JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Are your new running shoes injuring you?

Date

The Long Run

Pip Coates was a swimmer until life got busy and she discovered the addictive simplicity of running. She's never looked back.

View more entries from The Long Run

Zoom in on this story. Explore all there is to know.

The arrival into my inbox of an alert about the new adidas Springblades got me wondering whether running shoes had finally gone too far. I mean, look at them.

According to the product description, these shoes feature 16 forward angled blades on the outsole that instantly propels the runner forward with every step. Similar to the adidas Boost range, the aim for this shoe is to deliver explosive energy.

"The nearly transparent design of the Springblades are inspired by the idea of levitation, providing the feeling of springs under your feet. The blade technology is radically different and more technical than any running shoe ever created," the press release says.

We shouldn't be surprised by the emergence of shoes such as Springblades because shoes have been going in all different directions for a few years now.

Barefoot or five-toe options have been mainstream for at least five years. You'll run faster and put less strain on your body the more technically proficient and efficient you are. Barefoot running can force better form: more of a forefoot/midfoot strike beneath the runner's centre of gravity.

At the other end of the spectrum and more recent to market are the shoe equivalent of the pillow-top mattress. They have massive cushioning and support and look vaguely ridiculous, but they have become hugely popular - so much so that one manufacturer, Hoka, is expanding its range of colours and support options to cater for this new market.

So what's driving the ultra-cushioning craze?

It's not about improving your running form; it's mostly driven by injury prevention. These spongy-soled shoes have enabled people to keep running through niggles - perhaps when they shouldn't have. But more on that later.

For a little perspective given the cluttered market I sought out Mick Outhred (above), the manager of specialty running store Northside Runners in Sydney's Manly.

"Your safest bet is to go to the standard shoe that's biomechanically fitted to you. Mildly-supported shoes with mild cushioning are our best sellers."

But sales of the ultra-cushioned shoes are catching up and while Outhred won't dissuade people from buying them, he's a little concerned about the side-effect of over-reliance.

Let's go back to why there's a market for ultra-cushioning at all.

Outhred says shoes have come full circle. As running became more popular, people became more interested in improving their technique. Weekend warriors with noble intentions began buying racing flats and barefoots.

"Trouble is, most people don't have the inherent skills or time to concentrate on technique and improving their skills enough to make the move into barefoot successfully," Outhred says.

"We were seeing a massive number of people coming in with stress fractures from going into it too quickly without having allowed the body time to adapt. If people don't give themselves time to strengthen muscles and ligaments, they'll stress them."

So after the aspirational technically proficient runner came the injured runner in search of a workaround. These runners were suffering endorphin withdrawals and coupled with the personality trait that got them into this fix in the first place - impatience - they wanted a shoe that could keep them on the road.

"Hoka couldn't have timed it better hitting the market," Outhred says. "A lot of people have been injured from trying to develop themselves into natural runners so saw the benefit of a lighter, cushioned shoe that enabled them to get out and run relatively pain-free.

"Plus, the max cushioned shoe is popular with people who haven't been experimenting with flats, but who just have niggles that aren't going away."

Outhred's concern is that people are running while injured.

"It's good for now, but what's the long-term effect going to be?” he says. “Is it going to delay recovery time? It certainly disguises the injury. These shoes are allowing people to run how they want to, but not educating them into how they can run more efficiently."

For anyone wanting to work on their running form, Outhred says footwear transition is key.

"Stepping out of a fully structured shoe with cushioning and archwork control into a lighter-weight trainer is advisable before taking the next step to barefoot. It's probably about a six-month transition to strengthen those areas, but over time you might get into a more efficient technique.”

In terms of injury prevention, most people require a little archway support and cushioning. So for runners who want the lighter shoe sensation of running barefoot but also want a well-cushioned system, it's available in a range of brands now.

“That's where our sales are going,” says Outhred. “We get people who've had a bad experience with barefoot but don't want the Hoka extreme. Things are coming back to standard trainer that offer good shock absorption but are versatile enough for outdoor cross-training and running.”

Have you had a bad experience trying to go into flats?

Follow Pip Coates on Twitter.

41 comments

  • Apart from participating in Little Athletics in the mid 70s, I've never been a runner. And back in those days, we did our athletics carnival in Dunlop Volleys!
    In the early 1990s I found myself a bit overweight and started power walking. For that I wore my Nikes.
    Now in my early 50s and having gained some weight, then having surgery last year, I really needed to lose weight. I decided on learning to run and sought out the local sports shoe store and ended up with a pair of very lightweight Nike Frees. I love them to death. They weigh less than my cross trainers and are comfortable. I have a high arch and a good indicator for me is how well a shoe supports the whole of my foot.
    The shoes in the photo, I would regard them with a great deal of suspicion. What about little stones getting caught in them?
    Pain is your body's way of telling you to back of a little. There is no heroics in ignoring it, and you are just setting yourself up for a massive fail.
    I have a friend who has ignored her sore knees for years. She had the first one replaced last year and watching her recover from it has been heart rending. The most strenuous exercise she may ever do again will probably collecting the mail and putting out the bin. It's not good.

    Commenter
    New to running at 53
    Date and time
    March 25, 2014, 2:59AM
    • I find the Nike Frees the best shoe I have ever used. They make you aware of how you strike your foot. By constantly padding your foot, pain can be masked thus causing further injury. Good work on your running!

      Commenter
      SW
      Date and time
      March 25, 2014, 12:53PM
  • Based on reading Born to Run there has been no research to show that these shows minimise the risk of injury. Like many products, it would not be surprising if the marketing budget and department is bigger than the product research and testing budget.

    The comment of the salesman about running with injury is interesting. Read an article recently that discussed the view (no research to back it up) that we needn't rest through all injuries. Stress fractures and the like aside, resting through all injuries may not be beneficial. As the injured muscle recovers, other, unused muscles weaken.

    Commenter
    Public Joe
    Date and time
    March 25, 2014, 7:51AM
    • I love bare foot running. Literally bare foot or minimal shoes. My problem is I have collapsed arches so I overpronate and have ended up with achillles tendinitis after 18 months. My phsio told me not to run for six weeks and has put me back in asics kayanos. Can't not run so I put on the cushioned stabilising high heels and run anyway. But I long to run barefoot again. Sigh.

      Commenter
      Ray Man
      Location
      BM
      Date and time
      March 25, 2014, 7:59AM
      • You sound like the description in the article of the impatient type. I was the same, not for barefoot but for trying to get faster. Injured my (L) hamstring, but kept running.
        It got worse, and despite stopping, hitting the physio and constant rehab it's still not right 18 months later.

        Now I can't run, so I swim. My number one priority with swimming is good technique to avoid injury. The rest looks after itself.

        Commenter
        Claypole
        Date and time
        March 25, 2014, 10:33AM
      • Clarification. I didn't literally 'hit' the physio. That wouldn't achieve anything.

        Commenter
        Claypole
        Date and time
        March 25, 2014, 10:41AM
      • Do whatever works for you but my chiro tells me he and his mates in the game are seeing a wave of 'barefoot' runners with all sorts of leg and back issues.

        Might work for the Kenyans, but I'm a little sceptical.

        Commenter
        details
        Date and time
        March 25, 2014, 11:22AM
      • It's probably not a wave of barefoot runners seeing the chiro. It i smote likely the same person that needs to be seen 52 times.

        Commenter
        Immal
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        March 25, 2014, 12:27PM
      • AS the guy said, you need proper training and technique for barefoot running. Landing more on the front of your feet and not rolling from heel to toe like most caucasians do. that is why african long distance runners are the best. they have a different physiology which allows them to run on the fronts of their feet. other marathons runners have since adapted to this technique. but this is all old news

        Commenter
        Lazza
        Location
        Scarb
        Date and time
        March 25, 2014, 12:47PM
      • Immal - you shouldn't be smiting anyone.

        Commenter
        Public Joe
        Date and time
        March 25, 2014, 1:48PM

    More comments

    Comments are now closed
    Advertisement
    Featured advertisers
    Executive Style newsletter signup

    Executive Style newsletter signup The latest news delivered to your inbox twice-weekly.

    Sign up now

    Advertisement