Feet can be rather high-maintenance, but it’s hard to blame them. They absorb a force of up to three times your body weight while running! That’s more than enough to cause a few aches and pains.
If your runs are taking a toll, you may be wondering if a more cushioned shoe would provide relief and help avoid injury. That would seem to make sense, but studies and runners alike are finding that may not be the case. Let’s take a look at both sides of the argument.
Is More Actually Less?
Super-cushioned – or “maximalist” – running shoes have risen in popularity as runners extend their mileage and intensity. The immense amount of cushion is meant to provide a plush, soft base that absorbs impact forces. While extra material would often mean a heavier shoe, advances in technology have produced extremely lightweight foams.
Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that these maximalist shoes often perform the opposite of how they’re marketed. A 2018 study revealed that ultra-cushioned shoes actually caused a higher rate of impact forces, rather than lower. The conclusion was the super soft shoes prevent the foot from properly functioning like a spring, as it’s meant, to and increased pressure on joints and tissues, leading to more injuries.
Other studies have shown similar results, which can be disheartening to runners who are actively trying to avoid injury. If you run in cushioned shoes and have joint issues, this may be why. Rather than creating less stress, you may be inadvertently adding more.
Too Minimalist, Too Much?
On the other end of the spectrum are minimalist shoes. Lightweight and thin-soled, they are designed to strengthen your foot muscles by engaging your feet more (rather than relying on synthetic cushioning or support). These shoes hit the scene with a bang, promising fewer injuries and more efficient running.
The results have been mixed, and their popularity has diminished in recent years. This is primarily because many overzealous runners tried to go too far, too fast in these minimal shoes and ended up increasing injuries. However, some do find this design beneficial for certain types of running but caution against using them exclusively or to gradually increase mileage.
Finding the Right Balance
As with most things in life, the trick for many runners is finding the right balance between maximalist and minimalist. Here are a few points to consider when determining your perfect amount of cushion:
- Identify your running style and stride length: Faster runners with a more efficient stride may benefit from a lighter shoe and not need as much cushion as a beginner who require extra support at slower speeds.
- Have multiple pairs to cycle through: Keep shoes of various amounts of cushioning in your closet; you’ll better avoid injury by rotating them and spreading out the pressure on your joints.
- Pay attention to materials: As we mentioned earlier, better tech means lighter foam, so you get more cushion with less weight. Some new materials are even designed to absorb shock while helping your foot spring back as it’s meant to. This can make all the difference in how a shoe performs.
Cushion Your Feet Before You Lace Up
Finally, don’t forget that your shoes aren’t the only place to increase cushion. Wearing the right men's running socks and women's running socks can decrease foot pain and provide support that your shoes may be missing. Feetures’ specially-engineered socks range from Ultra Light to Max Cushion, so you can bet we have a pair that will work for you. If you’re not sure which thickness you need, check out our sock finder quiz to find your foot’s perfect sole mate!