Sunday, June 3, 2012

“You Mean I Can’t Wear the Cute Ones?”

While you can go a lot of ways with women and shoes, I am going to stay away from the obvious.  No Laura (Rubeli), this is not a fashion discussion nor is a lesson on how to organize shoes Renee (Ursem).  My wife will be happy we are not discussing how many of them we have.  It is about functional footwear for running.  As a health care provider prescribing footwear for runners, I am not so concerned about style or whether or not the colors match.  (Although it is a bonus when the colors DO match.) I am concerned about footwear that is functional.  How do I know what footwear is functional for my running?
Shoe companies love to dazzle you with claims of “weight loss,” “shaping,”"no injuries,” or “promise of performance.” There are no studies to support such claims.  Ultra engineered footwear can lead to more injuries or difficulties.  Our feet are designed to move.  Our knees and hips are designed to withstand force.  The body is very efficient at the transfer of force.   If you try to control motion or force with plastic another compensation will occur.  These gimmicks may become a crutch for lack of foot strength.  Every day you wear them your foot and body are not learning to function effectively.  The barefoot runners are doing better than the over engineered runners.  Barefooters rely on the body to rise to the occasion. There are many factors influencing proper shoe selection and may require a professional evaluation to be accurate.
The running store. When you arrive at your average everyday running shoe store your shoe selection can be overwhelming.  We place shoes into categories with increasing levels of support in the way of engineering.  Here is the progression from least support to most support:  Minimalistic, neutral, stability, stability plus, and motion control.  Now, what is the first thing your handy salesman will have you do?  ”Lets see you walk.”  The response, “OH NO…YOU ARE A PRONATOR.”  Pronation is a very complicated motion your foot undergoes when the arch is flattened.  Flat feet are sometimes referred to as: over-pronated feet.  There are plenty of runners with no arch that run perfectly healthy.  The salesman will say “You need these shoes. ” “These” shoes are over prescribed, over posted hunks of plastic to stop your pronation in the form of a motion control shoe.  Pronation is perfectly normal and not a death sentence.  Your feet absolutely have to pronate to dissipate force.  The effect of a motion control shoe is muscle weakness due to the unnatural support the plastic is providing.  The shoe is doing the job of some muscle or even muscle groups.  The salesman may not know how much pronation to protect for.  At best he guesses.  Injury history, previous footwear, current fitness, current running goals, current strength, and gait analysis contribute to proper footwear selection.
So what shoes are good for me? The shoe for you is the shoe that feels right.  You must love them.  If you think they are going to grow on you, your making a mistake.  The shoe must be comfortable out of the box.  If not the shoe will break you before you break it in.  LOVE THEM.
  • Shoe selection example #1: Sara is a twenty something, recreational runner who walks/runs about 4 days a week, her goal is to lose 30 pounds by the beginning of the summer. Lately she has been experiencing “foot pain.”  She has been exercising is a big name brand motion control shoe.  In the last few months she has added more miles and more days a week of exercising.  Her strength program is getting stronger and stronger.  Gait analysis shows a moderate pronator.  SELECTION=Stability or stability plus.  Which ever shoe she loves the most in those categories.  The foot pain is a result of the plastic wearing out and now not supporting her feet.  If the motion control shoe is refreshed then the muscle go right back to not working.  Lets allow the foot to move, give the foot less help, and ask the body to do more work so it is not dependent on outside force.   The result of the foot getting stronger is more efficient, happier running.  The foot will be tired but will progress with time.  If by 3 weeks you are not happy about that, the shoe you selected is not appropriate.  Consult the shoe provider for return policy.
  • Shoe selection example #2: 50 year old male, Mark.  Training for his 4th marathon but has not run one in several years.  Mark runs about 60 miles a week on a build and 40 miles on a recovery week.  He has an annoying shin splint issue that is not changing one way or the other.  His pain occurs especially on long runs toward the end.  His strength program is non-existent since he is busy with 2 jobs and running.  He has no abnormal running biomechanics.  He has been running is a very popular neutral shoe.   SELECTION=STABILITY.  He is not strong enough at the end of his runs to support his foot and is asking the achilles to overwork.  Maybe he requires more shoe and stability will help over time.  He could add more strength work or add more shoe.
A few tips: Do not move 2 or more shoe classification up or down the list.  Too little or too much shoe too soon will be hard to overcome.  Do not be suckered by too good to be true marketing.  Put your faith in your body: it is resilient.  Be an informed consumer.  Running a few marathons does not qualify you to prescribe shoes.  Understand your needs, ask questions, and gather good information. Try to buy well known, reputable brands and models to be consistent on your choices.  The off shoot (like Sports Authority) shoe store gets an exclusive contract with the shoe company and may not be consistent.  Healthy running is a combination of a multitude of factors.  Do not let footwear be a reason you are not running healthy.  Have a good run!