So a close friend and runner asked me what my thoughts are on Hoka One One maximally cushioned running shoes. I was having this conversation weekly some time ago but it seems like it’s decreasing a bit in regards to runners. I am seeing an overwhelming majority of people in these shoes though. This particular runner was experiencing calf cramping and was considering switching to these shoes. Those who have discussed shoes with me, knows my position on shoes and running – they mean almost as much as the shirt on your back when it comes to preventing or fixing injuries. How can that be you might ask? Our bodies know how to run and can do so very efficiently. It’s the shoes that typically screw us up. The more we put between our foot and the ground, the more we inhibit the foots ability to function naturally. Pronation is a good thing as it absorbs shock. If you heel strike however, pronation occurs in an abnormal manner without the assistance of the foots forefoot and toe musculature which can decelerate impact.
Ok, now the shoes. The Hoka’s that is….
Ahhhh… The infamous Hoka One One shoes! Well, my position on shoes has not changed over the past five years. In fact it’s progressed even farther away from stability shoes than it was before. The shoe industry has changed a lot though with more and more shoe companies getting away from stability shoes. They’re focusing on flexibility now and low heel heights – many are even printing the heights on the shoe themselves. This was unheard of five years ago if even defined at that time.
Maximally cushioned shoes, i.e. Hokas (Altra and other shoe companies have their versions as well) actually go against what we want a shoe to be. It’s heavy. It doesn’t bend or flex. It’s high off the ground. These aforementioned characteristics have been studied and demonstrate decreased efficiency in running.
With that said many people love them and there’s no science to back it. They’re gaining popularity with ultra runners and even trail runners. Why are they working? I feel that when people run in them, their foot strikes inside the shoe and not “with” the shoe against the ground. Think of it as running barefoot on wrestling mats or gymnastic mats. However with Hokas, you still could run with really poor unnatural mechanics and end up heel striking.
As I’ve said before, don’t look to a shoe to fix your problem. BUT, they may work for you. I still think most injuries are the result of improper training patterns. You said that your calf muscles are cramping during races? New literature suggests cramping is a result of fatigue and not dehydration. I discussed this in a blog last year when Lebron and Dellavadova were sent to Cleveland Clinic last year with cramping and the media suggests it was from dehydration. These athletes have unlimited access to water and are only performing for one hour and get breaks. Are they dehydrated? More than likely not. They’re fatigued. Elite marathon runners finish the race in just over two hours with little hydration in comparison and typically don’t cramp. It’s us runners who take in the range of four hours who experience cramping – we’re fatigued not dehydrated! Just something to think about. Don’t hold me to all of this as there are infinite variables, but not knowing anything else other than cramping during races, I would hypothesize you’re not spending enough time training at race pace or the opposite- too much high intensity not followed by rest or easy runs to let muscles recover. Remember, even the Kenyans run 10 minute miles on easy days. There’s a lot happening to those muscles on rest days that are beneficial!
Hope this helps!
Read more on Hoka’s here at Dr. Nick’s Running Blog.