The trainer industry is massive. It makes lots of money. Particularly out of poor unsuspecting, easily led runners. Anything to get that bit faster. Anything to be that bit less injured. And so the whole running shoe debate begins. Is it worth spending loads of money on a pair of trainers? Should you get your gait analysed by the trainer shops? If you do, should you listen to them?
In this article I hope to show you that in the majority of cases it’s simply not worth worrying about what your foot is doing and the best thing you can do is relax and enjoy your running. We’ll be combining what little independent research there is out there with our clinical experience to help you avoid any ill advised trainer purchases to help you preform better and avoid injury.
Any Vested Interests?
So my unique proposition to you is that I get nothing for this. I have no tie in with any trainer brands. This will be all brutal honest truth. At least my version of the truth. More of a slant to the biomechanics than your standard post on this subject. Using all of my 18 years of experience from treating runners injuries.
I’m not going to bang on about how we can help you for a change. There’s plenty of that on our Physiotherapy & Sports Therapy homepage. I’m just going to try to give you the most relevant parts of my knowledge and experience to help you pick the right running trainer for you. The one that is least likely to cause or compound any injuries.
I’ll also be adding in a healthy dose of common sense. When we’re so engrossed in the running world it is so easy to follow fads and gimmicks. In all cases it is best to take a step back, take a deep breath and simply ask “what do I feel is really right for me.”
The Way A Body Should Work
Here’s a video of yours truly simplifying some complex ideas related to how the foot works and what it should do – hopefully in a nice easy to digest way.
For those unable to view the video, or turn the sound up, a brief summary is:
- Weight should be evenly distributed on the whole foot front to back and side to side e.g. you should not be putting too much weight on the inside or outside of one foot, more the weight should be even across the whole foot.
- Previous injury to the foot, ankle, knee, pelvis even neck can affect how you hold yourself and therefore impact on the mechanics at the foot.
- Equally the mechanics at the foot can have an impact on any of the parts above them – positive or negative.
- If we just change the foot and don’t look further afield through the body we are just guessing and hoping for the best in terms of the impact on the rest of the body.
80% Of The Time It’s Not The Foot That’s The Problem!
As you can see we like to look at the whole picture, your whole body, to understand where your injury is coming from. We may look at perhaps how your hip flexors aren’t firing properly which is inhibiting your glutes and so reducing power in extension which means calves have to work harder and so increase the load on the foot leading to pain.
We might identify that your head is too far forward from your boring office job which means all the muscles down your back and into your hamstrings and calves again increase load on your foot leading to plantar fasciitis. We might even fix it by rubbing the back of your head. This all may sound crazy to you but we find in about 80% of cases foot pain is nothing to do with the foot. It is more the scapegoat.
If we look at things the other way round. Many trainers are sold to help knee, hip issues etc. Absolutely, the foot can be at fault in these instances. But this isn’t necessarily the case and can even make things worse not better. In fact in our experience this is the more likely outcome. Do remember of course that we do see nothing but broken people so our world may be a little negatively skewed. However, that said, this research would back up what we see clinically. Concluding that anti pronation in shoes is over simplistic and potentially leads to injury.
Pronation And Supination Are Good Things
Many trainer shops talk of pronation and supination as evil things that should be stopped. Pronation is simply when your foot rolls in. Supination is when it rolls out. They are normal and essential movements of the foot when walking and running. Why would we want to stop this? Especially as it’s been something we as people have been doing for a long time. Your body will be fully adapted to working in this way.
Change what happens at the foot and we change the forces that go up the leg. It is possible this is a good thing. But it’s more likely to be a bad thing. We see more injuries at the clinic that were caused by trainers,than cured by them. This is not across the board thankfully and I think trainer shops are becoming a bit more sensible when considering foot mechanics. I was heartened to see this explained in details in this link here to one of the Sports Shoes sales website.
Before we get onto the crux of the article, the all important advice, here’s a couple of things to be very wary of.
Your Trainers DO Last More Than 400 Miles!
A huge bug-bare of mine is this 400 mile wear out that trainer manufacturers have come up with. Whilst I understand that materials do wear out and trainers only last a finite amount of time – 400 miles is nothing. Trust your instincts. Trust your body to let you know if you are getting any new pains. If you do start getting pain yes trainer wear is something to consider. Ideally you notice this before you get pain, maybe you’re not getting the same feedback from the trainers that you once were or they feel a bit lifeless. If you tune into what you’re feeling you will know.
More important than mileage in a trainer is how you increase your mileage and intensity. Have you started doing a different sport as well as your normal amount of running? Are you coming back from an injury and not fully recovered? These are much more common causes of injury we see in the clinic than a worn out shoe.
Stress levels are another huge factor in the pain we feel. Before you go shelling out £100 for fresh trainers the moment you get pain consider how stressed out you’ve been in the last couple of week or month. You may even be able to trace the increase in stress levels to when the pain started. Some people I’ve seen over the years have traced there conditions back to specific row with the other half!
If you’d like to read more on the link between stress and pain there’s a whole article here on one of my favourite subjects.
Does A Weekend Course Make You An Expert In Biomechanics?
Now I’ve dedicated the last 15 years of my life to becoming as good a Sports Therapist as I can be. I had a previous career that I wasn’t very good at and I wanted one I could look myself in the mirror and say “I’m doing a good job here.” These things make us stronger. Do I consider myself to be an expert in biomechanics… well on a good day yes. But I’m far from the finished article and I certainly don’t know everything there is to know on the subject.
So does a weekend course telling you how to interpret a read out from a computer make you a biomechanical genius? Does it teach you to fundamentally understand the implications a change in the foot will have over the whole body? I’m guessing not. I am being a little unfair here. I don’t know what training is undertaken by people who do offer gait analysis. But I do know changing something as important as the feet on a whim is a very bad idea.
Here’s some great research to back up my point. With certain trainer types it saw a reduction in load at the knee but an increase in load at the Achilles. Great if you’ve got knee pain (potentially) but what if your Achilles isn’t the best? Demonstrating again that to fully understand the implication of different kinds of trainers on the whole body is not as straight forward as getting some anti-pronation shoes.
Hopefully all of that has given you food for thought. It can be confusing though. Knowing what to believe and what not to. So here are some simple tips to help you make the right decision.
Brighton Sports Therapy’s Top Tips To Avoid Dodgy Trainer Purchases
1. Running Is Not Bad For Your Joints
Running gets such a bad press about being bad for your joints. In my opinion this is nonsense pushed around by people who are looking for an excuse to be lazy. All the latest research suggests that running is in fact GOOD for you joints. We talk more about that in our post Running Is NOT Bad For Your Joints. Run relaxed and enjoy the feeling. Whatever you do don’t buy shoes with excess cushioning for fear that running is bound to wear your joints out. The latest research has found, running is actually good for cartilage regeneration!
2. Go With The Feel Of The Shoe
At the end of the day comfort of trainers is the most important thing. If they feel good, you run good right? I’m currently using On Cloud X trainers. Why? Because they felt good. I tried them on they felt bouncy and springy and fun to run in. I wasn’t engaging my brain for human mechanics. I just liked the way they feel. Trust your instincts.
The promotion of On Trainers is purely because I like them but if anyone work for On would like to reward the independent plug I’d be happy to receive a nice pair on On Trail Shoes, size 8s please. Address is top right!
3. Increase Your Training Load Gradually
If you read a physiotherapy text book as I have done many times you will see the expression “too much too soon” littered liberally pretty much under every injury. If you’re an experienced runner you should already know this. If you’re lucky enough to have a coach do what they tell you and not more. If you don’t, find a specific training programme for what you’re training for. For example if you’re aiming for a sub 1 hour 45 half marathon. Type into Google “training plan for 1.45 half marathon.” Equally for the beginner you might be looking for a couch to 5k programme like the one here.
This way you have a goal to stick to at a sensible rate of progression. Whilst everyone is different at least you’ll be using something that has worked in the past for lots or people. For some of you it will hold you back from not doing too much. For some of you it will give you a kick up the backside and motivation to achieve your goal. I’m not saying it will guarantee you won’t get injured but it will dramatically reduce the likelihood of having to take time out from training due to injury.
4. Run Your Own Way
There’s been a lot of press about whether you should run forefoot, rear foot or mid stance. There’s lots of research saying one way is better for sprinting, one way is better for distance, one approach gives you less injuries, one way makes you faster. We have seen so many injuries over the years caused by exactly this, people changing the way they run. If you’re forcing your body to run in a way that isn’t natural to it you’re bringing tension into your body. In my world tension leads to dysfunction and pain.
If you change how you’ve always run you need to give your body time to adapt. If you really want to change your running style please do so with the supervision of a coach, sports therapist, physio or equivalent. It’s much easier just to trust your instincts and run relaxed and natural.
5. Go For A Trusted Local Supplier
Be very wary of any trainer shop wanting to assess your running on a treadmill. They’ll normally be looking to sell you some kind of super expensive top of the range anti-pronation shoe. Thankfully in Brighton I know of at least two ethically run excellent trainer shops which let you try before you buy.
6. If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It
If you’re not currently having any issues don’t worry about it. Don’t strive for perfection and look for the magic shoe that’s going to make all the difference. Better to increase your training gradually and work hard to get better results. Maybe even do some cross training.
For those that don’t know what cross training is it simply means other training that also gets you fit e.g. swimming, cycling, balance work, flexibility, strength training. Any one or combination of these will likely improve your run times, improve your enjoyment of training and reduce your pre-disposition to injury.
7. Don’t Neglect The Standard Stuff
Whilst this article has not been about the standard “features of shoes that you need to consider” it is worth just considering the basics. Heel, instep, width, length and flexibility. There are plenty of shoe manufacturers and retailers talking about this stuff online so I won’t add any further noise. During my research for this post I found the following video the best overview of the subject. They even talk about supination and pronation being a normal thing. Great to see from a company that makes money out of selling trainers.
8. Don’t Buy For Looks
We’ve probably all done it at some point. Buying a pair of shoes just because they look cool only to find out they really weren’t what we needed. This is mentioned in this nice summary of the subject on the American Runner’s World website here.
So there you have it. Hopefully that covers everything and more you could ever need to know about buying a running shoe. Hopefully that will save you some money in mis-placed purchases. It might even save you money, preventing you from having to come and see us. We’d much rather help you work on your performance than have to rehab you from a nasty injury brought on by picking the wrong shoes!
I’m really hoping this post will put to bed some myths about trainers and help educate the wider running community and what is and isn’t important to consider when buying your running shoe. If you could you share using social media buttons below that would be amazing. Equally if you have any questions on any of the above please give us a shout on your social media of choice.