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Stability Shoe Pseudoscience

My friend Rick at made a comment at a blog recently, and I wanted to post it here for you to read and consider.

The original post:

With less than two months to go until the half marathon (eek!) I thought it was about time I invested in some proper running trainers. My Nike IDs have been amazing – they started my running journey, are great trainers for the gym and have been the first ever pair of workout trainers that I have actually worked out in. Pretty impressive. But as I have been notching up the miles I have noticed more rubbing on the insides of my feet and a few blisters starting to form. I thought it was about time I headed to a running store to see what the experts advised. I had a gait test to establish what kind of runner I am. I ran on a treadmill in my Nike IDs for a few minutes whilst the store assistant filmed it. Afterwards we watched my running back and watched, in slow mo, how my feet hit the ground and how they left it. It was really interesting to see myself running and it taught me a lot. The assistant advised me that my running style was good and that my legs were straight when hitting the ground but as my feet left the ground they were turning in slightly, which can cause blisters and knee injuries. Apparently this is a common thing for runners.

Based on the gait test he gave me three pairs of running trainers to test. And it was a thorough test – I was even able to run outside in each pair to test them for comfort. The ones that appealed to me most were the Asics GT-2000. They were cushioned, gave great support and the inside arch has an extra support to stop your foot from turning in after it leaves the ground. In theory this should provide a much more comfortable run and limit damage to your knees. So I purchased them and have now been out three times in them, a few 5Ks and a 10K.

So far, so good. They are very comfortable and light-weight but they also feel strong, like they are really supporting your entire frame. The heel is cushioned so I feel like the impact is definitely getting reduced. My toes have started to hurt slightly – I’m not sure whether that’s because my feet are being forced into the right position and they are used to running in the wrong one! Only time will tell. But with only a few months to go until the race I better start increasing the miles…

Rick’s comment:

I just came across your blog for the first time. From what I’ve read it sounds like you take running and training seriously. Because of that, I figured I’d take a moment to let you know that making the jump from a Nike Free Run to a “stability” running shoe is going to decrease your *performance* and most likely lead to an injury over the long-haul.

To say the same thing in a slightly different way, although your new shoe is providing your entire chain with an artificial support, it’s also making your feet and the entire chain (much!) weaker on every step.

There are various factors that contribute to a walk-in running shoe store wanting to sell you a “stability” shoe. There are even times where the sales person makes a few dollars more. That being said, I don’t have anything to gain by convincing you that a running shoe with an orthotic built into it is the right thing for you. But I do have the knowledge to back up what I’m telling you here.

The bottom line is this: If you want to perform *optimally* and avoid an injury, don’t wear a “stability” shoe. Does that mean you won’t have an injury down the road? No. But at least you’ve taken a step in the right direction to avoid an injury.

For the most part, it sounds like your Nike Free wasn’t too short or narrow. (Side Bar: Nike running shoes fit a 1/2 size shorter than other brands) In most cases, blisters are due to these three factors: (1) Wearing a non-technical sock that’s primarily made from cotton and (2) wearing a shoe with a mid-sole cushioning system that’s broken down and (3) lastly, a sloppy fit.

An Injinji toe sock is always a good investment! They make a technical sock that will allow your toes to move throughout the toe box.

If you like the feel of of the cushioning in the ASIC’s 2000, they also make the Cumulus. That shoe is in the “neutral” category. It will provide you with close to the same amount of cushioning, and still allow you to perform better over the long-haul.

As far as what the running shoe specialist at the store told you about your foot mechanics: The front of your foot is supposed to roll in just prior to leaving the ground, e.g., propulsion. And if that’s not enough to reinforce my point, consider this: Running on a treadmill is nothing like moving across planet Earth.

I hope you find this to be helpful.

My own comment.

A few thoughts…

As Rick pointed out, your foot is absolutely supposed to turn inward and pronate before leaving the ground. That’s natural and necessary. My feet do it. Rick’s do it. The world record holder in the marathon’s feet does it.

With your running style, I find it interesting that people purchase shoes to make up for poor running form/lack of strength rather than simply try to strengthen their own body and improve technique. I believe Rich is correct when saying that a cushioned shoe will weaken the foot. You know what happens to a leg when placed in a cast…

To the original poster, my first thought when reading that you were getting blisters but also increasing your running pace and volume was that it’s possible with the increased volume you’re simply spending more time running when slightly fatigued. It’s common for that compromised running form to result in a bit more of a shuffle, which can increase the amount your foot moves around inside the shoe and causes blisters.

In my own experience as someone that was sold very cushioned and controlling shoes do “deal” with my “over-pronation”, I’ve been much happier and uninjured over the last 10,000+ miles in neutral, zero drop, and low profile footwear.