In part 1 of this 3 part series, I talked about the impact of running mechanics on the efficiency of a runner. Now I’d like to talk about everyone’s favourite topic, footwear.
Proper footwear is something I get asked about on a regular basis. ‘What brand of shoes should I wear?’ and ‘What kind of shoes should I buy?’ are among the most common questions.
The answer is actually pretty simple: use whatever feels good and works well for you.
Recent research has shown that a more minimalist style shoe will give a more natural gait and increase your efficiency as a runner. The less padding present in the heel, the less likely you are to heel strike, which creates a smoother and more efficient gait cycle. If you can move to a more mid-forefoot strike it reduces the chance of creating a braking effect in your running (see article 1).
There are a couple of things you should keep in mind when looking for proper footwear.
- The amount of heel to toe drop. If the shoe has a high heel to toe angle then it is not a minimalist style shoe, and will end up forcing you into a heel strike pattern when running. Imagine running in high heels, it gives the same effect.
- Flexibility of the sole. The more give the sole has in all planes (not just up and down, but also side to side as tested by twisting the shoe) the more it will react with your foot, causing you to work on a more basic running gait. Having a rubber soled shoe is not a bad thing, especially if you know you will be doing a lot of pavement running, or running in areas where things can injure the bottom of your feet.
- Width of the shoe. It is important that the shoe fit in width, especially across the toes. If the shoe comes to a point too quickly it will compress your toes together, leading to improper spring through the ball of your foot, not to mention adding the pain of your toes rubbing together!
Now for the caveat. I am not saying go out and buy toe shoes and go crazy! If you try to make the switch to a (more) minimalist shoe too fast too soon, you will injure yourself! The reason for this is that you start to stress different structures in different ways, leaving you susceptible to injury. If you do decide to make the switch, here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Start with a few minutes of running in your new shoes. If you have the ability to run for 5 minutes and switch, start with that. Or if you are a long distance runner, take a day and do a very short run in your new shoes. Because the shoes will change your running gait, it is better to start with smaller distances.
- Wear them in your everyday life to get accustomed to them. Trust me, if you switch to a minimalist style shoe, you will notice a difference by simply walking around in them.
- Pick your change carefully. There are gradients of minimalist shoes. If you are used to a highly padded, high control shoe, don’t try to run a half marathon in toe shoes. Work your way up. A great resource is The Running Clinic’s website, http://therunningclinic.com/en/shoes/ where they list out the different styles and types of shoes, and rate them.
- Be patient! Change doesn’t come overnight and doesn’t come easy. It can take months to get used to a new style of shoes. If you are thinking of transitioning from one end of the spectrum to the other (i.e. from high control shoes to toe shoes), give yourself at least a year of consistent training to do so. For the record, I would NOT recommend doing an extreme change like that. Instead I would suggest that you start with smaller transitions.
If you are one of those people that is happy with your running or with the shoes that you have always run in, by all means stay with them. If you are able to alter your running gait with the changes that were outlined in article 1 without having to change shoes, no change of shoes should be needed. Ultimately shoe preference is entirely dependent on the person, where they run and what their goals are. However, if you are looking for a change, make sure you do your homework and shop around. Find the shoe that will work best for you.