Last year, I wrote a blog discussing running shoe trends (see http://www.podiatrytoday.com/blogged/what-really-driving-running-shoe-trends ). I discussed the current shoe market and the rise of the maximally cushioned running shoe. It is interesting to look at what is now selling a whole year later and what kinds of shoes the industry is creating.
Last year, the “hot” running shoe was the Hoka One One, which was a maximally cushioned shoe. Since that time, other shoe companies such as Altra, Topo Athletic, ASICS, and several others have introduced shoes with significant increases in cushioning.1 As I had argued previously, there is no scientific basis for creating running shoes. Most scientific evidence is published after the creation of the shoe and studies examine the effects these shoes have on runners.
With that said, it is very difficult to get a genuine idea of what is truly selling. We also can’t base our running shoe choices or recommendations on what is selling because it is not evidenced based. Several years ago, FiveFingers (Vibram) completely changed the running shoe industry as a result of the huge increase in sales for that brand. More and more studies were focusing on minimalist shoes and barefoot running as a result of this increased interest.
At the time of the introduction of FiveFingers, it was really the only option for a minimalist shoe other than racing flats. Now practically all running shoe companies have completely redesigned their shoes or at least created a new category that introduced a flatter shoe with more flexibility.
Consider the term “drop.” Prior to the emergence of the minimalist shoe category, few ever mentioned the term drop when discussing running shoes. Drop refers to the change in height from the distance of the heel to the forefoot. When one refers to a shoe with a “zero drop,” this means the shoe is basically a flat sole with no increased height of the heel. There still may be a cushioned heel, but the forefoot and midsole will contain the same height as the rearfoot or heel. We typically measure shoe drop by millimeters and common drops are 0 mm, 4 mm, 8 mm and 10 mm.
Most shoe companies are displaying the drop of the shoe on their websites and on the shoebox for customers to see. Runner’s World typically releases a shoe guide for new models each season and it is now including drop on its reviews as of 2012.2 Prior to that, the magazine did not mention drop in its reviews.3
I am curious to know whether shoe manufacturers previously measured drops or if they just came in a standard height. I have heard various explanations as to why certain heel heights were common, with the most likely being a change in thickness of midsole material between the heel and the forefoot. We have seen drop change over the past 50 years.4 The Pinto (ASICS) and Trackster (New Balance) were around 4 to 8 mm in the 1960s while the 1990s brought heights of 8 to 12 mm with the introduction of gel soles and air.4 The Shox Turbo (Nike) reportedly has a drop as high as 15-plus mm.4
In preparing for an upcoming lecture for the Indiana Podiatric Medical Association, I had reached out to Mark Sullivan from the popular Running Event program that is held yearly in Austin, Texas.5 He agrees that it is very difficult to track shoe sales in regards to exact models and make comparisons as a result of the wide geographic areas where shoes are sold.6 Sullivan did note that in the past year, he has seen a trend toward more expensive running shoes. He feels that the average selling price of running shoes is up to the $150 to $160 range from the previous selling range of $100 to $120. He was unable to provide me with any details or hypothesis as to why this is happening.
As we can see, those with a scientific mind and background will surely have a difficult time trying to figure out why companies make running shoes the way they do and what drives these shoe trends. Economic, social, comfort and personal reasons all play a role in why people choose their running shoes. Hopefully, future studies with well controlled variables will help guide us in the right direction as to what shoes are best for running.
- Metzler B. Super cushy rides: 15 max cushioned running shoes. Available at http://running.competitor.com/2015/03/photos/super-cushy-rides-15-max-cushioned-running-shoes_124099 .
- Chase AW. Fall 2012 shoe guide. Runners World. Available at http://www.runnersworld.com/running-shoes/fall-2012-shoe-guide . Published Oct. 2, 2012.
- Greene W, Downey S, Shorten M. Summer 2011 running shoe guide. Runners World. Available at http://www.runnersworld.com/running-shoes/summer-2011-running-shoe-reviews . Published April 25, 2011.
- Grossman D. Drop: it’s hot! Available at http://www.irunfar.com/2012/02/heel-toe-drop-in-running-shoes.html . Published Feb. 14, 2012.
- Available at http://www.therunningevent.com .
- Phone conversation with Mark Sullivan from The Running Event, Sept. 10, 2015.
Editor’s note: Dr. Campitelli has disclosed that he was a member of the Board of Advisors for Vibram USA until 2012.