It might feel counterintuitive for some, but according to many experts less is more when it comes to the cushion in your running shoes. We instinctively try to protect our foot during each strike while running with a thick, cushy sole but we might be doing more damage and forcing our lower body into unnatural movements when we try to overprotect our tootsies.

Christopher McDougall’s best selling book, Born to Run, propelled minimalist running into the spotlight and it has enjoyed increasing popularity since. A 2010 study by Harvard University that compared foot-strike patterns and the impact of running barefoot versus running with shoes also aided the movement’s launch in popularity. The study proved that that people “were able to land comfortably and safely when barefoot or in minimal footwear by landing with a flat foot (midfoot strike) or by landing on the ball of the foot before bringing down the heel (forefoot strike).”

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Chris Dollar, Clinical Specialist III/Coordinator of Clinical Education at OrthoCarolina Physical Therapy- Eastover gave us the rundown of what you should be looking for in a low profile running shoe.

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According to Chris, “running shoes have grown steadily more cushioned and supportive since the original running shoes were manufactured in the 1960 by Nike. What we have seen over the decades is that as running shoes became more supportive and more restrictive of foot movement, there has been a correlating increase in lower leg injuries/conditions such as Achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis.”

It makes sense if you think about it. According to some studies, lower leg injuries in athletes are not common in Third World countries while the highest rates of lower leg injuries are in Western countries where well-padded/supportive shoes are available.

Here are Chris’ top tips when hitting your favorite running store for your new minimalist shoes:

Not all shoe soles are created equal. When you opt for a pillow-soft, ultra-comfortable running shoe, you’re running the risk of filtering your natural response to running. Alternatively, a minimalist sole allows the foot to move more naturally and also provide more instantaneous feedback from foot to brain in running. Your shoes shouldn’t really have to be broken in and should feel right straight from shoebox to asphalt.

You can injure yourself wearing the wrong shoes. When running shoes do not allow the foot and ankle to move more naturally, you risk injury. Allowing your feet and ankles to move through their “preferred movement path” helps to prevent lower leg injuries while the wrong shoes prevent the foot and ankle from moving in the way in which they are naturally intended.

Understand pronation and how it influences your stride. Pronation is the foot tendency to roll inward too much. Pronation is often thought to be a major cause of foot and ankle problems in runners, however the best science is that there is no correlation between foot pronation and lower leg injuries. Using a shoe to correct over/under pronation could put you on the injured reserve. In fact, in some studies people who over-pronate actually had less injuries than people with normal foot arches. Chris cites the greatest marathon runner in history running in such a way that his inside ankle bone touched the ground when he ran as an argument to know and love your natural stride while being cautious of the way in which your foot strikes the ground.

Know your running style. Chris is a big advocate of minimalist running, but not necessarily barefoot running. People have been running barefoot or with minimally covered feet for millennia and it wasn’t until the 1960’s when running shoes came into vogue that lower leg injuries also increased. Jumping from a highly stable, thickly padded shoe to little or nothing between you and the ground can be dangerous, however, so ease yourself into minimalist running. 6-9 months is the usual timeline for adjustment.

Replace your shoes when necessary. But only when your feet start to get uncomfortable. The reality is we need to change shoes a lot less than is commonly thought. As with almost any physical activity, listen to your body.

Slow and steady. Slow, progressive, training is the most important factor in injury prevention. Always run a little less than you think you could and be more consistent. No more running two days a week irregularly.

 

Remember to always stretch after your runs (especially when transitioning to minimalist footwear) and consult your doctor prior to any major changes in your training. The folks at OrthoCarolina are always happy to help you prepare for the podium at your next big race!