Whether you’re into running or casual walking, buying a good pair of shoes becomes an important decision at some point. Especially when we run in to injuries or start to feel uncomfortable with the current pair. You’ve probably heard about gait analysis for pronation issues, but most of the research on this doesn’t seem to be conclusive. “When performed in a biomechanics lab [however], or at least by a coach with a reputable certification, it’s certainly useful for people suffering from pain when they walk or run, as it can reveal the source of muscle, nerve, or skeletal problems—often before they start.”
An article written by Nick English interviews a few experts and shares some insights on the matter:
“A flawed gait can be corrected with strength training, mobility drills, and rigorous form, but not by a shoe,” says Jason Fitzgerald, a USATF-certified running coach, author of 101 Simple Ways to Be a Better Runner, and the proud owner of a 2:39 marathon time. “The majority of people can run in a neutral or stability shoe, but the most important factor by far in choosing a shoe is comfort. If you overpronate but you’re more comfortable in a neutral-cushioned shoe than a motion-control shoe, then you’re right and they’re wrong.”
Believe it or not, this “if the shoe fits (and feels good)” philosophy is backed by science. Despite popular belief, there’s just no real evidence that pronation-controlled shoes affect injury risk.
So what is the biggest predictor of injury? Uncomfortable shoes. The most convincing proof here is a military study from 2001. Two hundred and six soldiers were allowed to choose from a range of shoes that varied widely in hardness, arch shape, and foot shape. The shoes they chose had no apparent connection with the soldiers’ foot “types,” but the number of injuries dropped significantly when they simply chose a shoe based on comfort . Study author Benno Nigg, M.D., concluded, “The only thing we have is comfort.”
And here are some tips to improve the strength of your feet and prevent injury:
- Spend more time running barefoot. Two to three sessions per week will help to strengthen the feet and protect against plantar fasciitis, Fitzgerald says. Starrett also recommends walking barefoot as much as possible: “If you’re a world-class runner and you can’t handle eight minutes of barefoot running, you’re not truly world-class.”
- Strengthen your toes and your plantar fascia. Fitzgerald recommends standing on a towel and gradually pulling it under your foot with your toes, kind of like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. You can then push it back out flat, and eventually you can try this with weights on the edge of the towel. He also recommends spreading marbles on the floor and picking them up with your toes. Starrett takes a slightly more complex approach that focuses on myofascial release. Watch his foot mobility video here.
- Wear comfortable shoes. They should feel balanced. If it’s over- or under-supported, your lower leg muscles will have to exert more effort, which will make it feel less comfortable. According to Starrett, you should be careful of coddling the arch with too much support; its job is to manage the force of landing, so if you block it, it’ll lose its springiness. Super flat shoes (think a zero- to four-millimeter heel drop) are very popular now, as are minimalist running shoes. But most people will be comfortable with a six- to 10-millimeter heel drop. If you want to go flatter, make sure you work toward a more horizontal shoe over a few months.
The full article can be read here.
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