Cushions Are the New Barefoot Sneakers

A comparison of a tradtional sneaker and a maximalist shoeRunning trends come in waves—the last craze to really catch on was barefoot running (you can read my thoughts on barefoot running here) and now it seems there’s a new, diametrically opposed, hot idea—heavily-padded running.

According to an article I recently read in The New York Times, in many serious-runners’-circles, minimalist shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers have been replaced by so-called ‘maximalist’ shoes, with thick, chunky, incredibly-padded heels.

Leading the maximalist shoe charge is the Hoka One One  line of shoes—fans swear they are super-light despite their clunky appearance. They first became popular with ultra-marathoners (people who run races as long as 200 miles!) but have caught on among the general running population.

It’s important to note that, since Vibram got in trouble for over-stating the benefits of their shoes, Hoka is steering clear of making any evidence-based claims of improved protection against injury or other health benefits. Which is good, since there aren’t really any studies around that prove lots of cushioning can keep you from getting hurt when you run.

Want to know what I think? As a Houston podiatrist, I constantly get asked what kind of shoes are best for preventing running injuries, and here’s what I typically answer: According to the American College of Sports medicine, a neutral shoe is your best bet; too much cushioning can restrict toe movement, too little can leave you vulnerable to the impact of hard training surfaces.

Instead of focusing on padding, concentrate on the height differential between the heel of your shoe and the toe—the ideal difference is a drop of no more than 1/4inch.

Focusing on that height (info can usually be found in sneaker write-ups, or ask your shoe professional) as well as the right fit for your foot will go a long way to keeping preventable running injuries at bay.

Have more questions about the safest ways for runners to train? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Andrew Schneider today! 

Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.