive – introduce your new shoe half way thru the life of your existing shoe and rotate. Not buying anymore shoes than normal, just rotating at 50% lifespan, then you don’t get bill shock either. Best bet = surfaces I agree, but that is not so easy in the Cities. Terrain, speed, shoes… interesting asics jumped on the bandwagon with their recent mkt campaign ‘mix it up’ super j 33 too. I prefer to mix up the brands – never get too rusted on to a brand cos they will change and bugger it up for you :)

  10. Maybe it helps to be anal enough to keep track of mileage per shoe. I rotate shoes but I’m pretty sure I don’t spend more over the long term because I track them to make sure I get 500-600+ miles per pair.

    I also tend to vary mileage per run, so I use the newer pair for the long run and top off the older shoes on shorter runs. My theory there is the older shoes lose their cushioning/support as the miles add up, but they can still work for a shorter, less stressing jaunt.

  11. Barefoot? I’ve done several thousand kilometers and not once felt the need to rotate my “foot ware” Still the same cushioning as the day I started and no signs of wearing out either.

    As for the golf club analogy, we weren’t born with clubs or shoes for that mater.

    • “I” being the key word here. What works for you may not work for everyone. Humans also didn’t evolve running all of our miles at the same pace on a uniform asphalt surface, we ran on variable surfaces at variable speeds (probably with a lot of walking interspersed) in our bare feet.

  12. I’m kind of a new runner, but my experience says rotating is a good thing. Shortly after I started running, somewhere in my feet or legs I started to develop a minor nagging pain during my runs. I thought maybe I had picked the wrong shoes for me, so I went out and got a different pair. Right away the pain went away, but after a few weeks in the new shoes a different minor nagging pain developed somewhere else. So I started rotating and as long as I do, I’m fine. Every once in awhile when I get a new pair of shoes I will wear them exclusively for a few weeks, and eventually some minor pain always comes back until I go back to rotating.

  13. Shoe rotation works for me. I have about 4-6 pairs in rotation; Hokas for long DRY trails and sometimes recovery, Salomon Fellraisers for long muddy technical stuff, some inov-8′s for shorter trails, a couple pairs of brooks pureflow that I do most of my road running and a pair of New Balance MR00 for short, fast intervals. Once you’ve have a bunch of shoes its really no more expensive than having one pair as they all last a lot longer, plus you can dry them out between uses which is particularly important in the UK at the moment!

  14. I just started rotating recently after years of running one pair into the ground for 500-600 miles, then getting another single pair to replace. I’ve become a HUGE fan of picking up earlier model shoes on sale at Sierra Trading Post – just got a pair of NB Minimus Road V2 for $50! I rarely spend more than $70 on a pair of shoes b/c of finding them on sale. Currently rotating Skechers Go Run 2, Saucony Kinvara 3, NB Minimus Road V2, and NB Minimus MT10 V2 for trails.

  15. A great article, and the folks at Saucony are right about rotating shoes. I believe any brand would be happy at the chance to sell a bit more shoes, but the long and short of rotating shoes, as Peter and Saucony point out, is that different muscles are worked based on the type of run.

    For instance, I tend to use the Adidas Energy or Glide Boost for longer runs as the shoes are a bit softer under foot, but switch to a shoe like the Kinvara or Adios for a track workout as they are more firm and contribute to a quicker foot turnover.

  16. Rotating shoes was one of the biggest changes I made in going from a some-injury prone runner, to someone who has knocked out 100+ mpw for 3.5 years with no major setbacks. I rotate among 4-5 pairs on a weekly basis during typical training.

  17. I was an adopter of more minimal footwear around 5 years ago after reading up on pose and chi-running. It was a deliberate more in the belief that there must be more to it than simply heading out the door with whatever running style I had lazily acquired.

    After trying some lower racing flats and taking to them rather well I took a further step and went for the minimalist Vivobarefoot Neo. The minimalist shots helped to strengthen feet and calves and I believed they were working all of my lower leg more. However, using the Brooks Green Silence for occasional longer runs (over 10km to marathon) I found that the lateral strength of my lower legs and muscles around my knees had weakened while using the minimalist shoes on many shorter runs to the point that my knees would ache even after using the flats for a shorter run.

    The conclusion I take from this: a healthy mixture of different types of shoes help to keep the different muscles toned, balanced and avoid chronic injuries from too much running in one type of shoe. Though the shoes must suit running style and not cause great variations in biomechanics that are likely to cause injury. Like Others I’m a firm believer in running different terrain when possible.

  18. Christopher Larson says:

    I agree with all of the info I had read in Tread Lightly with the fact that the foot will do what it does regardless of shoe but from experience dealing with injuries, a Brooks Pureflow, Hoka Bondi and Newton Gravity all react different with the ground. I run primarily in the Hoka’s but had a nagging lower calf/achilles injury. I ran a couple days in my Newton Gravity shoes and it cleared up and has not been back. Not sure what it changed but it worked. I have been more conscious of the rotation of shoes since.

  19. I just stumbled across this blog and thought I would add the perspective of a senior citizen. I began competitive running in 1962 in the days when we raced sockless – in shoes that would now be called bare minimalist. I still run in versions of those shoes from the late 70′s to mid 80′s. I only throw them away when they are beyond repair with a glue gun. I was fortunate enough to be a sponsored runner back then, so the vast majority of them were free. Now that I’m retired I couldn’t afford the current models even if I was interested, but my point with this response is to illustrate that it is not the shoes but the running form that allows for life-long enjoyment of the sport.

  20. I am a Brooks Ravenna lover. Friday I bought my Ravennas and as always love them. At the store I was given Newton Energy for my shorter runs (as alternate shoes) as I wanted something different. My question is should I rotate with a different type of shoe of the same brand, (Flow, Connect, Cadence) or is it OK to branch out to other brands when like me has had great experience with Brooks. I don’t want to have two pairs of Ravenna, yet I am confused.

  21. Well, here’s my relatively simple question. I follow– somewhat– that rotating shoes can be beneficial, given one’s tendency to run differently at varying speeds and distances. But what if you– generally– tend to run the same distance every time? I run with with a pair Saucony Ride 6′s– neutral, with an 8 inch heel drop. Should my next shoe in a rotation be one with the same specs: neutral, with an 8 inch heel drop. Or can– and should— that vary as well? That is– if the distance– and surface– remains generally the same?

    • I think the idea is that if all else is the same, having shoes that differ a bit in construction makes sense. So maybe something firmer/softer or a bit higher/lower drop.

      • Thanks for the reply; it is much appreciated.

        But I have to say, in searching online regarding running shoes, given the volumes of articles extolling the virtues of low/zero drop shoes, one would think literally no one runs in traditional running shoes anymore– and by traditional, I mean a shoe with anywhere from 10-12 mm drops with cushioning. It just seems like article after article either dismisses them– or flat out states they are both unnatural, and hazardous to one’s foot health. It’s getting harder and harder to find people– at least via the net– that fully support and use traditional runners.

        Perhaps it’s just the weight of so much information in light of Born To Run, but honestly: do people still favour– and support– traditional running shoes these days?

        • Actually, yes, very much so. Minimal is very much a small niche, and traditional shoes still dominate sales. Born to Run kicked up a lot of interest in the minimal stuff, and lots of media coverage, etc. It was the new thing, and people were very excited. Things have settled back down now. I run mostly on the more minimal end, but will run in more traditional shoes as well for reviews. I find value in experimenting and using different things.

          • Peter:
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