Running Shoes – Make the right choice

The huge surge interest in running in the 1970s was a pivotal point in footwear research and innovation, and that interest continues today. The running market is still the largest market in the athletic footwear category. Therefore, it’s important to discuss footwear for runners.

However, we can’t discuss running footwear without mentioning the differences in striking patterns, since the strike pattern is what actually impacts running efficiency and injury risk.

According to Hasegawa’s 2007 study, 75% of runners land with a traditional heel strike pattern. 24% of runners run with a mid-foot strike pattern. The remaining 1% have a true forefoot strike pattern.

75% of runners land with a heel-strike pattern

As you can see, the majority of runners run with a heel strike pattern. As far as impact forces and injury risk are concerned—and this is why many people start considering a change in footwear—heel-strikers measure three to four times bodyweight in ground reaction forces.

Runners who run with a mid-foot strike pattern experience the same peak of impact forces, but there are some important differences.

A heel strike impact curve records the peak vertical ground reaction forces over time, experiencing two peaks. There is an initial impact peak when the heel strikes the ground followed by an ‘active peak.’ The dropoff in the initial peak happens when the runner pronates and loads the impact forces. The second peak occurs when the runner prepares to push off from a single-leg stance in the next phase of the gait.

A mid-foot strike, on the other hand, spreads out impact forces over a greater amount of time. Instead of the two sharp peaks of a heel strike pattern, mid-foot strike patterns appear as one bell curve. That bell represents a much smoother transition and less shock to the body with each ground strike.

Since these two strike patterns are so different, we need to match the footwear to the strike pattern. This is where a lot of runners get confused.

Which shoe to pick?

Given all of the information on shoe purpose, shoe design and running style, what shoes are the most appropriate for your clients and athletes? How do you determine which would be the best for them?

For heel-strike runners

With a heel-strike runner, the first thing you need to consider is the injury history. Is this person an overpronator? Has he seen a podiatrist? Does she use custom orthotics in her shoes?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, I always steer people toward New Balance. New Balance is, by design, a slightly wider shoe. It has good control and allows an orthotic to fit perfectly.

We also need to consider foot shape. If someone has a very narrow foot, two brands you should look at are Mizuno (narrow) and Nike (narrower still). Saucony also has a bit wider shoe for the client with a wider forefoot. If the runner has a wide forefoot and a narrow heel, look at New Balance shoes.

What if someone is dedicated to a certain brand and has worn the same brand for years? If clients have never been injured and they’ve used the same brand for that many years, I usually suggest they stay with that brand.

For mid-foot strike runners

If your client is a mid-foot striker or beginning to get into a mid-foot strike pattern, first examine the injury history. If there’s any history of an Achilles tendon issues, Achilles tendonitis or a calf strain, any ankle mobility limitations or a history of stress fractures, you need to know this before determining what minimalist shoe to select.

If there’s any history of Achilles tendon issues, plan a gradual transition from a heel-toe drop of 12 millimeters down to zero.

If people have limited ankle mobility and have seen a podiatrist to try and increase ankle mobility, they may need to stay with a minimalist shoe that has a little higher heel-toe drop. I would guide them toward a brand having eight millimeters or five millimeters of drop. Nike 5.0 would be a good start. Have them work with that and if they decide to stay there, just stay there. They don’t have to be in a zero drop shoe. They can stay in a five millimeter and get that true mid-foot strike pattern.

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