Super cushioned running shoes are all the rage. But is it foolproof?

CNA/THE NEW YORK TIMES – Anyone who runs or spectates at races has probably noticed that stacked, generously cushioned running shoes have become almost ubiquitous.

But running in those thickly cushioned shoes could affect a runner’s form in sometimes surprising ways, according to a series of new studies of maximalist running shoes and recreational athletes.

The studies, among the first to examine the biomechanics of ordinary runners wearing super-cushy shoes, find that some of them pound harder and pronate more than in standard shoes.

The results have implications for runners’ comfort, injury risks and perhaps for our thinking about whether the increasingly popular fat-soled models are right for us.

Thickly cushioned running shoes have largely supplanted the minimalist, barefoot-style shoes that many of us wore a few years ago.

Those light, barely cushioned models were expected to nudge us into running in a more natural way, reducing the risk of injuries.

But some runners did get hurt in minimalist shoes, and others did not enjoy the shoes’ skimpy feel. And so, as often happens, interest swung recently toward the other extreme, of running shoes with plenty of cush.

These maximalist shoes, which generally feature high, foam-filled midsoles, are reputed to be more comfortable, less likely to contribute to injuries and, in the case of some models, like the popular Nike Vaporfly, faster than less-cushioned shoes, making them especially popular with competitive athletes. But few studies have examined the effects of maximalist shoes on how average, recreational athletes run.

So, for the new studies, a group of researchers at Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend, Oregon, began a series of experiments.

Published in 2018 in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, it involved 15 female runners. The researchers supplied these volunteers with neutral running shoes, which contain an average amount of midsole cushioning, and maximalist, thickly cushioned shoes.

The women donned each type of shoes in turn and ran over force plates embedded in a long track, while the researchers filmed them using motion-capture technology.

Immediately afterward, the women ran five kilometres on a treadmill and then raced along the track again.

Comparing their form, the researchers noted that the women almost uniformly landed harder in the maximalist shoes than the neutral pair and pronated more – meaning that their ankles rolled inward slightly – when they pushed off.

Those changes in running form could be expected to increase the risk of running injuries, if they lingered. But that study looked at only one run in each type of shoe.

For now, if you are interested in maximal shoes, visit a running store and try them out before buying and ease into training with them slowly.