The human foot is an anatomical masterpiece. It’s designed for stability, speed, and to get you from point A to point B. It is extremely powerful and can withstand a huge amount of force and stress, especially when running and exercising. Running shoe brands are constantly changing, bringing out new styles, technologies and using marketing buzzwords such as speed, cushioning and support which can often contradict and confuse us. But are these shoes actually doing our human foot any favours?
Traditional shoes feature pointy toe boxes that squeeze the toes out of their natural position – increasing the risk of bunions, hammertoes and plantar fasciitis. Many have raised heels, altering your natural posture and can weaken the Achilles and calf muscles. Highly cushioned shoes can alter your natural running gait which could cause you to over stride. Placing added stress and strain onto the knee – one possible cause to the dreaded runner’s knee.
Many shoe brands have compromised foot health in a view to make their shoe look sleek and fast or highly cushioned and over comfy. Harvard Medical School Professors also suggest:
“One of the causes of weak feet is the chronic support that we have from modern footwear. The advances in technology have simply interfered with, rather than helped, the foot.”
However, there are other brands out there that have chosen to not mess with the mechanics of the foot and just let it do its thing. Shoes with a wide toe box, zero heel to toe drop and minimal cushioning.
Wide toe box shoes allow your toes to relax and spread out naturally. Your big toe is able to enhance stability and maximize running efficiency by creating a powerful toe-off. Zero drop shoes place the heel and forefoot in a more natural position and the same distance from the ground, i.e. not a raised heel. This helps to balance the feet and align the body posture, it can also help to strengthen the Achilles and calf muscles. This improved balance and strength can help reduce over striding and the high impact injuries associated with this.
A word of caution should be applied however; you need to transition carefully and patiently into zero drop or low cushioning shoes after years of running in traditional running shoes. Your feet, Achilles and calf muscles in particular need time to adjust and strengthen or you risk injury.
Unfortunately, having learnt and suffered first-hand the problems created by narrow toe-box and over cushioned running shoes. After surgical operations and ongoing self-management, the problems are manageable. Whilst I know not everyone will agree with this stance on the running shoe debate (and I have only scratched on the surface), it should provoke some thought into your running form, past injuries, the amount of running you do and whether there is any need for you to consider your shoe choices or not.
For links on more information and various shoe brands do feel free to get in touch.
AC Running and Fitness