Runners Should Avoid Softest Running Shoes

A unique characteristic of our feet is that they actually prefer harder surfaces vs softer ones for running –this includes not wearing the softest running shoes.


Wearing a cushioned shoe increases mechanical shock on the leg and exhausts the ankles during running.  Because of this, you will learn forefoot running a lot faster if you avoid wearing softer running shoes.

Running Should Avoid Softest Running Shoes

Why Runners Should Avoid Softest Running Shoes

Presumably, runners would benefit the most in a softer running shoe. However, in a review paper, Robbins and Gouw used data from several earlier studies, where researchers discovered that the softest running shoe produced the greatest amount of shock in runners, suggesting that runners are better off running barefoot or at least, in barefoot-simulated footwear. Why?

When a runner runs barefoot, the nerves in the feet allow them to cope with shock through impact-moderating behavior –something a shoe cannot provide. When impact-moderating behavior is high, usually when running barefoot, the shock is lowest.

However, soft running shoes are a considerable problem because they reduce impact-moderating behavior which in turn, exposes the musculoskeletal system to greater shock. Thus, the clinical usefulness of soft running shoes remains questionable.

Ankles Work Harder to Provide Balance

Form a performance perspective, soft cushioned running shoes may exhaust the ankle musculature during running.

Robbins and Guow suggested that softer running shoes increases vertical axis stiffening because the runner struggles to gain secure support in response to an unstable surface, that being the soft running shoe. The result is a sharp increase in ankle angulation in attempt to stabilize the plantar surface when soft running shoes are worn.

In proof of this, Leuthi et al. found that the ankle angulation rate soared to 112% when barefoot runners ran in soft running shoes.


Soft running shoes reduce proprioceptive input from the feet, which in turn, frays the communication lines to the proprioceptors in the ankles. This is why it is common to endure a loss of a sense of equilibrium when walking and running on unnatural soft surfaces.

This may also explain why forefoot running learners struggle with Achilles injury.

Presumably, forefoot running increases the risk of Achilles injury because greater demands are placed on the ankles and calves. However, to date, there is no evidence to support this. The truth is, forefoot running doesn’t cause Achilles injury, forefoot running in soft shoes probably does because the ankles are destabilized during stance.

More From Run Forefoot:


Luethi SM, Denoth L, Kaelin X, et al. The influence of the shoe on foot movement and shock attenuation in running. In Jonsson B (Ed.) Biomechanics X-B, pp. 931-935, Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign II, 1987

Robbins SE and Gouw GJ. Athletic footwear and chronic overloading: a brief review. Sports Med, 1990; 9(2):77-85.

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!

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