Comfort is king

kt26Buying running shoes was pretty easy back in the 80s, you just strolled into your local shoe shop and tried on a few pairs and picked out whichever one’s felt most comfortable.

If you were really cashed up you might get a new-fangled set of Nike Airs, but chances are you’d walk out the door with a set of Dunlop KT26s – cheap, comfortable, trendy… what’s not to like?

Yeah, things have changed a lot since then. First we had the specialist shoe shop revolution that had us bouncing up and down on little pressure-sensitive bits of plastic and sweating it out on treadmills in front of cameras to find THE perfect shoe for our biomechanical idiosyncrasies.

Then we had the internet revolution that saw us trying to figure out whether a pair of size-39, D-width, minimalist trail trainers in the UK would be any good for our feet back here in NZ… bit of a gamble… but ooh soo cheap!

But interestingly, it seems like a consensus is emerging among researchers that says we had it right in the 80s; that we should forget the high tech approaches – comfort is king!

The pitfalls of the internet model are pretty obvious; it’s hard to know what you’re getting and it’s hard to send ‘em back if you hate ‘em. But what’s interesting is where the specialist shop model falls down.

The whole system is based on the pronation paradigm; that is that high arches will under-pronate and therefore need more cushioning (because pronation is the body’s shock absorption method) and low arches will tend to overpronate causing increased stress on knees and ankles. The theory goes if you put the appropriate shoe on the appropriate foot the ailments should go away.

Sounds great… but the problem is randomised controlled trials by the US Military don’t support the theory. What’s more, concurrent research again by the Millitary looking at the performance of insoles revealed that the biggest predictor of injury prevention wasn’t foot type – but comfort.

As it turns out, the best way of choosing a running shoe is exactly how you used to do it back in the 80s. Go try on a few pairs, take ‘em for a quick run if possible – if they feel good, then buy them.