I haven’t had many interesting posts lately given my involvement with work, conferences, and boards. Here’s some info on what’s happening to the construct of running shoes and why we are seeing what is being produced now. We no longer fit shoes according to what type of arch you have, and we are beginning to put less emphasis on the concept of overpronation.
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For starters, the shoe industry has changed. To answer the question of “did that barefoot running and toe shoe thing kinda pass?” (which was asked to me last week at the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons annual conference) I would start by sharing some interesting information. The average height of a heel in a running shoe (known as drop) 5 years ago was roughly 14mm. Some shoes had even higher heels. Today that number is 10mm or less. The phrase “motion control” used to be the key in describing the newest and latest properties of a running shoe. Midfoot stabilizer and anti-pronation midsole were printed on the tags attached to the shoes in specialty running shoe stores. Now the trend is toward more cushion for a softer ride as we see the ads of New Balance for their Fresh Foam 980 shoe released this past winter. Did the sale of minimalist shoes go down? Absolutely not. Because they changed the entire shoe industry. Although you may not being seeing FiveFingers on the shelves of your local running shoe store anymore, the shoes there now are drastically different then they were 5 years ago. They’re more flexible, lighter, wider in the toe box, and not constructed around controlling motion or inhibiting pronation. So are the barefoot running movement and minimalist shoe category a fad? Only a fad that completely changed the entire running shoe industry. No longer is the paradigm of choosing a running shoe based on three foot types (normal arch, flat foot, and high arch) accepted or being used today. There is even question as to the credibility of fitting shoes in this manner. There is no peer reviewed evidence that it worked. So who came up with it? Pretty much the shoe industry started making shoes this way and recommendations were then passed down to the doctors. 10-15 years ago when I was finishing school and residency, that’s what was being “preached” to us. The problem was there were no studies to back this. It was almost as if this were a custom that was being passed along. We all adhered to these recommendations. It seemed simple. If your patient had a high arch, you had your patient buy a shoe constructed for a high arch. The same went for a flat foot or normal foot. As we have gained more insight from the rise in barefoot running and use of light weight flexible shoes, this paradigm of fitting shoes has changed. There have even been several studies published on this in the past 10 years dispelling this philosophy.
Sorry for the long intro. Here are my two cents on the spring shoes.
Running Times and Runner’s World both recently published their Spring 2014 guides on the new shoe line ups. I took averages of the flexibility and drop height of the shoes to prove my point on how the shoes have changed in the last 3 years.
Running Times reviewed 18 shoes. The average drop height was 6.6 mm and the average flexibility was 62 (100 being fully flexible)[checklist icon=”check, star, arrow, asterik, cross, plus” iconcolor=”” circle=”yes or no”]
Drop Height – 6.6 mm
Percent Flexible 62%
Runner’s World reviewed 23 pairs of shoes and their average drop height was 9.1 and the average flexibility was 41 (0 being most flexible)
I then went back to Runner’s world Fall 2011 lineup when minimalist shoes were supposedly very popular after the barefoot running craze. This was when Runner’s World began posting drop height in their reviews. The Spring shoe guide did not post this information. Here’s some interesting findings. The average drop at this time for the shoes listed were 10.45 mm. This correlates to a 13% reduction in heel height over the last 3 years. This does not take into account the reduction in heel height that occurred from 2010 to 2011 when shoes were beginning to become more minimal. The average back then was closer to 14mm but the term heel drop was not being discussed so the industry didn’t release these stats. Fall of 2011 was the first time Runner’s World published statistics on heel height. As more and more wanted to know the drop of the shoe, the industry was forced to begin publishing this info about their shoes. I also compared the flexibility ratings of the shoes from this period. In 2011 the average flexibility rating was 53 and in 2014 it was 41. This is a 22% increase in flexibility. Who’s changing the industry here? It’s the runners.
2011 Fall Shoes [checklist icon=”check, star, arrow, asterik, cross, plus” iconcolor=”” circle=”yes or no”]
Drop Height – 10.45 mm
Percent Flexible 47%
2014 Spring Shoes [checklist icon=”check, star, arrow, asterik, cross, plus” iconcolor=”” circle=”yes or no”]
Drop Height – 9.1 mm
Percent Flexible 59%
Of note, the Runner’s World Editor’s Choice shoe in 2011 was the Brooks Ghost 4 which had a stiffness rating of 74 and a drop height of 11.1 mm.
Three years later in 2014 the Runner’s World Editors chose the Adidas Supernova Glide 6 whose stiffness was significantly less at 55 and sported a much lower heel with a 8.7 mm
This year Runner’s World editors clearly picked a more flexible and lower drop shoe. “Why?” you may ask. Because that’s what is being created and the runners are gravitating toward it.
I also found it odd that Runner’s World didn’t review any Altra Running shoes this spring. Altra has become a big name in running shoes and according to local retailers it has moved past Adidas to reach the 8th spot for volume of running shoes being sold. Not bad for a 3 year old company who only creates zero drop shoes! Runner’s World may have left them out because they reviewed the Altra 3-Sum in in the winter and Altra didn’t have a new line up? Altra did release the Olympus not long ago which is a more cushioned option zero drop shoe.
In summary, the runners are the ones who have changed the industry. More and more runners are choosing less of a shoe and realizing that striking on that thick cushioned heel with a rigid stabilizing midsole is not the way to go. You can say that the minimalist fad has died, but it actually changed the paradigm of choosing a running shoe. The runners have realized that it is safe to run without motion control shoes and they are migrating toward less shoe, less heel, and minimal cushion. It’s kind of similar to how Steve Jobs responded to Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal’s question of why flash is not being utilized on an iPad. Steve replied that people are choosing which devices to buy and use. Apple creates a device and if people like it, they buy it. If they don’t like it, they don’t buy it. He went on to say at that point in time people were buying a lot of iPads. In fact they couldn’t produce them as fast as people were buying them. His point was that if the public didn’t like the fact that flash was not part of the iPad they wouldn’t buy it, and they were. They were buying a lot of them. The same goes for running shoes. People are now buying less shoe so the shoe industry has started making less of a shoe. The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 is a prime example of this. It has become one of the largest shoe campaigns we have seen in a long time. This shoe is soft, has a foamy cushion sole with low heel, no stability, and can be rolled up. Completely in the opposite direction of what was being marketed 5 years ago- thick high heel, midfoot stabilizing, and stiff EVA midsole. Why did New Balance create this? Is the evidence pointing toward less of a shoe? It’s hard to say as there are studies being performed but there are too many variables that are extremely difficult to control. Currently the runners are the evidence. They want less.
So where is the trend moving you ask? Less shoe then what we had 5 years ago.
Dr. Campitelli is a podiatrist in Akron, OH specializing in foot and ankle surgery with an interest and enthusiasm for running as well as helping runners with injuries. For the past several years he has been treating running injuries in patients by fixing their form and transitioning them to minimalist shoes. Having treated runners with all types of injuries through conservative measures with orthotics and shoe gear changes to reconstructive foot and ankle surgery, Dr. Campitelli has brought what works best and is most current to his practice as well as the Akron and Cleveland running communities.