As we dive into the new year my academic supervisor has been slowly gathering a pile of kindling under me to get cracking on nailing down my thesis topic. I am an M.Sc candidate in kinesiology, specializing in biomechanics so it’s the perfect opportunity for me to assist in the knowledge acquisition of the sport science field as well as improve my own performances, if possible. My area of focus is osteoarthritis in the knee and I would like to conduct a thesis study pertaining to running or cycling. Funny enough, through my literature review, it appears that the leader in running gait kinematics (and to an extent cycling) is based out of the University of Calgary: Dr. Benno Nigg. Perhaps I will take a trip out to Calgary to collaborate in the near future!
His published research sheds light on some interesting implications for runners with respect to performance and injury.
One interesting article that I came across reviewed the selection process of running shoes (Nigg et al., 2015). Typically, we select shoes based on the amount of cushioning it has and the amount of pronation that the shoe permits (i.e. neutral, stability or motion control shoes based on your level of gait pronation *cough non-specific neighbourhood running store cough*). There is minimal evidence to suggest that these commonly used factors are a good predictor of injury risk. However, research by the University of Calgary research group offers an alternative solution. They found that regardless of the shoe worn, a runner’s foot has the tendency to follow the same path from stride to stride (Nigg, 2009, 2010). What the different shoes changed was the range of motion with which the runner moved their leg. Therefore, a ‘proper’ running shoe is one that allows the runner to run with the “preferred movement path” (Nigg et al., 2015). In other words, our bodies are stubborn and insist on moving in the same way, regardless of external factors. This is independent of the level of pronation that the shoe offers or the amount of cushioning provided by the shoe. Having a shoe that allows you to run in your “preferred movement path” means you are not wasting energy fighting against your shoe for efficiency. Some shoes may limit your natural movement, requiring you to exert more effort to go the same speed! The problem is there is no real test for determining which shoe allows for the best “preferred movement path”, short of obtaining access to a $500,000 lab to run motion analysis. The best way is to test out different shoes to see what works for you. Nigg also suggests an alternate, more individually subjective method to finding the right shoe. It seems very intuitive, but a comfortable shoe is the best shoe. It has been shown that a comfortable shoe:
1. Is related to a lower frequency of injury than uncomfortable shoes (Mündermann et al., 2001).
2. Is related to less oxygen consumption than uncomfortable shoes. (i.e. VO2) (Luo et al., 2009).
3. Is different for every person (i.e. based on individual variability, a shoe advertised as ‘comfortable’ may not be comfortable for you!) (Mündermann et al., 2001).
Comfortable shoes may also feel better because they allow you to move in the “preferred movement path”. Using this method may lead to less injury, improved performance and happier feet!
Anecdotally, I recently made the unconventional switch to Hoka One running shoes. For a long time, I was hard pressed on the fact that lighter, more minimal shoes were faster and better to train in. This has been proven for some instances such as sprinting (Mohr et al., 2015). However, I often found I kept getting injured. Given the approximate 1 inch of sole to on shoe and near seamless upper, I find my new shoes super comfortable and found that I didn’t need any sort of ‘break-in period’ to adjust to the shoes. I have only had the shoes for a few weeks, but my early reviews are good!
The take home message from this paper is the next time you are in the market for a new pair of kicks to bring you to your next PR, the in-store recommendations based on pronation/cushioning level might not be accurate. Instead, perhaps a better alternative may be to use the 1-ish week trial policy to see which shoe you find fits most comfortably. The shoe that just fits best (regardless of colour or classification) is probably the best shoe for you! Personally (albeit not scientifically proven), I like to think awesome looking shoes are faster. Maybe that could be the topic of my thesis!
If you have any burning questions relating to triathlon, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to find relevant literature on the topic! I have a stock pile of articles related to impact forces, cycling dynamics, cleat position, etc!
Disclaimer: The findings are an interpretation of statistical analysis and not a hard rule to follow. If you have a pre-existing medical condition or pathology, use the correct shoes for you as prescribed by a medical professional. The former is a recommendation based on a single research study.
Mohr, M., Enders, H., Nigg, S. R., & Nigg, B. M. (2015). The Effect of Shoe Weight on Sprint Performance: A Biomechanical Perspective. J Ergonomics S, 6, 2.
Mündermann A, Stefanyshyn DJ, Nigg BM. Relationship between footwear comfort of shoe inserts and anthropometric and sensory factors. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001;33:1939–45.
Nigg, B. M., Baltich, J., Hoerzer, S., & Enders, H. (2015). Running shoes and running injuries: mythbusting and a proposal for two new paradigms:‘preferred movement path’and ‘comfort filter’. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2015.
Nigg BM. Biomechanics. Calgary: Topline Printing, 2010.
Nigg BM. The role of impact forces and foot pronation: a new paradigm. Clin J Sport Med 2001;11:2–9.
Luo G, Stergiou P, Worobets J, et al. Improved footwear comfort reduces oxygen consumption during running. Footwear Sci 2009;1:25–9.
WRITTEN BY TYLER CHUANG
Tyler is a current elite age-group triathlete from Waterloo, Ontario. Tyler competes for the T1 High Performance Team. Tyler recently competed in the Age Group World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico.
Follow Tyler on Instagram @tdchuang or Twitter @Tyler_Chuang