There is an entire business model built on telling you exactly what kind of shoes you should be wearing as a runner. Of course, no version of this assessment seems to agree with the business next door either! Some groups will insist that if your shoe is not built up in the right way around your specific foot to support your structures well, you’re going to be sacrificing not only speed and efficiency, but be at higher risk to injury because of the heavy load you’re putting through your feet!
On the flip side, the entire minimalist shoe movement argues the exact opposite. Modern running shoes have encouraged us to run “wrong”. This actually increases our risk of injury! This line of thought argues that those who train the muscles of their legs and feet properly should actually do better than traditional runners because they are working the way the body was designed. Also, their injuries should decrease because the foot should better support itself.
So what gives?! Who is right, and what does the research say? Well, unfortunately, the research is that the jury is still out. But there are some important takeaways from what we DO know.
The biggest study on shoe type showed that when we compare someone fitted in the “appropriate custom shoe” to someone doing the same amount of running placed in a generic “stability shoe”, we actually saw a HIGHER injury rate in the custom fitted shoe! This could mean a couple of things. The takeaway here may be that stability shoes are a better option for most runners. It could also be that when we try and alter someone’s previously developed runner form with an outside force, the sudden change strains structures in a way they are not prepared for. In return this causes more injuries. If that is the case, then runners should simply try multiple types of shoes. At the end of the day, just wear what feels best on the foot and body.
More studies need to be conducted on this to actually know which of the two is the answer. Or maybe a combination of the two will end up being true! But the major takeaway we have from this information is that for all we claim to know about running, we really still can not accurately analyze your foot to give you the ideal shoe. For runners who feel uncomfortable in the shoe given to them, my best advice is to try something else until you find one that feels right to you. Also, steer clear of those “gurus” who claim they have all the answers for your foot needs already!
Theory of “Running Wrong”
So if that’s the case, what about the theory that we’re running wrong? Should we be running on the forefoot to reduce our knee injuries? Is this why we have so many knee injuries in running? Thankfully, on this one the research is a bit more conclusive. Heel strike and forefoot strike running have equal injury rates, just on different body parts. Toe runners are more likely to injury their Achilles, and heel runners are more likely to hurt their patellar tendon, but neither is “safer” than the other. There are, thankfully, good prevention methods for both!
- Rule one is to include consistent resistance training for both muscle groups (knee extensors and plantarflexors) regardless of your running type. This builds significant resilience in these groups to reduce injury risk!
- Second is to closely monitor your overall running load and the changes by week of your totals. We do know most “Old School” running programs actually seem to add time/distance more aggressively than local tissues can adapt to strain and without enough rest in between sessions for many early runners. This overuse of tissue is a far more likely culprit to injury rates than the shoe alone. So if you are finding your tissues are getting overworked, the proper response is far more likely to decrease your running load for a bit. Also make sure you are doing the right resistance exercises that meet the demands of your style.
So what shoe should you wear? Seems like that highly depends on what style of running YOU personally prefer, what feels best to YOU as a runner, and we all MAY benefit from some stability in our shoes. We’re always learning more though, so look forward to updates as the world gets more research out on the topic!