Don’t Blame Your Run­ning Shoes

Aug 15, 2010   //   by Evhen   //   Blog, Training  //  7 Comments

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photo by mike­hamm

Don't blame your running shoes

Hi.

It’s us, your run­ning shoes.

We’ve got a few things to tell you.

We’re tired of being blamed for all your run­ning problems.

Shin splints? “Shoes must be get­ting old.” Knee prob­lems? “I must have the wrong type of shoes.” Slow race time? “My shoes felt too heavy.”

Don’t get us wrong. We love run­ning with you. We would never quit on you. We want you and your feet to be happy. But before you give up on us and go bare­foot (who will you blame for your aches and pains then?), just hear us out.

Con­sider break­ing up with your work shoes

No, we’re not jeal­ous. We under­stand that there are other shoes in your life. We have no desire to go to bor­ing meet­ings or sit under a desk all day. But come on, do you think you’re really doing your feet a favor with these?

high heels - a runner's enemy

If we’re lucky you might spend two or three hours with us, but you cram your feet into your work shoes for up to 12 hours per day, five days a week! And if you really are wear­ing high heels for that long, you could be doing some seri­ous dam­age. In fact, recent stud­ies have shown that high heels can shorten calf length by up to 13 per­cent!

And men, you’re not doing your­selves any favors either. When you jam your feet into your expen­sive styl­ish nar­row dress shoes with pointy toes, you will over time deform your foot by cram­ming your toes together. And when your toes are all crammed together, they don’t con­tribute so well to your run­ning stride.

Take your shoes off when you’re at home

Photo credit: cohdra from morgue​file​.com

We spend a lot of time with your feet. We lis­ten to them much more than you do. You know what their biggest com­plaint is? You keep them in shoes too much.

You should take your shoes off every chance you get. It’s good for your shoes, and it’s even bet­ter for your feet. Walk­ing around the house with­out shoes devel­ops your foot and calf mus­cles while help­ing your feet breathe.

Here’s some­thing you should try. When you walk around the house, can you hear the china rat­tle? Do the peo­ple on the floor below you hear THUD THUD THUD with every step you take? You prob­a­bly don’t even notice it. Pay atten­tion to how hard your feet hit the floor when you walk with­out shoes — and then try to walk silently. You don’t need to walk on tip­toes to walk silently. Just put your feet down more gen­tly and make sure your heel doesn’t strike first. In fact, this is the way humans were meant to walk. Land­ing on the ball of your foot instead of your heel improves your bal­ance and your form. You can do this at home every time you take a step, and your feet, shins, and knees will thank you.

Run­ning shoes can’t save you from bad form

You’ve heard the con­ven­tional wis­dom. Do you over­pronate? Get a motion con­trol shoe. Do you under­pronate? Get a cush­ioned shoe. Do you have knee prob­lems? Get fit­ted for orthotics. In fact, it seems there’s a shoe or an insert for every pos­si­ble gait problem.

But is it really the shoes? Recent stud­ies using con­trol groups have actu­ally “…found almost no cor­re­la­tion at all between wear­ing the proper run­ning shoes and avoid­ing injury.” In fact, run­ners who used the “cor­rect” type of shoe in the stud­ies actu­ally had a higher inci­dence of injuries than run­ner who didn’t.

So how do you make sense of this data? Here’s our take on it. When you use your run­ning shoes to com­pen­sate for bad form, you actu­ally train your feet and legs to run worse. If you buy cush­ioned shoes because you’re a heel striker, the shoes make it OK to heel strike and over time your heel strikes harder and harder. If you buy motion con­trol shoes because you pronate, the shoes do all the work for you so the mus­cles that would nor­mally keep your feet from pronat­ing get even weaker and your over prona­tion gets even worse.

So what can you do?

Don’t fix your shoes, fix your form

Yes, you can prob­a­bly fix your form by run­ning bare­foot — but we don’t think you need to. We think you can improve your form and reduce injuries and prob­lems by sim­ply fol­low­ing these two pieces of advice:

  • Go nat­ural — By this we mean get off the pave­ment. Run on grass. Run up hills. Run on trails. Run any­where that the sur­face isn’t flat. Uneven ter­rain will force you to run with a more respon­sive gait. In time, this will develop all those mus­cles that have atro­phied from years and years of motion con­trol and flat pave­ment. It will be hard at first, and you should start slow. But in time you’ll notice the dif­fer­ence. Besides, isn’t pave­ment get­ting bor­ing for you? We would sure like a change of scenery!
  • Shorten your stride — We think that you are heel strik­ing, and suf­fer­ing from shin splints, knee prob­lems, and other mal­adies because your stride is too long. When your feet land in front of you, you are overex­tend­ing your joints and mus­cles. Also, when your feet land in front of you, the only way they can land is on the heel. The heel is not made for gen­tly absorb­ing shock — it trans­fers the shock right up your legs and through your body.If you shorten your stride so that your feet land under­neath you, you’ll find that you will dra­mat­i­cally reduce the impact on your heels. You’ll move more quickly onto the balls of your feet, and you’ll have a bet­ter push off to start the next stride. To help your­self achieve this form, lean for­ward slightly as you run. Of course, shorter strides mean less dis­tance cov­ered, so you’ll need to increase your turnover. Over time it will start to feel more nat­ural, and the reduced impact will trans­late into less train­ing time lost to injury.

So can we be friends again? Take care of your feet when you’re not run­ning, and they’ll take care you when you are. Pay atten­tion to improv­ing your form by short­en­ing your stride, and you’ll reduce the impact of each step on your body. And finally, take it slow. Add dis­tance grad­u­ally when you train and lis­ten to your body.

Let’s go for a run!

7 Comments

  • Very inter­est­ing arti­cle! Ive tried dif­fer­ent shoe brands, types, etc, but Ive not set­tled on any so far. I guess a lot has to do with shoe fit and com­fort vs brand, and to break into the shoe!

    • Thanks for the com­ment! Yes, I agree you def­i­nitely have to find the right fit and com­fort. How­ever, I don’t believe you need to break in shoes. If you have the right shoe, it should feel right even straight out of the box. I haven’t had to break in shoes for quite a few years. Good luck, and I hope you find the right pair! I’ve had great luck talk­ing to the folks at road​run​ner​sports​.com. They are very help­ful and can guide you to a good pair based on what you liked and didn’t like about other pairs you have tried in the past.

  • It is great to see arti­cles such as this. We need many more on a con­stant basis. How­ever, it is also very frus­trat­ing to read such arti­cles because the infor­ma­tion has been known for at least 20 years. I even cov­ered it in detail in my book Explo­sive Run­ning pub­lished in 2000. I rec­om­mended that run­ners buy the cheap­est shoes pos­si­ble as long as they were com­fort­able. The key was how you ran not what you wore.

    What is also frus­trat­ing is that the rec­om­men­da­tions on run­ning form and the ratio­nale for such form still appear to be mis­un­der­stood. For exam­ple, the rec­om­men­da­tion that you should shorten stride is erro­neous. Land­ing mid­foot actu­ally length­ens stride length, all other fac­tors being equal. The key is in how you exe­cute the mid­foot landing.

  • I think you’ve got some sound advice here. I run pri­mar­ily bare­foot myself, hav­ing also tried run­ning in Vibram Fivefin­gers and Luna San­dals huaraches. I never ran in tra­di­tional run­ning shoes with any seri­ous­ness, partly because it never felt com­fort­able. I now think this had some­thing to do with the shoes, but more to do with my total igno­rance on good run­ning form.

    I run bare­foot because it’s fun, it’s cheap, and because I can. But I also wear shoes when ter­rain or con­di­tions require them. As a friend and sports med­i­cine doc­tor once told me, shoes rarely solve any­thing. I do think cer­tain shoes can make it harder to achieve good form, while oth­ers can bet­ter allow your feet and legs to oper­ate as they were meant to do. The per­fect shoe for me is one that pro­tects my foot from haz­ards with­out alter­ing how it func­tions or how I per­ceive the ground I’m run­ning on. The less the shoe gets in the way, the better.

    I do think some­times shoes con­tribute to form prob­lems, but that doesn’t mean get­ting rid of them is a panacea or quick fix.

    • Thanks for the com­ments. I agree with you on your points. I’m glad that bare­foot run­ning is work­ing out for you. By the way, I love your blog and will add it to my blogroll here and to my RSS reader.

  • I wear noth­ing but Vibrams and while that may seem a bit extreme to some, my feet have NEVER felt bet­ter. My $500 orthotics now sit in my dusty Asics in my closet.

    • I’m glad that your Vibrams are work­ing for you, and hope you con­tinue to run great in them! Sounds like you’ve found your run­ning form. Keep it up!