Shoe Cushioning: All Or Nothing?

More cushion means less chance of injury, right? Guess again.

More cushion means less chance of injury, right? Guess again.

Does a softer running shoe mean less chance of injury?

Written by Matt Fitzgerald

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Competitor Magazine.

The thickly cushioned running shoes you can buy today did not always exist. They emerged in the 1970s, as athletic footwear manufacturers acted on the intuitive idea that adding cushioning to the soles of running shoes would reduce the impact forces believed to contribute to common running injuries. But recent studies have called this logic into question.

Most recently, researchers at the University of Massachusetts compared the effects of running shoes with various amounts of cushioning to the barefoot condition on running biomechanics and impact forces absorbed during running. Turns out the amount of cushioning had no effect on any of the variables measured, while the removal of shoes altogether sharply reduced impact forces by causing the runners to shift from a heel-first landing to a midfoot landing. So it appears it’s not what you run in but how you run that matters with respect to reducing impact.

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