Footwear science and footwear innovation is one of the most misunderstood areas of fitness and performance. The internet is full of articles about the best footwear, the best minimal running shoe or the perfect shoe—and it can be difficult to know who to listen to.

The Impact of Footwear on Fitness and Performance 

Though barefoot training has taught us a lot and has many advantages, even pro-barefoot researchers will admit that footwear still has benefits.

Shoes help protect the bottom of the foot from different surfaces and debris—important not only for safety, but also performance. The last thing we want in competition is to have a stray shard of glass or hot surface stop a crucial play.

Footwear also assists with biomechanical control, specifically to help correct overpronation, and that can decrease injury risk. We will explore this purpose further when we discuss ankle sprains.

Footwear can also improve performance. That’s right, the right footwear can actually improve athletic performance, and this becomes a very important factor for competitive and professional athletes.

Let’s look at the last two in more detail.

Biomechanical control

Can a motion-controlled shoe, or any shoe, control biomechanics? Footwear manufacturers will often add a medial posting into the shoe—a more dense material on the medial side of the heel—and it will actually block the subtalar joint from everting. This is the concept of control biomechanics, but does it actually happen?

As research and technology has advanced, studies have shown that motion-controlled shoes cannot block eversion to the necessary degree for certain runners.

Biomechanical control from just a shoe will not result in the control an overpronating runner needs. You’d probably still see pronation-related injuries such as shin splints and runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome).

What an overpronating runner likely needs is an orthotic paired with a neutral shoe. That combination will provide the necessary biomechanical control. Shifting to a mid-foot strike pattern will also help decrease the amount of pronation by increasing the plantar flexion at the ankle.


Spiked cleats are one footwear science innovation that does improve performance, specifically in sprinters. Putting spikes on sprinting shoes will definitely improve sprinting performance.

Spikes or cleats also improve an athlete’s performance in football and rugby.

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