The Problem with Running Shoes with Heel Protection

Running shoes with heel protection is the standard running shoe worn by most runners. Not only do these shoes translate into heel strike running, the impact of heel strike running is so intense, that it hard to run comfortably, even in thick heeled running shoes.

Running Shoes with Heel Protection

The Problem with Running Shoes with Heel Protection

A study by Dinato et al. found no improvements in comfort when heel strikers wore various types of under-heel protective material (EVA foam, gel, etc.) during running.

Their data showed no relation between perception of comfort and biomechanical variables for any of the investigated running shoes. This means that for each under-heel cushioning tested, heel strike running was not perceived as more comfortable. Why?

Milani et al. found that with greater heel cushioning, heel strikers landed with higher loading rates. Some experts even believe that cushioned running shoes accelerates impact because thicker cushioning prevents the body from fulfilling a stable interaction with the ground.

What is more is that foot strike was perceived as comfortable when heel strikers wore a stiff running shoe with less heel protection. The increased level of comfort was the result of biomechanical changes in response to a stiffer outsole and reduced heel protection.

Essentially, the lack of heel protection prompted heel strikers to change their landing strategy to a forefoot strike in attempt to avoid high impact on the heel, therefore a comfortable landing was carried out.

Foot Strike, Not Footwear Influences Comfort

Foot strike has bigger effects on perception of comfort than shoe cushioning.

  • heel strike running generates the greatest amount of loading
  • high loading is strongly associated with a lower perceived rating of comfort

Comparatively, forefoot running reduces loading and feels comfortable especially at faster speeds and when barefoot.

Running Shoes with Heel Protection

 

  • Forefoot running in minimalist shoes, like the Vibram FiveFingers (as seen above), provides more softness than heel striking in excessive cushioned running shoes because minimalist shoes facilitate a forefoot strike landing which dramatically reduces joint-damaging impact.

The researchers of the current study recommended selecting a running shoe not based on perception of comfort, but upon the technology of the shoe which provides lower loading rates. Such shoes are zero-drop minimalist shoes with no support, no under-heel cushioning and facilitates proper adjustments in the legs to minimize loading.

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References:

Dinato et al. Biomechanical variables and perception of comfort in running shoes with different cushioning technologies. J Sci Med Sport, 2015. 18: 93-97.

Henning et al. Biomechanical variables and the perception of cushioning for running in various types of footwear. J Appli Biomech, 1996; 12(2):143-150.

Milani et al. Perceptual and biomechanical variables for running in indent oval shoe constructions varying midsole hardness. Clin Biomech, 1997; 12(5):294-300

Bretta Riches

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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