Why are there so many different types of running shoes, and do they play a part in making you run faster or stand taller?
Ever head to a sports store and just staring at the wall of shoes on display, wondering which to get? You try on a few and you feel that some are comfortable, while others do not provide enough support. Is there really any difference when it comes to these shoes, or are they just protection for your feet?
Do shoes really affect performance?
Among all sport wearables - dri-fit clothes, fitness trackers, shoes, etc. - shoes are in fact the most important. There are various types of shoes and rightfully so. To put it drastically, you don't wear heels for running and cleats for the track. So, of course shoes affect performance. The designs of the shoes protect and comfort your feet as you perform various movements.
Why do they affect performance?
To understand which footwear to opt for, you need to understand the different factors that measure performance.
When it comes to speed, it means power in running. Power is about how much weight you can move and how quickly it takes for you to do so. Each time you take a step, the muscles in your legs have to shift your body weight quickly and dynamically.
The way you run also plays a factor in choosing your shoes. A gait analysis will outline everything about how your body and legs move to create a running pattern. It is a complicated overview of the biomechanics of your body. With a gait analysis, you can determine the errors of your running form and fix that before getting a pair of shoes - because all shoes are made for people with good running forms.
What should I be looking for?
Running shoes might make a difference, but only if you are an informed consumer. There are four things to consider:
This may be a no brainer, but shoes that are too tight will cause extreme discomfort and permanent damage. But often we are tempted to get a tighter pair of shoes, maybe because they are on sale or it is the colour you have been looking for. Whatever the reason is, get a pair of shoes that fit you the best - especially if you are looking to run long distances.
The weight of the shoe also plays a part in comfort. Running longer distances in heavier shoes will tire your muscles out faster and make you more prone to injuries.
2. Price range
Again, is there a difference between cheap shoes and expensive shoes? Some shoes like the Adidas Ultraboost have a hefty price tag attached to them, whereas shoes like Saucony's are about 3 times cheaper. This boils down to the frequency of your running.
Expensive shoes cost more because of the higher-tech cushioning (we'll talk more about this in a bit) or breathability, which are key qualities you should be looking for if you are running more than 20km per week. Less expensive shoes would be fine for light jogs, but would probably wear down soon. So you ought to weigh your pros and cons according to your budget as well. If you can afford it, splurge a little to give some love for your feet.
You can find the most comfortable pair of shoes at a fantastic price, but they are meant for the gym when you are planning to run on a natural trail. Intense heat, jagged rocks and muddy-sloped terrains are common trails for long distance runners. If your sole is not thick or rugged enough, blisters and calluses will start to form on your feet, affecting your performance. Do be mindful about the breathability and the thickness of the sole when you pick a pair of shoes.
We all have different feet shape and sizes. The most crucial feature of the foot is the arch, which is partly responsible for your balance and gait. Three arch types exist: normal, flat and high. Depending on your arch and foot shape, you may need to wear shoes with more cushioning (again, more about this in a bit) or motion control and stability shoes.
Some myths to bust
Too much cushioning
When you run, it is unavoidable that you are making impact with the ground. This would result in trauma especially on the knee and joints of your feet. So, shoe companies add soft cushioning to the soles of the shoes to reduce trauma.
But research by the University of Exeter showed that "minimal trainers" and less cushioned running shoes actually showed a significantly lower loading rate upon impact - meaning they are stepping more lightly and safely. Theoretically that translates to a significantly lower risk of injury.
This ties in with the sentiment of many individuals of the podiatry community. They believe running shoes with a lot of cushion contribute to bad form and something called "proprioception disorder".
Proprioceptors are a network of "sensors" in our muscles that help us balance. Those sensors are compromised when the cushion of running shoes do the work instead. This makes it difficult for our body to interpret the relationship our body has with the surfaces that we are running on. In the long run. we become more prone to accidental injury because our body over- or under-compensates for one thing or another.
The key takeaway: just have an adequate amount of cushioning.
This is a very sensitive topic that we are talking about. For decades, shoe companies have invested billions into research, trying to prove that the second major cause of running-related injuries is due to overpronation - someone with a flatter foot or less arch will strain their joints and create injuries.
But studies of overpronation do not have significant evidence. Whenever a study shows that overpronation does affect running performance, another will prove the evidence wrong. Many studies have shown that runners who place their trust in a stability or motion control shoe to counter overpronation, may have actually worsened the risk of injury.
The bottom line
Once again, we all have different feet shapes and sizes. It is important to make an informed decision and this is what this article is for - to be a smart consumer. Your running form will play a huge role in minimizing the risk of injury and your footwear just plays a small part. Look for a shoe that feels the fits the best and most importantly, feels right.
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