Breaking news from Nike: We’ve been talking a lot of crap, and selling it.

Or in the exact words of a study co-authored by Gordon Valiant, Nike’s head of biomechanical research:

“Our current approach of prescribing in-shoe pronation control systems on the basis of foot type is overly simplistic and potentially injurious.

This is mindboggling and explosive stuff, and no one explains it better than Peter Larson. Essentially, the top scientist at the world’s top sports shoe company is attached to a study that suggests the whole running shoe business is built on nonsense. The second you walk into a running-shoe store, the study concludes, you’re looking at trouble. There you are, faced with the Bewildering Wall of Footwear, trying to decide on one of dozens and dozens of nearly identical-looking shoes. Naturally, you have to rely on the “expert” assistance of a “professionally-trained” salesperson (trained by whom, you might ask? By shoe company reps and shoestore owners). They’ll check out your bare feet, maybe have you trot in your old shoes on a treadmill. You’ll then be steered toward a new shoe that’s supposed to compensate for the height of your arch and the roll of your heel. “Make sure to replace them after 500 miles,” you’ll be warned, which means you have to start the process all over again in 6 months because the $100 shoe you’ve just bought will mysteriously — and inevitably — be discontinued.

And now, after millions of running injuries, billions in shoe company profits, and decades of being warned that we’ll get hurt if we don’t buy pronation-controlling footwear, what  are we now told?

Current conventions for assigning stability categories for women’s running shoes do not appear appropriate based on the risk of experiencing pain when training for a half marathon.


It is noteworthy that every runner who trained in the motion control shoe with a highly pronated foot posture reported an injury.

Most remarkably, the lead researcher seems to channel Barefoot Ken Bob when he adds this advice:

Listen to your body, not to what the salespeople might tell you.

If Valiant’s name sounds familiar, by the way, it’s probably because he’s one of the fathers of Nike’s most misbegotten experiment, the Shox series. Priced at a whopping $150 back in 2000, the Shox have foam springs which are supposed to provide “propulsion as well as cushioning,” theoretically allowing runners to sproing along. The Shox made the cover of Popular Science, but one subtly ominous undertone was included in the article:

“There are no current plans to use the shoe in professional competition” the reporter noted, “so it will be difficult to quantify whether it will actually help athletes run faster…”

Now that’s odd. At the time, Shox were the absolute top of the line. They were the most expensive shoe on the market, boasting 16 years of technological research and development. They were supposed to provide the two things every runner needs most: propulsion and cushioning. What an awesome advantage for an elite marathoner, right?

Except none of them would wear the things.


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