Are Expensive Running Sneakers Really Necessary?

| May 21, 2010 | 1 Comment

Bare FeetAs mentioned in my earlier post, after reviewing the many sneaker options at Runners World and becoming somewhat educated on my running style and running type I was prepared to spend $130 on a pair of sneakers. Not wanting to purchase them online (after all, you really need to try on sneakers before buying them), I searched to find an outlet nearby so I could try and buy.

In my search I happened upon a site that made me question my sneaker purchase.

A Running Thought

How is it that folks in Kenya and Tarahumara can run (injury free) for distances that put our elite class runners to shame and they don’t wear expensive running shoes? That thought stayed with me as I read the advertising rhetoric about how more cushion, stronger arch support and stabilizing sneakers would improve my running.

A Little Running  History

People have been running for thousands of years. They ran prior to the 1970’s when Nike’s running shoes were born. People ran in what they had, sneakers with little to no support according to today’s running shoe standards. Runners suffered injuries prior to the birth of the running shoe and still suffer the same injuries after the birth of the new and improved running shoe.

As a matter of fact, according to a much quoted study lead by Dr. Bernard Marti from the Department of Social and Preventative Medicine at the University of Bern, Switzerland ( On the epidemiology of running injuries: the 1984 Bern Grand-Prix study, available to members of the American Journal of Sports Medicine ) it is reported that wearing expensive ‘top of the line’ running shoes increases the chance of injury by 123%.

Another shocking tidbit I learned is since the evolution and improvement of the running shoe, there has been a 10% increase in Achilles heel injuries while some other injuries remain constant according to Dr. Stephen Pribut, former President of American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine.Running Sneakers

Unnatural Running Gait

I came across a few websites with interesting information questioning the need for expensive running sneakers. In essence, the birth of the running sneaker gave rise to a different type of runner. Running sneakers with its cushioned heel and reinforced arch support encourages the heel-toe type of running. Heel-toe running causes the body to slam the heel hard on the ground adding the entire body’s weight and then some in pressure on the heel. Then it shifts the weight forward to the mid to front foot before slamming it again.

Barefoot runners, or runners with less supportive sneakers, tend to run more naturally. The heel-toe action is replaced by mid foot or fore foot running. The pressure is placed on the middle or front of the foot in a continuous motion which quickly distributes the body’s weight. This type of running places less pressure on a wider area of the foot and allows the body to better absorb the impact.

Okay, I’m not a scientist so I think you should check out this video to understand what I’m trying to say:

The natural mid to fore foot running unrestricted gait allows the foot muscles and tendons to expand and contract which in turn serves to strengthen the foot and allows the runner’s feet to do what it was built to do. Our high-tech sneakers with built-in arch support, stabilizers and built-in heel support take away the foot’s ability to exercise those muscles. The sneaker does all of the work while the foot muscles and tendons become weak. You know what happens when muscles/tendons become weak. A weakness in one area causes problems in another area (it’s the whole head bone connected to the neck bone scenario).

Educated Approach to the Running Sneaker Subject

Check out the Harvard University study on this very topic. Not only do they do a great job of explaining the running process for the layperson, they also throw in indisputable information on the pounds of pressure placed on the foot using heel-toe running verses mid/front foot running.

I’m still in the process of digesting all of this information, but the more I read about it, the more sense it makes. I find the simplest answer to a problem is usually the best. Instead of buying bigger, better and more expensive, sometimes we have to get back to basics. Buying a pair of $130 sneakers doesn’t sound like the answer to my latest running ailment. Maybe I need to get back to basics and let my body run the way it’s supposed to instead of running the way Nike or Ascis or any of the other sneaker manufacturers tells it to.  No, I’m not throwing away my shoes and running barefoot (and I’m not telling you to do that either), but I am going to make a few changes in my running footwear and monitor my progress.

Here are more links on the topic. Check them out for yourself.Feet

The Painful Truth about Trainers: Are Running Shoes a Waste of Money?

Barefoot Running Study Finds Your Sneakers are Unnatural

Are Expensive Running Shoes a Waste of Money?

Kick Off Your Shoes and Run A While

The Tarahumara Indians

The Barefoot Runner (video)

Kenya: Running Barefoot is the Way to Go for the Gold

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Category: Fitness, Running

About the Author ()

Felicia has learned the hard way that health, whether good or bad, is a result of daily choices and habits. On this blog Felicia shares what she's learned and the healthier choices she now makes as a result of her new knowledge. She hopes to encourage others to experiment to find alternative solutions to nagging problems (she's also is a bit of a tree hugger and likes to share ways to lighten the toxic burden on the environment). Necessary disclaimer: I am not a medical professional therefore I am not and cannot giving medical advice. I'm just sharing my story.

Comments (1)

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  1. It doesn’t matter for me if its expensive or not. The important thing is as long as its comfortable, durable and can really enhance your performance in your running. Great post by the way.

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