What you do (and do not) need in a running shoe

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Humans have run for hundreds of thousands of years, most without the benefit of cushy, brightly colored footwear. But take a stroll around a sporting goods store or scroll through a running website, and you will find a dizzying array of options. Some promise speed, others comfort and injury reduction — and nearly all carry hefty price tags.اضافة اعلان

To help you sort fact from fad — and stability shoes from super shoes — we consulted research and experts.

What makes a running shoe a running shoe?Traditional running sneakers are designed to blunt the impact of hitting the ground and provide traction, said Geoff Burns, a sport physiologist for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

As with other athletic shoes, running sneakers are made of fabric, foam and rubber, but they are engineered to meet the specific demands of the sport. For instance, they are typically lighter and more flexible than basketball shoes, which are designed to protect your foot during lateral, stop-and-start movements.

The biggest difference in most running shoes is in the midsole, made of cushy foam. Other types of athletic sneakers have midsole foam, but there is more in running shoes and manufacturers say it’s tapered toward the front of the shoe to assist with forward motion, Burns said.

In addition, most running shoes have features integrated into the uppers — the fabric parts that make up the top of the sneaker — meant to keep your foot secure, said Matthew Klein, a physical therapist, assistant professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at West Coast University, and founder of the “Doctors of Running” website and podcast.

You might notice a stiff piece of cardboard or plastic on the back of the sneaker called a heel counter, for instance, or extra strips of fabric, called overlays, that run across the upper.

Do specialized running shoes actually do what they claim?Shoe companies invest a great deal of money in biomechanical research, said Allison Gruber, an associate professor of kinesiology and a biomechanics researcher at Indiana University Bloomington.

However, marketing departments and running-store clerks often oversell certain features, especially to newer runners, said Klein and Dr Kevin Vincent, a physiatrist and director of the University of Florida Health Running Medicine Clinic.

Stability and motion control shoes, for instance, are popular among runners and are said to prevent injury by correcting for over-pronation — when your ankle collapses too far inward as you walk or run. Some models have rigid posts that reduce side-to-side motion, though many newer releases use subtler systems, such as making the shoe wider on the bottom than the top, Klein said.

But current evidence does not bear out their protective benefits. Pronation itself is a natural part of your running gait. “That’s how your body dissipates force,” Vincent said. Overcorrecting it may cause knee and hip pain, and prevent you from properly using and strengthening muscles in your foot and leg.

Excessive pronation can pose problems, too, but it’s poorly defined: “What might be excessive for one person isn’t necessarily excessive for another,” Gruber said. In other words, the shoes may present a solution to a problem that a runner might not have, and most people would be better off allowing their foot to move more naturally, Vincent said.

Maximalist shoes, which have thick soles purporting to better cushion your foot from impact, are another popular category. Some also have rocker bottoms, curved up in the front and back, which guide your foot forward. But while cushioning can soften the blow, more foam isn’t always better, Vincent said.

With a thicker pile of foam between your foot and the ground, your brain receives less information about how your body is interacting with the surface beneath you, Vincent said. This might make you more likely to wobble or even strike the ground harder than you would in a less-cushy shoe. Some impact is absorbed by the foam, but the rest travels up to other areas, including the knee and hip, potentially worsening any pain prevalent in those areas.

There are also super shoes, trendy racing sneakers with stiff, carbon-fiber plates and ultra lightweight and responsive foam. Several studies suggest that, while wearing them, serious athletes run faster by improving their running economy — or the amount of oxygen required to run a certain pace.

But super shoes do not work for everyone: In a small study conducted by Burns and his colleagues, super shoes worked to improve running economy for some runners at non-elite speeds, but about one-third had worse running economy in them. There is not much research about super shoes and injury, but many experts believe that while they might not necessarily increase injury risk compared with other types of shoes, they might shift the ways runners get hurt, Klein said.

That’s why he and others recommend steering clear of super shoes when you are starting out.

What should you look for in running shoes?Most runners — including those who are lacing up for the first time — should consider opting for what is known as a neutral daily trainer, Klein said. These shoes don’t attempt to change the way your foot interacts with the ground — they simply place some cushioning between the two.

But there are a few reasons to consider other options. While specialized shoes, like maximalist and stability sneakers, don’t seem to ward off running injuries, clinicians like Klein and Vincent said they sometimes recommend them to patients who are already coping with certain types of pain or injury.

And if you regularly log miles on craggy, muddy or steep terrain, trail shoes have added traction for better grip, especially on downhills, Klein said. Some also have a stiff plate embedded into the midsole to protect your foot from sharp rocks.

And, above all, make sure your shoes feel comfortable, he added. Comfort, more than matching your shoe to your gait or foot type, is what will keep you running over the long term, he said.

Running shoes are expensive. How often should I really replace them?Most name-brand running shoes cost more than $100, and specialty super shoes can run upward of $200. You can also pick up other trainers for around $50 at a discount or sporting goods store — but many runners find that they don’t feel as cushioned or comfortable, likely because they use less or lower-quality foam, Burns said.

Studies conducted in the lab and in the real-world suggest running shoes do lose significant amounts of shock absorption within 500km to 800km, if not earlier. That is about three to five months if you are a serious runner, or perhaps around nine to 12 months, if you are getting out there a couple times per week, said Hiruni Wijayaratne, an elite marathoner and certified running coach. But it is not clear when this breakdown begins causing problems for your feet or legs, Burns said.

Much depends on the runner and the shoe, he said. Higher-mileage runners, those who train on harder or rugged surfaces, or people with uneven gait patterns may have to replace shoes sooner, and super shoes tend to break down faster than neutral trainers.

Finding the right sneaker can feel daunting, but do not stress too much about getting one perfect pair, Burns said. Instead, recognize there’s likely a range of shoes that will work for you — and the search is all part of the running journey.

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