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October 18th, 2022

Coaches Corner: Super Shoes

by Connor Hesselbirg, Gerard Connelly, Joe Espinoza

Super shoes are rapidly becoming the “secret weapon” to faster times in road races. But do you know when you should be wearing them? Do they even work? Let’s discuss in more detail what we typically see out of performance with these shoes, risk of injury, and if they are the type of shoe for you.

If you follow the professional running scene, you have seen some pretty incredible times from great runners in the last few years. Most of the credit should go to their hard work and dedication through their training, but part of their success has been due to these super shoes. 

But why?

These shoes have a little something extra to them: a carbon fiber plate. Having this unique (and expensive) piece of hardware in a shoe allows for less energy expenditure from the runner by creating more of a recoil and efficient push off. And if the runner expends less energy, the faster and longer they will be able to run for.

But does that mean you should be wearing them?

I know that may seem like a weird question at first. Why wouldn’t you want to run like a pro? The truth is, when you wear these shoes, you need to put enough force through them in order to see the efficient effects of them. As Newton’s Third Law states, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So the carbon fiber plate needs enough of an action to create an efficient reaction. That being said, I have seen from several sources that these shoes should be worn if you run at or below a 8:00 min/mile pace. Any pace slower than that mark may be throwing money down the drain for a fancy pair of shoes that may not actually be helping you. Running at faster paces will put more natural force and effort into the plate, producing more of a reaction from it to increase efficiency.

It is also worth mentioning that there are shoes that companies have made that may not use a carbon fiber plate, but use a different material to also allow for more efficiency, but not as much as carbon fiber. For example, the Saucony Speeds use a Nylon plate which uses the same principle mentioned above. This can be a great balance for those that may not be running as fast as needed for the carbon fiber, but still want a little extra “spring” into each step when running with these cheaper but still effective shoes.

How do you use these super shoes?

Something to keep in mind, is when you do have these shoes in your possession, I would recommend not running in them for every single run, but for harder efforts like workouts, long run, and races. The reason for that is these shoes can be broken down easier and quicker than traditional training shoes, and you want to conserve the foam and plate in that shoe as well as possible. Additionally, all of us at Finish Line PT have heard from patients that they use these shoes for every run since they got them, and they end up with an overuse injury like achilles tendonitis or “runner’s knee.” Using these shoes too often can prevent your body and legs from doing it’s natural running form, causing overload in muscles and joints that will cause injuries.

Using super shoes for only hard efforts can also result in shorter recovery periods between workouts. Since the shoes are designed for you to use less energy, you will still be getting a great aerobic workout without straining your muscles and legs as much as you would in regular running shoes. Training cycles can be long and strenuous on the whole body, so using these shoes as a recovery advantage as well as a speed advantage can make a significant difference in your training for the season. Being able to go into the next workout with fresher legs can result in a more worthwhile session.

Which Super Shoe is the most super?

There are many companies with super shoes out there, so make sure you try on several different kinds to figure out which one is the best for you. It’s just like buying any other shoe, and try not to get too sucked into “brand loyalty” and only look at the shoes that one brand has to offer. You may be missing out on other shoes from different brands that could be a better fit for you. As I write this blog today, the current shoe brands that created a super shoe and have shown to make a significant difference in running economy are Nike, New Balance, Saucony, and ASICS. There are other super shoes out there, however the brands above have proved to make a faster impact on reaching for a PR compared to others. But this can all change as time goes on, so be on the lookout for different shoes and ask your local running store what they think.

If you experience any sort of pain or discomfort and believe it could be due to the shoes (or just about anything else with how you run) give us a call and make an appointment with one of our physical therapists!

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