Arch Support Footwear Makes You Lose Energy When Running

Arch support footwear literally causes a rapid energy loss in the foot’s most important elastic structure, the arch which can provide up to 8% – 17% of the mechanical energy needed for better running efficiency. Emerging evidence suggests that arch support is a barrier that prevents arch compression (the elastic energy storage phase) during the initial stance phase of running.

Normally, the arch stretches passively when the apex of the arch pushes downward during the stance phase of running. But, the apex cannot push downwards in the presence of an arch supportive structure provided by most footwear. Because of this, the arch fails to load up with elastic strain energy, making it too difficult for the foot arch to help spring or propel the body forward into flight.

Running in Arch Support Footwear Drains Energy
Most running shoes cause runners to not only heel strike, but deters the arch from storing any energy.

Arch Support Footwear Makes You Lose Energy When Running

The tenor of the problem with arch support running shoes was brought to light when a study by Sterne et al. 2016 discovered that arch supportive running shoes restricted arch compression during running, which prevented the arch from acting as a spring, resulting in more physical work to compensate for the loss of elastic energy storage and foot spring. Under normal conditions, the arch helps spring the center mass forward during running, but when arch supportive running shoes are worn, greater muscular work from the leg is needed to pick up the slack to propel the body forward.

Another study found that arch inserts restricted maximum arch compression by 70% when compared to unrestricted shod running and barefoot running, resulting in lower elastic strain energy values throughout the entire stance phase (McDonald et al. 2016).

The fact of the matter is, the foot arch is extremely sensitive to mechanical interference (i.e arch support), but appears to be able to regain its elastic-spring properties when running barefoot. In the same study, McDonald et al. 2016 found that barefoot running was associated with the highest peak strain value of the foot arch, suggesting elastic energy storage fares the best when running barefoot and that running barefoot does not negate damage to the arch structure. Not to mention that there is a huge lack of direct evidence in support of any performance benefits of arch support athletic footwear.

Given the energetic risk of running shoes with arch support, your best bet is to incrementally run barefoot to yield a stronger, natural functioning arch that is more than adequate at providing energy as compared with “technologically” advanced running shoes.

As I always stress, if you opt out of barefoot running, the best alternative is minimalist footwear because they don’t have arch support and characteristically mimic the feeling of running barefoot.

And finally, here is a long list of reasons you should never wear standard running shoes for running.

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McDonald et al. The Role of Arch Compression and Metatarsophalangeal Joint Dynamics in Modulating Plantar Fascia Strain in Running. PLOS One, 2016;  DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0152602 .

Stearne SM, McDonald KA, Alderson JA, North I, Oxnard CE, Rubenson J. The foot’s arch and the energetics of human locomotion. Scientific Reports. 2016; 6:19403. doi: 10.1038/srep19403 PMID: 26783259

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!