Is There Ever Too Much Cushion?

shoe love

Last post I wrote about the three major types of shoes, so now let’s talk about another aspect of shoes: cushion and zero drop. Shoe companies like to tell you running in their shoes is like running on a cloud. But a cloud may not be ideal running terrain because you can’t see what your foot is going to land on if its sunk into that white fluffy goodness.

High cushion shoes are gaining a pretty good following. Each season more brands come out with their own version of high cushion shoes. Hoka One One were the first ones which hit runners by storm. High cushion shoes are great for runners who have had stress fractures and those who are heavier. They are very soft to run in compared to other shoes. There are a few things to be aware of though. First, they reduce the amount of feedback you get from the ground. This can result in a turned ankle because you don’t know what is under your foot fast enough to shift your weight. Second, for some runners they feel less table because of the extra cushion and give in the sole.

Minimalist shoes have also received a lot of hype. When people refer to minimalist shoes they can mean one of two things either zero drop (which we’ll cover next) or the amount of thickness of the foot bed and sole of the shoe. A minimalist shoe gives you the most feedback from the ground. Feedback is very helpful especially for trail runners. You need to know the angle of the trail, where the rocks and roots are, and whether the rock you chose to jump on is stable. These sensations are reduced in a shoe with a thicker sole.

Zero drop shoes are shoes that have zero to a very low (3mm or less) drop from your heel to your toe. Most shoes have a 9-12 mm drop from heel to toe. Most minimal shoes are also zero drop or 3mm or less. This makes sense since they don’t have a lot of added cushion. Zero drop shoes put your foot in it’s normal position on the ground. It allows the Achilles tendon to fully extend and it makes sure your foot, ankle, knee, and hip are lined up like they should be.

With zero drop shoes you can’t just jump into them and go out and run. You have to transition to them. The tendons and ligaments in your feet are used to the 9-12 mm drop. Running in zero drop will extend that Achilles tendon and can cause an injury if you transition too quickly. I recommend alternating between the two pairs of shoes until your feet get used to the zero drop. If you do experience sore ness in your feet or lower legs, transition more slowly.

Here is the most important thing to take away from these last two posts: FIND SHOES YOU ARE COMFORTABLE IN. You’ll be spending a lot of time in them and you want it to be enjoyable. If your shoes feel uncomfortable, try a different pair. Many running stores have a 30 day guarantee so long as you don’t trash the shoes. Clean them up with some glass cleaner and brush out anything in the tread before you take them back in.

The Minimalist Shoe

Vibrams Vibrams

When most people think of the minimalist shoe they think Vibram five-finger shoes, but Vibram’s are not the only game in town. There are two types of “minimalist” shoes out there currently. Minimalist to me, means zero drop. Zero drop means that there is 3 mm or less drop from the heel to the toe of a shoe. Most running shoes out there are anywhere from a 9 mm to a 12 mm drop. I can only guess at the reason that shoes are made this way, and my guess would be to add more cushion to the heel of the foot, which is where first touch down especially when you are walking.

 

I believe all of the top selling brands of running shoes have a minimalist type of shoe out there. Altra and Hoka are the only high cushion “minimalist” shoe. I say minimalist because they are zero drop. So even though they have a ton of cushioning the heel to toe drop is 3 mm or less.

hoka Hoka One One

Whenever you switch to a zero drop or minimalist shoe, your transition has to be very slow. These types of shoes are not for everyone and put extra stress on the tendons and muscles of the lower leg, foot, and ankle by causing you to extend the tendons by more than what they normally have to do.

 

People with high arches have to proceed with even more caution as they tend to be over pronators who need a good amount of arch support to start with. I recommend spending about a month strengthening your lower legs, ankles, and feet before you begin your transition to a zero drop.

 

Then slowly transition into the zero drop or minimalist shoes with something like this: every other day run one mile in zero drop/minimalist shoe then change shoes and finish run. Do this for one week. If you don’t experience any soreness in your tendons (Achilles most of all), then increase to 1.5 miles the next week every other day. If there is no soreness, increase to 2 miles every other day for a week. Continue in this fashion until you are running full time or at least as much as you want in your minimal/zero drop shoes. If you do have soreness, wait until it is gone and keep up the strengthening of your lower leg, ankles, and feet.

brooks pureBrooks pure connect

Shoe Anxiety

Every spring and fall, Runner’s World magazine quadruples in size. Why? Because it’s the shoe review.  I can be totally satisfied and thrilled with the shoes I am running in, but the shoe review comes out, and I have to look, like a car wreck on the side of the road. I have to see what innovations the shoe companies came up with over the last year of development.

Many runners think, “Oh if I can just find the right shoe all of my running woes will be solved.”  No more knee issues. No more shin splints. No more stress fractures. No more ITBand syndrome. Only blissful mile, after blissful mile. I could never work in a running store because my shoe anxiety would be debilitating. Surrounded by the possibilities.

There are so many different brands and styles of running shoes. Motion control, stability, stability plus, and neutral. Minimalist, oversized, and zero drop. Road shoes, trail shoes, and hybrids. I almost think the less you know the better off you are. You can go in, talk to a sales rep., try on a few pairs of shoes, and walk out happy. Overjoyed, in fact, and confident that you have the shoes that are right for your foot and your running habits. If this is you, fair warning, you may want to stop reading now and remain in contented ignorance.

Running shoes are the one essential piece of equipment recommended by all runners. You have to get a good pair of shoes. It makes perfect sense. You are going to be spending a large amount of time on your feet. You will be colliding with the earth multiple times. You want something that is going to get you to the finish line as comfortable as possible.

So what’s right for you? I have no idea. My recommendation to new runners is to go to a running store, get a gait evaluation done, and try out the shoes they recommend on the treadmill. Find out what the return policy at the store is, just in case, and take home the most comfortable pair.

You should go at the end of the day when your feet tend to be a little swollen from being on them  all day. If you sit all day, get a half size too big. The surface you run on is your next question. If you run technical trails, you are going to want good trail shoes. If you run roads and nontechnical trails, you’re probably fine with a road shoe for both surfaces. Your body weight and miles per week are something to think about. Heavier runners and those that run over 30 miles a week are going to want more durable and cushioned shoes.

Pronation and arch height are two things that the sales rep. is going to pay attention to in recommending a shoe. I’m not going to try to explain all of those issues here, just be aware that they are issues, and they can change over time as your feet and ankles become stronger. You should be re-evaluated for shoes at least once a year, probably more for newer runners, just to be sure you still need those motion control shoes or if your once flat feet have become high arches.

But, what about minimalists? This is a tricky business. I am not pro or anti minimalist shoes. But, I think you need to have as much information as you can if this is the route you are going to take. Before buying them, you should pay attention to how your foot hits the ground. Do you heel strike? If you do, you may want to adjust that before trying minimalist shoes. Once you buy them, you have to transition to them slowly, very slowly. Such as a half mile increase a week and then back off if you have any soreness. You probably want to start on soft surfaces such as grass, trails, or the god-forsaken treadmill.

Minimalist shoes are going to affect your running in two ways, your impact with the ground and the extension of your Achilles tendon.  Your leg stiffness will adjust to lessen the impact on harder surfaces as you run, but concrete is still hard. You can help reduce the impact by increasing your cadence to 180 steps per minute (this does not equate to a faster pace, just faster leg turnover). Another thing you can do is make sure your feet are under your center of gravity when you land rather than in front of it. You do this by keeping your shoulder back, head up, and pretend you have a string pulling your chest forward and up toward the moon.  Minimalist shoes also tend to have a low heel to toe drop or even a zero drop from heel to toe.

What’s this zero drop? It means that the front of your shoes sole is the same thickness as the back of your shoes sole. Most shoes are between a twelve and nine millimeter drop.  This includes everyday shoes and running shoes. When you change to something smaller such as a three to zero millimeter drop, it stretches your Achilles tendon more with each step and can tear or completely rupture it if you are not careful about transitioning very slowly to the shoes.

Again, my recommendation is to start with a half mile in the shoes, if you have no soreness or pain increase to one mile the next week. Continue to build half mile by half mile. If you experience any soreness or pain, stop running in the zero drop until it’s gone and back up a half mile and start from there.

How often should you buy shoes? Most people recommend 400 miles. Over that time, the cushioning and support in the shoe become worn down, and the shoe is no longer doing a good job. Some research suggests once you’ve put 75 miles on your shoes there is no major deterioration after that, and you should pay attention to the wear on the bottom for replacement time.  Hoka One One shoes are supposed to last twice as long as your average running shoe or about 700 miles. 

Don’t even get me started on insoles…and socks. Oh my god, the socks!