Even GI Joe is afraid of running shoes

U.S. military researchers finally stepped in to settle the dust and resolve the running shoe debate. Their question: do running shoes cause the injuries they’re supposed to prevent?

Their answer: Hoo-wah! Or as they actually put it:

Researchers found almost no correlation at all between wearing the proper running shoes and avoiding injury. Injury rates were high among all the runners, but they were highest among the soldiers who had received shoes designed specifically for their foot types. If anything, wearing the “right” shoes for their particular foot shape had increased trainees’ chances of being hurt.

The most startling thing about this study is how much it resembles the same experience we’ve all had whenever we’ve walked into a running-shoe store. Thousands of military recruits had their arches and running styles assessed, then were given either a motion-control, stability, or neutral-cushioned shoe. Sound familiar? The result was a catastrophe: the s0-called science of shoe selection made things worse, not better. I don’t see how any running-shoe store can keep performing that video gait analysis voodoo after this, or how any magazine that aspires to journalism and not just ad revenue can continue putting out those shoe reviews. Even the Pentagon now knows that cushioned running shoes aren’t just useless — they’re dangerous.

And the worst offender?

Across the board, motion-control shoes were the most injurious for the runners. Many overpronators, who, in theory, should have benefited from motion-control shoes, complained of pain and missed training days after wearing them, as did a number of the runners with normal feet and every single underpronating runner assigned to the motion-control shoes.

No wonder the shoe industry is quietly conducting a silent recall of motion-control shoes. Now, try to correlate what the U.S. military discovered with the advice you’re constantly hearing from running magazines and podiatrists:

Go to a specialty running store where trained professionals will evaluate your feet, watch you run, recommend the right shoes, and then let you go out for a test drive. You’ll leave with a comfortable pair of shoes that will have you running pain-and injury-free. (Runner’s World, May 2010)

For a biology professor’s take on related news (U.S. Olympic marathoner Dathan Ritzenhein’s switch from heel striking to a softer, more barefoot-like stride) check out the always smart Runblogger. Both stories lead to the same conclusion: Changing footwear changes nothing, but fixing form can fix everything.

Ritzenhein isn’t just a world-class runner and a Nike-sponsored elite; he’s being personally coached by marathon great Alberto Salazar and monitored by Nike biomechanist Gordon Valiant. He’s got the finest running minds, resources and technology at his disposal, and the personal experience of thousands of miles to draw on. It’s safe to assume that Ritzenhein thinks about running every day and reads everything about the sport he can lay his hands on. So when a runner of that caliber realizes that shoes can’t solve his problems but maybe a barefoot-style footstrike can, it’s time for the rest of us to pay attention.


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