Running Shoe Testing – A bit of fun.

There is a lot of talk and discuss about running footwear and which are the best shoes. It is a very individual thing, that is for certain. There are not bad shoes but shoes that may not work for you, the way you run or the terrain you run on. I have access to running shoes, a footscan mat, a video camera and a podiatry student apprentice so I put all of this together to collect some data and did some running shoe ‘testing’. This could not be called real science but is interesting to see the results. I shall try and explain below what I was looking for and what we found.

The Idea

The running shoe industry is constantly on the change. Looking for the next best thing to help us runners go a bit faster and / or a bit longer. The current trend is to put more material under your feet to give you a bit more bounce. The addition of a carbon plate in the forefoot is to help with providing a ‘spring’ as you push off from the ground. I see people with differing experiences of these shoes. Some people get on with them, some don’t. I had an idea of what might be going on and so decided to put my idea to the test.

Expectations

If you are buying these type of shoes then think about what you want them to do for you. The shoe is a shoe and just that. How you run in it and how it makes your body work are a different thing and very individual to you. Each company will have maybe a different midsole density, shape, profile, plate position, stiffness, so many different things that could influence how the shoe feels and works for you. Try them and make sure that they feel easier to run in, don’t go fighting the shoe.

What I think is going on.

I think the issue is down to where you land on your foot and where this is in relation to the rest of your body. This is relevant to any shoe, or wearing no shoes. When you land with your foot out in front of you, you will get an impact force and this will cause you to break your forward momentum. Until your hips are over your stance foot you cannot produce any push. Therefore, ideally, when running, you want to reduce the time your foot is in front of you as much as possible. But, unless we are running fast, for your own pace, you will always need to have a little bit of contact out in front of you.

You can see the effects of this above.

The footscan results for the heel strike show a large impact peak (red line on left graph) and a larger forefoot peak on the right graph (blue line). The red line is impact and breaking force and we cannot produce any propulsive power until the intersection of the reg and blue lines. But we do need to be able absorb and dissipate the impact forces somewhere in our body.

How Relevant is the Drop Height?

Some shoes are going to work better for heel strikers and some shoes are better for forefoot strikers. A higher heel to forefoot drop and more cushioning will work better for heel strikers. A lower heel to forefoot drop and personal preference on midsole cushioning will benefit mid / forefoot strikers. We are all individuals and our anatomy, day to day activities, or not, previous training, running history, injuries, body make are all factors that will play a role in how we function. Do what works for you and try different things out.

A Bit Of Science

Running consists of two main elements; we need to absorb some of the impact when we hit the ground, then we need to push off the ground to propel us forward. This has to happen in around 0.25-0.35 of a second. If we create a bit more of a delay due to a softer shoe than we are used to, then this will make our bodies have to work a bit harder. It also gives us less time to push as we can only be on the ground for a certain amount of time. We are also then trying to push off something that is softer and so harder to push against. If we push less then we pull the leg more from the hips. Not a bad way to run, but if you don’t run this way, then your body will complain.

To help with the softer midsoles carbon or nylon plates can be added. The idea being to create a stable / firmer surface to push against. The issue is if we can’t get onto the forefoot at the right time then this platform could hamper our propulsion. So these are the two main things that I was going to look for.

So this is not a scientific study, but me playing around doing some running shoe testing with a different contact position and having a look at the effects.

I must stress this. But it is based on information I am seeing in clinic and is being talked about. The footscan images are of one foot contact only to keep the information easy to see.

Some people are really struggling with carbon / or plated shoes and when we look at their running form they are over striding and often heel striking. You need to be running with a contact position close to you so you can get onto the carbon plate rocker at the right time. If you contact behind this with your foot out in front of you it acts like a breaking mechanism. We can see this on the footscan data, seen below.

Saucony Endorphin Pro Heel Strike V’s Forefoot Strike

A quick explanation of what is going on here. These images are from a right foot contact time and there are a number of things to note. This is me running in a Saucony Endorphin pro which is carbon plated shoe. I am not used to running in these but I am able to change my contact position with relative ease. I would normally run with a midfoot strike in low drop shoes.

Firstly

Firstly the contact time. With the heel strike (left image) we can see we have a contact time of 300ms and with the midfoot / forefoot strike we have a contact time of 240ms. This a big difference and makes a significant change to how we feel when we are running. Longer contact time means we have more chance of injury as injury only occurs when we are on the ground, so it makes sense to spend less time on the ground. But we do need to be on the ground long enough to be able to dissipate loading forces and also produce some propulsive push off.

Secondly

Secondly the graphs at the bottom. These show the how long each region of our foot is in contact with the ground. Red rearfoot, green midfoot and blue forefoot. So with faster running and we want to be able to run fast in this shoe, we need to have a larger blue area and less red area. So you can see with the heel strike graph we have a large impact spike. This acts like a breaking force when we are running. We have to absorb this impact force firstly and then try to transfer this energy into propulsion, but we run out of time and can produce less propulsive force. You can see the blue heel strike graph is lower than the forefoot strike graph.

It is not always the heel strike that is the problem but the over stride.

As you can see with the heel strike my foot is further out in front of me, straighter leg and posture is back. Swing leg is also marginally lower. Heel striking is not the issue but the strike in relation to the rest of the body, but we see a heel strike more often with an over stride. Although over striding with a forefoot strike is not uncommon and is a major issue. So make sure you are not doing this.

We cannot produce any propulsive push until our bodies centre of mass (hips) moves past the point where the red and blue lines intersect. So to the left of the of the intersection is breaking force and to the right is propulsive force. Therefore for faster running we need to be in the blue area, not in the red area. When we look at video we are interested in the time it takes from contact to the point where our hips are over our feet, it is only then when we can start to produce some propulsive push.

We can see the propulsive position is also more efficient. We have a straighter back leg which would imply I am pushing harder against the ground, less body rotation, a higher swing leg knee drive and swing leg foot is not so far forward as the heel strike image. All this indicates a more efficient running form.

Strength and Technique

But the converse to this, is that you need to be a stronger runner to maintain this form for longer distances. This is the issue as I see it. You have to be in a good efficient running form to get the most out of these carbon shoes. For the whole of the run. If you tire and start to sit back into a more heel striking / over stride then the shoe is going to be working against you as you will be subjected to more breaking forces and less able to produce more force into push off.

These shoes make it easy to get into a more efficient running position. I found it easy and felt like I was running well. They felt great to run in, but for how long I could hold that position is another thing. If you are buying these shoes to break your longer run PB then be aware that you are going to have run strong for the whole race. There is no where to hide in this shoe.

Some Other Comparisons

Saucony Ride

Saucony Ride – a long tradition of a good all round shoe that many will be familiar with. There is a glancing heel strike, not a full forefoot strike. It can be a bit harder to get onto the forefoot with these shoes due to the 8mm drop. But there is a minimal heel strike peak (the red line), compared to the true heel strike. This is one of the shoes that has changed to now have a big bouncy midsole. These new style shoes use the volume of material to try to make up for removing stability features and make the shoe feel more comfortable. Comfort in your running shoe is so important. But I feel that the material can be too soft and may deform under pressure. It feels cushioned but for some it is too unstable during the midstance phase and may deform under the foot at toe off therefore reducing the power at propulsion. We can see this from the graphs. I have been able to generate more push power with the forefoot strike.

Apart from foot contact position there is not a lot of difference in my body position.

Same with toe off position. Did have to double check that I had not used the same video. So recovery into propulsion is good. How much more effort this has taken only time in the run would tell. But we could surmise that the Ride is a more forgiving shoe and will be tolerant of runners with less technically efficient running form. Compared to the Endorphin which does not tolerate an overstride heel strike at all well. Again with these softer shoes, they may feel good at the beginning of the run, but as we tire we are having to work hard against the thicker softer midsole.

Hoka Clifton

Hoka Clifton is a very popular Hoka shoe. It has a wide stable midsole and a good shaped forefoot rocker. It always feels like an easy shoe to run in. They are popular as they do feel quite forgiving and with no actual support features but a good wide stable platform that allows the foot to function as it wants to with no help from shoe features, which some people really like.

We can see there is a longer contact time again with the heel strike and less propulsive power. This seems to be the case for all running shoes I ran in. There is a longer contact time compared to the both the Endorphin and Ride.

My body position with both shoe is quite different though. The forefoot position (right side) is a better position. It would seem that the heel strike over stride has limited my toe off position and not able to push as hard. This again is a more comfortable position but I may have to compromise performance in this shoe.

What Happens When we get Rid of the Shoes!

Here we can see higher contact and propulsive forces with barefoot running. We can see we have a proper forefoot strike – wiggly white line on the left graph, but my weight does come back onto my heel briefly before engaging the forefoot. Very similar to the Clifton. Contact time with barefoot is also slightly longer. This could be due to unfamiliarity, I do walk and run a little bit totally barefoot, but only in the summer on a good grassy surface. It could also be due having to spend a little bit longer on the ground to both absorb the loading forces and then being able to deliver a stronger propulsive force. Again, how sustainable running barefoot is will very dependant on the person. If you are wanting to spend more time barefoot, (and there are some great benefits of adding time barefoot into training programs) then take care in the early stages.

Contact position above is pretty similar. Maybe just sitting into the barefoot contact slightly more than with the Clifton. This would make a bit of sense as having to use a lot more of my body to absorb the contact loading as no shoes to help out.

It is all about your big toe – this is a really important joint.

From the video I seem to be spending longer on the forefoot. From the above still body position is very similar, although there is a bit longer with the barefoot position before my foot leaves the ground. Without the shoe to help you have to keep your body working longer through the contact phase. This is how it feels when you are barefoot. It is the ground contact that you notice. I know that seems to be obvious but you do sense things differently. I enjoy walking and small amounts of running barefoot, you definitely feel that your body is working differently

To Sumarise

This is very much observations from my own experiences running, from what I see in clinic that runners tell me and thoughts from what I have seen linking the video and footscan data above. This is also an area of evolving information. What I say now, I may not say in 12 months time. These are my disclaimers!

Carbon Plate Shoes

I see a lot of runners who really struggle with the new carbon plate shoes. They have spent a lot of money and they are getting the (running) return that they were expecting. Some people just use these shoes for race day – well that also makes sense as they are expensive and you want them to last. They feel as if they are running faster but doesn’t always work out that way, or they are in a lot of discomfort afterwards.

From what I have seen myself in the above information I think these are the two reasons why this may be the case.

Firstly

Your contact position is really important to get right. You need to be right. As I said above, hitting the ground behind the midfoot point creates a breaking force that slows you down and make it harder to get more out of the forefoot. This is mainly due to the extended ground contact time due to having to get up and past the rocker. Hit the ground in the right place relative to the rest of your body and with the right bit of your and these shoes will work for you. The other issue is that you need to be able to hold that position for the length of the run you are doing. So you need to strong enough to hold your body position and then to work in this position. Once you start to tire, you will start to sit back into the contact an be fighting the shoe.

Secondly

Is sort of related to the first. You need to know how to run in these shoes and getting in some practice is also important. Otherwise it could be a large shock to your body that it suddenly has to work in a different way to the way it is used to. Using the maximalist shoes without the carbon plate is one way to help. But these shoes are a lot more forgiving and you may not notice as much when you are tiring and losing good form. Again practice and being aware of how you are running in your shoes would be really helpful to know.

Maximalist Shoes

These are definitely a more forgiving shoe. The depth and contouring of the midsole of any of these shoes feels great straight away and will help absorb the impact from road running. I feel that they be slightly comprimised on performance as I feel you will fighting the shoe if it is too soft for you and on longer runs you may just sink into the cushioning. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it will put different strains and stresses on you body. Our bodies will work differently, and injuries occur when we subject our bodies to different loads quickly that they are not used to. A note of warning that is all. Listen to your body as it may just grumble a bit at you. Listen and you will be fine/

Barefoot

Not unsurprisingly exerts the highest loads on your body. But again this is not necessarily a bad thing, providing you listen to your body and react accordingly. You definitely walk and run differently when barefoot. It is not for everyone and it doesn’t have to be full time. No reason why you cannot mix in barefoot running in short drill sessions on playing fields, walking barefoot at home or in the garden. Your feet and body will ache to start with but then will have to get stronger.

Take Home Message

There are not bad shoes. There are shoes that may not suit you at this moment in time. Shoes will have a certain effect on your body. Know how your body will react to the shoe and if that works for you then great, if not, find out why and see if there is anything you can do. Or see if what you have to do is worth the effort you will have to put it.

There is not one perfect way to run that will suit everyone.

There are certain principles that can be adopted. Quickly these are; posture upright with slight forward lean of whole body, relaxed shoulders, elbows driving behind you, not sinking into the contact position, pushing away the ground away behind and having your contact position closer to you. You may also want to think about cadence – steps per minuet – and use your stride length and step count like gears on a bike. It is fine to play around with this and alter it on runs, especially if you are running off road or and hills.

And things will continue to change with shoes and with your body. Other external factors will also play a massive part in how well you run. It is good to run a bit slower and give yourself a rest day or two if your bodies feels like it needs it. You will be fine, I promise.

Where to look next?

Information on my clinics can be found below. If you want to have your running gait analysed with either video or the footscan mat then I can do this. Come to Accelerate and we can see how you respond to different shoes. These sessions can be useful for injury advice, prevention, rehabilitation or performance improvement. They can be combined or followed up with sessions looking at how to change your running form to try to ensure you are running as efficiently as possible for your body, lifestyle and running goals.

Thank you to Accelerate for the shoes and the space. Accelerate in Sheffield offer a number of guided or led runs and often have test events where you can try new shoes from the brands.

Independent running shops are amazing for having excellent staff who can help you unpick the minefield that is modern running shoes. Look at the ones close to you and support these amazing places.

Runners – Colpod therapy (colpodtherapies.co.uk)

Podiatry – Accelerate Physio & Coaching (acceleratephysiocoaching.co.uk)

Home – Accelerate UK Ltd

Please contact me if you want anymore information. Hope you enjoyed this information and found it useful.

More Blogs