Anyone who is active and regularly replaces their footwear would have noticed the monumental surge in debate surrounding just what shoe is the right shoe to wear when running.
Cushioned, supportive, structured, neutral, minimal, barefoot – these are all terms we’ve had to familiarise ourselves with as footwear manufacturers responded to an increased understanding of how our shoes and feet interact with the rest of our lower limb. However, with so many shoes to choose from, and with each one claiming to provide certain features and benefits according to our specific needs, just what shoe is the right shoe to wear when running?
Put simply, there isn’t one. If you take a snapshot of the modern runner or exerciser today, they are likely to be carrying a few extra kilos (harsh but true), culturally deconditioned (think drive the car to work instead of cycling), and pound hard asphalt for kilometre after kilometre four times a week. The problem with this, then, is we are constantly imparting the same loading patterns on our bodies. We recruit the same muscles, have weakness and deficits in others, and maintain the same load on them each time our feet hit the ground during our weekday runs. This can therefore lead to overuse, the capacity for our bodies to sufficiently handle the load we are demanding it to, resulting in eventual failure; an injury.
While footwear plays an important part in a person’s risk for injury, changing from a supportive, heavier runner (i.e. ASICS Kayano) to a shoe that is lighter, less-structured and more minimal (i.e. Nike Free) is not the answer. While it is true a more minimal shoe can (this varies heavily from person to person) alter your running mechanics by potentially promoting a more forefoot strike pattern, shifting forces from one place to another will mean these forces must be compensated elsewhere. And unfortunately for the calf muscle and ankle, this “elsewhere” is on them.
1. UNDERSTAND YOUR BIOMECHANICS
Firstly, assessment and understanding of your biomechanics and gait pattern is crucial. From this, it is possible to advise footwear choices based on specific findings.
2. UNDERSTAND YOUR TRANSITION
Secondly, wearing lightweight, minimal footwear or considering trying it is not wrong. However, it is essential to recognise the change will require a transition period to acclimatise to the change, and that flat- out, full-immersion should be avoided. Unfortunately, there is no fixed rule on this transition and it will be different for each individual.
3. UNDERSTAND YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Finally, we should begin thinking about breaking and mixing up our weekly runs; the terrain, the surface, and the footwear. In this way we vary the input patterns on our bodies, constantly recruit different muscles, and never impart the same, continuous stresses that are involved in overuse injuries. Based on the run you plan to do on a given day, you should, wherever possible, have more than one shoe in your footwear arsenal.
The right answer is to have several pairs of shoes (that should keep your inner ‘kit freak’ happy).
– Damir Metljak, WSC Podiatrist