The fitness industry with its multi-million dollar companies and large chain high street shops increasingly treat us as though our only purpose is to make them as much profit as possible. With their massive marketing machine, they go into overdrive to convince us that we ‘need’ to have the latest up to date product in order to perform to our best or indeed even just to exercise. However, many of these products that are pushed on us are completely unnecessary. One such example is the supplement/protein products which I’ve set the record straight on here. The one that is really aggravating me at the moment is the pushing of really expensive running footwear and so called ‘must have’ insoles.
It seems you can’t walk down the street without being blinded by the numerous pairs of fancy luminous runners flashing on the increasing number of people out jogging and running. And indeed, as soon as you walk into any sports store you are greeted by an athletically sculpted manakin complete with the latest pair of shoes. On arrival at the shelving unit, one look at the price however, can quickly raise the heart rate to maximum without having to exercise at all. You won’t get much change out of €140. Then comes the smiling expert sales person.. ‘Are you ok there?’ leading into the inevitable ‘how many miles are you running/planning to run a week?’ question. This is often posed as a determinant as to how expensive you should go. ‘And why should I fork out that much dosh?’, you ask, ‘are these shoes going to tie themselves and run the half marathon for me, then massage my feet at the end?’ After a slightly confused/embarrassed look you are assured that they have greater support and cushioning than the cheaper ones and that your better off with them to avoid running related injuries.
Let’s stop the story here for a minute… yes running related injuries are very common and in fact are increasing rapidly, and if you think about all that pounding on the pavement then it must make sense that sticking a nice cushioned shoe under that foot will help prevent injury, right? What if I told you that the sales of expensive cushioned running shoes have increased parallel to running injuries? That’s right, ‘must have’ running shoes are having a zero affect in stemming running related injuries. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to back up the claims that extra cushioning in shoes prevents injury 1, nor has it been proven that running on hard surfaces is a determining factor in the cause of injury 2. In fact there are numerous studies that show, the cushioned runners themselves, maybe one of the factors causing the rise in running related injury 3,4. There are various reasons for this, such as cushioned runners can promote a heel strike which can result in the leg being straightened more upon contact with the ground acting like a break, putting pressure on knee joint as opposed to a more natural mid foot or front foot strike where the focus is softer landing, knee slightly bent and pulling the ground back. There is the added confidence that comes with a cushion underneath your foot, resulting in you taking less care and focus on your landing mechanics.
So it seems you can ditch the expensive cushioned running shoes. There are many who believe that wearing minimalist shoes, despite how horrendous they look’(Yes the ones that look like gloves on your feet) are the best way of maintaining as natural landing mechanics as possible thus preventing injury and also increasing performance due to the mid foot/front foot strike being more efficient 5–7
That being said, I wouldn’t go mad and jump from total commitment to cushioned shoes to obsessive training in minimalist shoes (they ain’t cheap either). You need to do it gradually to ensure your running mechanics get a chance to adapt 7,8 . If you want to wear the minimalist shoes then start off with shorter distances a couple of times a week and progress it from there. In the long term, mixing up your footwear and your training is probably the best option for injury prevention when it comes to what you put on your feet 9. And, as a good running friend of mine said to me, when I see a few people pass me out in a race wearing minimalist shoes then I’ll think about making that switch, and he has a point, but as with everything the science seems to be pointing that way, it justs takes a few to make that leap and others might follow. One thing that is certain is that you are wasting your hard earned cash if you fall for the extra cushioning spiel, not only will the €40 running shoes do perfectly fine, you are actually better off with them.
So let’s continue with the story…Not content with having the mouse running around on the wheel about the cushioning; now the sales person throws in the arch support conundrum. They suggest you have this type of arch and that type of arch so you need this type of shoe or that type of shoe. Then the ultimate sales catch, getting you to couple your new shoes with an insole designed ‘specifically’ for your foot type…which cost…wait for it..up to €50. Sometimes they even put you on a treadmill and examine your foot gait and give you a story about joint angles being out because of the shape of your foot blah blah blah, injury, blah blah blah. Just so we are clear, expert sport scientists in this area have found no evidence at all that biomechanical alignment of the lower limbs are related to lower limb injury 10,11 and assigning running shoes based on the shape of your arch has little influence on injury risk even after controlling for other injury risk factors 1,12. So the good news is you can ditch the fancy insoles now as well. To complete the story, the next time you are in looking for a pair of running shoes, and your approached by a sales person the best answer to the ‘are you ok there’ question is a polite (remember they are only workers doing what they are told is right), ‘I’m brilliant thanks, just having a look around’. Then pick the runners you like the look of instead of being fooled by all the injury prevention and performance improving nonsense and save your self a bucket of cash.
So what is causing all the running related injuries?
Well that’s easy, Over 75% of running injuries are caused by good auld fashioned overuse and a generous portion of the rest are due to a lack of durability or strength. 2.
To help avoid injury:
> Don’t run as often, reduce your mileage and vary your training to avoid constant repetition.
> Focus on technique when you are running.
> Allow for plenty of rest to recover properly
> Sleep 8hrs if you can
> Strength train to build the support and durability of the vulnerable areas.
> Correct nutrition and hydration.
Then again there is no profit for the big companies in rest and strength work.
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2. van Mechelen W. Running Injuries. Sport Med. 1992;14(5):320-335. doi:10.2165/00007256-199214050-00004.
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12. Knapik JJ, Brosch LC, Venuto M, et al. Effect on Injuries of Assigning Shoes Based on Foot Shape in Air Force Basic Training. Am J Prev Med. 2010;38(1):S197-S211. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2009.10.013.