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Choosing the right running shoes, part 2

We posted a blog 2 weeks ago which discussed the benefits of support shoes and why pronation occurs. This week, we're going to discuss some of the other things you need to think about when buying running shoes.

Support or Guidance

If you missed part 1, you can read it HERE. We outlined why runner pronate and what can cause them to over-pronate. For those who do over-pronate, there are 2 common options, which are termed 'support' or 'guidance' shoes.

Support shoes provide assistance by strengthening the inside of the shoe. Often the foam on the inside is very hard so it can't 'give'. As the foot collapses inwards, this 'harder foam' (or some other plastic structure) basically 'props up' the foot and prevents further collapse. 

Guidance shoes are different. they try to change the movement of the foot to prevent the collapse. Think of it this way, if a car was being driven towards a sharp bend and we accept that a crash was inevitable, the support approach would be to provide air bags and straw bails on the corner to reduce the impact of the crash. Alternatively, the guidance approach would be to try and turn the steering wheel and guide the car round the corner... why accept that the crash is going to happen and provide support, when sometimes the foot just need a bit of steering in the right direction.

Traditional drop or low drop?

The drop is the difference in thickness between the heel of the shoe and the forefoot. Usually the heel is thicker than the forefoot to provide extra cushioning. The problem with this is that if the heel is thicker, it tends to stick out more and it will therefore be the first thing to hit the ground, causing you to 'heel strike'. Runners and triathletes have become fanatical about 'running on your forefoot' in recent years and avoiding heel striking, therefore shoes with a lower drop have become more popular. As an example, a traditional shoe may have 3cm of cushioning in the heel and 1.5cm of cushioning in the forefoot, this would be a 1.5cm / 15mm drop. By reducing the cushioning in the heel or increasing the forefoot, you can reduce the drop and many shoes now have a 4-8mm drop as standard.

Is forefoot the way to go?

The simple fact is that traditional shoes don't 'ride' well when you heel strike. They feel 'clumpy' and slap the ground if you hit with the heel first, which has lead many people to try and run on their forefoot. There is an easier way to resolve this problem, which is to wear shoes which DON'T feel so awful when you heel strike. Shoes such as HOKA are specifically designed to encourage heel striking, but they have a 'rocker system' built in which allows you to roll effectively and smoothly onto your forefoot without any braking. There's a lot of elite runners who heel strike and there's no evidence to support the fact that forefoot running is quicker or more economical. It may be your shoes which are the problem, not your running style.

Stiffness should be considered

Many years ago, Nike brought out a shoe called the 'FREE' which supposedly mimicked barefoot running. At the time, it was stated that by allowing your foot to move naturally, your foot would work harder and therefore your feet would become stronger. If your shoes are very flexible, your foot has to do more work and there are potential benefits to this. However, if your foot is working harder, then this can lead to more issues such as plantar fascia strain. Natural running shoes, make your feet do the work, but sometimes that work can lead to injuries. If your shoe is 'stiffer' then the amount of stress through your foot is reduced. A shoe such as HOKA can be relatively stiff, this also helps with the rocker system as a stiffer shoe will roll easier from heel to toe. A shoe such as On-Cloud is a lot more flexible and therefore feels more natural. Neither one is better or worse, but it's important you understand the implications of each.

There's a lot to know about running shoes and it can have a dramatic impact upon your risk of injury and your general running performance.  If you need any advice regarding which is the best shoe for you, give us a call on 01257 251217 and we'll talk you through the options, or call in store. Alternatively, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them on Facebook or twitter in response to this post and we'll do our best to answer!

The Endurance Store

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