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Should I rotate the running shoes I use?
We can’t be 100% sure that rotating between two or more different pairs of shoes will prevent injury, writes John Davis in a recent, excellent Runners Connect article. But it might just work. And, interestingly enough, not for the reason you think.
Why might rotating running shoe use make you less prone to injury?
There’s one particlarly common idea behind running shoe rotation. Many proponents believe that rest between use gives the foam cells that make up the midsole of your running shoes a chance to decompress. Supporters of this school of though include one coach cited in an Outside Online article mentioned later in this article.
But the evidence suggests otherwise, argues Davis:
Unfortunately for shoe-rotation enthusiasts, that idea was debunked by a 1985 study that examined how the cushioning properties of a shoe declined as the shoe accumulated more mileage regardless of “rest” time between runs.
There is, though, a quite different reason to believe that alternating between running shoes can help runners avoid injury. And that’s simply through helping you avoid exactly the same stresses each time you run.
Different pairs of shoes will be slightly different, even for the same brand and model. And those differences result in different forces on your body when you run.
In many ways, Davis notes, this is similar to the finding that runners can help avoid injury by taking part in sports other than running.
Our bodies are best at doing one thing: Adapting to the environment and the stresses we expose them to. For runners this means that our bodies adapt to the stress of running, becoming fit and strong. But…because running is so repetitive, it can occasionally overstress our bodies, especially when we increase training intensity. Every step loads the same tissues in the same way as the previous step. Running shoes can affect how the stress of running is distributed within the tissues of your body. By wearing different shoes on different days, you may avoid overloading any one muscle, tendon, bone, or ligament while simultaneously strengthening others.
What evidence is there that running shoe rotation does actually work?
Whatever the theoretical arguments for running rotation, what is key for many experts is the empirical evidence that appears to support a regular mixing up of running shoe use.
- In Runner’s World, Scott Douglas writes forcefully that running in two or more pairs of shoes throughout the week can lower your risk of injury.
- OutsideOnline quote Jon Clemens (a former track and field and cross-country coach at Columbia University). “I encourage everybody to have two pairs of shoes” is his fervent stance.
One key source of evidence in favour of that belief is a study by Malisoux, Ramesh, Mann, Sell, Urhausen and Thelsen that was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. It’s a ‘first-of-a-kind study’, notes Douglas in the Runner’s World article.
As Davis describes for RunnersConnect:
Malisoux et al. followed 264 recreational runners over a five-month period and evaluated which ones suffered running injuries…they found that runners who practised “parallel use of different running shoes” (i.e. shoe rotation) incurred injuries at only 61% of the rate of injury of the group as a whole.
On the surface, that seems pretty convincing. But Davis notes that the results were not as conclusive as some might lead you to believe.
For a start, it wasn’t a randomised controlled trial.
What’s more, the group of runners who rotated their running shoes might not have been wholly random. In effect, they might have been a self-selecting group of runners more conscious about avoiding injury – and so more likely to try shoe rotation in the first place.
Further research in this area is clearly required.
Should I rotate my running shoes?
Where does that leave runners? Well, the practical implications of the intriguing, but far from conclusive, evidence are nicely summed up by Peter Larsson:
We can’t confirm the mechanism for certain yet….In any event, it’s nice when science supports a practice that I and many people I know have long advocated. It’s OK to experiment with footwear, and in fact it may be a good thing.
More reading on the wisdom of rotating your running shoes
Should I rotate the running shoes I use?
Expert advice on whether or not you should switch between different pairs of running shoes.
You've probably been told that running in two or more pairs of shoes throughout the week can lower your risk of injury. According to a first-of-its-kind study, you've probably been told correctly, as runners who rotated among multiple models during the 22-week study had a 39% lower risk of running injury than those who almost always ran in the same shoes.
A:"I encourage everybody to have two pairs of shoes," says Jon Clemens, former track and field and cross-country coach at Columbia University. The reason? Compression. "Even with new advancements in running shoe technology like different types of EVA foam, shoes have memory, and they get compressed," Clemens says.
More than a few people are guilty of training in the same ratty old pair of running shoes for months, logging hundreds or possibly, even thousands of miles on them before finally heading over to the local running shoe store to get a replacement.