Getting ready to shop for a new pair of running shoes? DPT Max Biessmann debunks five common myths you encounter when talking shoes and explains what you should pay attention to when shopping for running shoes.
BY MAX BIESSMANN, DPT, RAUSCH PHYSICAL THERAPY
USAT LEVEL I COACH, ASCA LEVEL I COACH, USA SWIMMING COACH
How often have you been to a 5k race or local weekly run and heard different runners comparing and talking about their shoes? There are many things avid runners can and will say about shoes, such as why they run in a certain pair and why that pair is better than any other, but with so many types of running shoes out there to choose from (and just as many opinions) how do you separate fact from fiction?
As a professional triathlete and doctor of physical therapy, I’m going to discuss some common myths I hear about running shoes to help you make a better decision when buying or trying out your next pair.
MYTH #1: Brand “X” is Better than Brand “Y”
I often hear people say they will only run in [insert name of major running shoe brand here] and that [insert name of competitor running shoe brand here] is not as good because of [insert sales pitch here.] Well, this is not entirely true.
Every major brand offers a wide variety of types of shoe to address the multitude of needs of all runners, from beginner to advanced marathoner. With this in mind, it’s not necessarily a specific brand of shoe that will work best for you, but a specific type of shoe. Do you need a lot of motion control? More cushioning? Do you want more road feel? There are types of shoes that can help each of these aspects.
That being said, there are three main features that can really change the shoe and therefore should take precedence in your decision making process: the amount of pronation control, the stack height or cushioning, and the heel toe drop/ramp. Pronation control refers to the amount of support along the inside aspect of your foot/arch and is designed to prevent your foot from collapsing inward into the dreaded over-pronation range. Stack height is the amount of material in between the sole of the shoe and your foot and is often thought of as padding or cushion. Heel toe drop or ramp is the difference in stack height from the heel of the shoe to the toe of the shoe.
If you’re lost as to what type of shoe is best for you, keep these three features in mind and ask an expert. Many running shoe stores will allow you to run in shoes at the store in order to recommend a type of shoe to help get you started in the right direction.
MYTH #2: There’s an Ideal Heel Ramp/Drop for Running Shoes
As mentioned above, the drop or ramp of a shoe is the difference between the stack height of the heel and the toe. The current standard is 10mm, or a heel that is 10mm higher than the toe of the shoe. However, some companies have started advertising a “zero drop shoe” (same height at heel and toe) because higher heel ramps have been blamed for an increase in heel striking and over-striding in runners, leading to an increased injury rate. However, there is currently no sound scientific research to prove that theory. In fact, it can also be argued that since the sole of a shoe compresses under a load, then a zero drop could become a negative drop (basically the heel becomes lower than the toe.)
The truth is that there is no specific standard drop that works best for everyone; the only way to determine the best drop for YOU is to have your gait analyzed by a trained professional. So check the drop of the shoe and find one that works for you; many companies offer ranges of drop from 0mm to 10mm. If you have good success in a specific drop of shoe, be careful not to make a large, sudden change when it’s time to replace that pair.
MYTH #3: There’s a Pair of Running Shoes That Will Make You Faster
Although everyone is looking for that one pair of shoes that will magically make them faster, the reality is that the shoes on your feet won’t greatly slow you down or speed you up because they are not performance enhancing in and of themselves. Shoes are a tool that help you complete the necessary training without injury. For example a recent study discovered that adding 100 g (3.5 oz) to shoe weight affected well-trained runners by 1% over a 3k time trial. At 4 min/k (6:25 min/mile) this equates to approximately 7 seconds per 3k. So unless you are looking for those few seconds to win an Olympic gold medal, shoes are not going to make a huge difference overall, and you’re best off in the shoes that are the most comfortable and allow you to train the best without injury or discomfort.
MYTH #4: Shoes With More Padding Prevent Injury
The current trend in running shoes is shifting away from the minimalist movement of a few years ago toward increased padding or stack height. Many people are embracing the increased padding trend, claiming that it will help reduce the load on the joints and, thus, injury rates.
The concept behind this is sound, but good running form and mechanics revolve around being able to absorb and reuse the load to propel the runner forward. Good running form will put about 2.5x your bodyweight of force through your legs; as this force is applied, your legs and entire body must make very quick alterations in muscle activation patterns in order to maintain proper alignment and distribute the loads correctly across the various joints. However, when you run in maximal shoes, or shoes with a lot of padding/stack height, the padding will reduce some of the sensory input from your foot that is required for your brain to maintain the proper alignment. This doesn’t mean that shoes with increased padding are necessarily bad, but they do not prevent injury as some would claim.
MYTH #5: Shoes Change the Way You Run
Shoes can have minor effects on the mechanics within your foot and up through your leg, but the most important part of running form is the way YOU move and your own mobility, strength and motor control. Certain types of shoes or designs can be beneficial in helping you achieve the proper mechanics, but they will not fix anything.
In the end, the selection of a running shoe is a very personal decision and depends on many factors; I hate to be cliche, but there’s really no “one-size-fits-all” answer to running shoes. Here are my final tips and things to remember when purchasing your running shoes:
- Just because your friend swears by a certain brand or model does not mean it will be the best for you.
- When looking at running shoes, always take into account your running history, your body type, and your average running surface.
- It’s important to test any shoe you buy—most running shoe stores will have a treadmill or will let you try the shoes out in front of the store.
- If you ever see a demo night for a specific brand of shoes, try them out! One of the best things you can do for your running is to play the field with running shoes and try out different designs and models.
- It is usually best to have several pairs of shoes in your stable to use for different types of runs. Changes in shoe dynamics will change the forces relayed into your foot and body during runs and can reduce overuse injuries.
Max Biessmann, DPT is a licensed physical therapist at Rausch Physical Therapy & Sports Performance. He received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree at the University of St. Augustine, San Marcos in 2016 and started his career at Rausch PT. Max is passionate about helping people achieve their goals through physical therapy and innovative rehab technologies. As the Endurance Sports PT, Max says he’s lucky to be able to combine his professional coaching experience and PT knowledge to help his patients achieve their personal bests in sports and daily life.