The (barefoot) revolution, cont.

May 19, 2009 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

The painful truth about trainers. Are running shoes a waste of money?“, by Christopher McDougall, is perhaps the single best article I have read about the barefoot running revolution.

In a paper for the British Journal Of Sports Medicine last year, Dr Craig Richards, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, revealed there are no evidence-based studies that demonstrate running shoes make you less prone to injury. Not one.

It was an astonishing revelation that had been hidden for over 35 years. Dr Richards was so stunned that a $20 billion industry seemed to be based on nothing but empty promises and wishful thinking that he issued the following challenge: ‘Is any running-shoe company prepared to claim that wearing their distance running shoes will decrease your risk of suffering musculoskeletal running injuries? Is any shoe manufacturer prepared to claim that wearing their running shoes will improve your distance running performance? If you are prepared to make these claims, where is your peer-reviewed data to back it up?’

More here. (Big hat tip to MH.)

A few years back when Asics unveiled their $180 Kinsei running shoes, I wrote a post on a now defunct blog about how high-end running shoes are “a waste of money“:

[From October, 2007]

Waste of money! This is the conclusion of Scottish researchers about high-priced, high-end running shows.

Researchers at the Institute of Motion Analysis and Research at the University of Dundee conducted a study comparing the comfort and cushioning of running shoes priced from $80-$90, $120-$130, and $140-$150 from the three largest running shoe manufacturers. Their findings?

“From what we found, [the difference] seems to be pure advertisement,” said lead researcher Rami Abboud.

From an article on Forbes magazine about the study:

“When it came to shock absorption, some shoes performed better than others on different areas of the foot, but no clear pattern emerged. In fact, plantar pressure was actually lower for the cheap-to-moderately priced footwear compared to more high-end gear, although this difference did not reach statistical significance, the researchers said.”

The single most important thing when choosing a running shoe is fit. Don’t look at the price tag or be hypnotized by the neon colors and the claims of using space-age materials for a $15o pair of sneakers. Instead, visit your local running store, have one of their employees analyze your gait and foot structure (done free at good and reputable shops), and take a number of pairs of shoes out on a test run. Many running stores even let you return running shoes within a few weeks of purchase if they do not properly fit your feet or feel comfortable.

As a bit of an aside, I can’t help but think that the running shoe market is a bit like the fitness and diet industry…

To maintain fitness and lose weight, we all seem to want some kind of magic pill, a wonder drug, or the latest straight-from-the-beaches-of-Miami-and-the-hills-of-Hollywood buckwheat and grapefruit miracle diet. The best way to maintain healthy weight and fitness: eat balanced and exercise regularly. But this prescription cannot be packaged, marketed, sold, and easily consumed.

Similarly, there is nothing sexy or sophisticated about how to choose a good pair of shoes. Simply get a pair that hug your feet, feel comfortable, and support your running style. Yet many of us “ooh” and “ahh” when a new $180 running shoe enters the market; we think that by buying them we can run faster. Just two weeks ago I heard a guy at a local 5K charity run complaining that, “The only reason I lost to Jim [his training buddy, from what I could surmise] is because he got those fancy new Kinsei’s [Asics “top of the line” and incredibly popular $180 running shoe].”

To this guy, and to everyone else who buys fancy-looking and expensive running shoes for their performance advantage: the only way to run faster is to run faster. At a certain point — once you start looking at mid-level running-specific shoes — the model number doesn’t matter.

Even if I was wearing $170 Nike Air Max 360 running shoes, Scott Jurek can beat me in a race wearing Chuck Taylor’s.

It ain’t the shoes, baby. Save your money!

But dang, those Asics Kinsei’s do look sexy!


(In his article, McDougall notes that “Asics spent $3 million and eight years — three more years than it took to create the first atomic bomb — to invent the Kinsei, a shoe that boasts ‘multi-angled forefoot gel pods’, and a ‘midfoot thrust enhancer’.)

Save your money, get fast, and free your feet! The revolution is on!

play, think…
J.R. Atwood


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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