Jono Rumbelow, our ironguides coach in South Africa, got to test 7 pairs of barefoot running shoes recently. Here's what he found:
The introduction of the barefoot-style running shoe was something eagerly awaited by runners, triathletes and duathletes around the world. In the past, most athletes wanted a light-weight racing shoe to compete in but, if truth be told, a large percentage of them were looking at this for all the wrong reasons. Either the running shoe could simply not handle their body weight or their running style just did not suit the minimalist nature of the shoe, or sometimes both. What this inevitably lead to were injuries in untold proportions (and certain people rubbing their hands in glee with $ signs in their eyes.)
Word soon got out and so athletes started to return to conventional running shoes. That was until the introduction of a report in 2009 by Dr Craig Richards from the University of Newcastle in Australia. His report concluded that shoes with elevated heel pads and elaborate anti-pronation systems can't prevent injuries in runners. This was backed up in an excerpt from Born to Run, a book by journalist Christopher McDougall. The story referenced Dr Daniel Lieberman, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, who offered the conclusion that "a lot of foot and knee injuries currently plaguing us are caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to overpronate (ankle rotation) and give us knee problems."
According to Newton Running co-founder Danny Abshire, two of the biggest mistakes athletes fall prey to are:
1) Excessive heel striking that causes abrupt braking of forward momentum, and then pushing off too hard with the toes to start the forward motion again.
2) Using only propulsive muscles, (the calf group, hamstrings and Achilles tendon) by running too far up on their toes like a sprinter and not using the body's natural cushioning system.
Each of these form flaws puts too much vertical movement into every stride, and that leads to inefficiency and considerably more impact, muscle and tendon stress on the body.
Those of you who are familiar with The Method know that we coach people to run efficiently by teaching athletes to naturally move across a surface with as little muscular force as possible. This includes running with short strides and a quick cadence, landing lightly on the midfoot, and quickly lifting your foot off the ground instead of pushing off with excessive muscle force. A slight forward lean and a relaxed arm swing are also key components.
To do this, each foot strike must be under your hips, allowing your heels to settle to the ground, and then lift your knees (do not push off or pull back with the toes) to begin a new stride. Landing heavily, braking on your heels, bounding on your forefoot, and pushing off too hard with the toes all create friction. Excessive pounding creates more shock to your muscles, tendons, and bones. Land lightly and run smoothly and efficiently.
Now that I have painted a background of what has happened in the past and what you should be looking to do in the future, let's move on to the test results.
There is a clear contrast of feelings when putting the shoes on. They are a great fit with room in the toe box area. There is no doubt about the great cushioning that is the trademark of the Asics brand. However, the one-piece upper felt far too stiff; whether this will soften up over time, who knows. Even more disappointing was the slightly hard feel of the shoe while running. Yes, you could feel the Propulsion Trusstic system but that was not the source of the hardness. This may not be the shoe for you if you have a hyper-mobile foot.
This shoe has a completely different feel to the Hyper33, with the Asics trademark Speva cushioning being the obvious difference. The shoe feels loads more comfortable on your foot and the feel while running is out of this world. It's like running with the world's best suspension system under your foot and not feeling any of the bumps and imperfections of the tarmac. Yes it is slightly heavier than the Hyper33 but that was not noticeable at all. Made my running shoes feel silly!
INOV-8 Road X 255
Like the Asics Hyper33, the feel of the shoe when putting it on was great. With a wider and more square toe box area, this is a shoe that will appeal to a number of people. The lacing system, while different, was by far the most comfortable of all the shoes I tested. Having said that, the heel cup felt far too low around my ankle and this made me feel unstable when running. The cushioning is very firm like that of the Asics Hyper33. The Meta Flex system is a nice touch, but while running this felt like the shoe ended there, making it seem as you were falling off the edge. A pretty nice shoe to run in, to be totally honest.
INOV-8 Road X 233
The first thing you notice when putting the shoe on is the clear difference in width and the way the lacing system works. While a racing shoe (by Inov-8's description), it does not have the harsh feel of the Road X 255. This is partly due to the difference in the Shock Zone™, Inov-8's patented heel system. While firm, the heel felt too harsh for my foot. You can understand what Inov-8 has done here but after the 5km mark, I just wanted the run to be over and done with. What was interesting is that I did not have the same feeling with the Meta Flex system as I did with the 255's.
Nike Free Run 2
The first thing you notice when putting the shoe on is the raised cushioning along the medial arch of the foot and the firmness of the shoes. I could not help but feel disappointed, yet surprised at the same time. Nike is renowned for its wide-fitting shoes but that was far from what I felt in this one. The signature cross-foot lacing system can be the cause of this and might be an irritation to some, like the raised arch section. While the most flexible of the shoes I tested, the feel was surprisingly firm and stable under foot and yet I had the same feel around the ankle as I did in the Inov-8 Road X 255. Those with a low arch may not enjoy this shoe at all.
Nike Lunar Glide
The fit of the shoe felt similar to that of the Asics Gel-Excel33 despite Nike's traditional wider fit. While firm it was comfortable, yet I could not help but sense that the heel was that much higher than the toes. While running I could feel how the Dynamic Support system wrapped around my heel. At the same time it also felt that the heel lost contact with the shoe, which for some could mean blisters. I got the feeling that I was being thrown onto my toes quicker than what I am used to. For those with tight calves, you will feel this (as I did) after about 8km. The heel cup comes up higher but I forgot about this by the time I had finished my 10km run. Might be a favourite among a number of athletes. Complete with ironguides colours!
Saucony ProGrid Kinvara
This is by far the lightest shoe of the seven that I tested. The softer upper is comfortable yet it felt the same on my foot as the Asics Gel-Excel33 and the Nike Lunar Glide from a width perspective. Like the Nike Free Run 2, it also has a raised section along the medial arch but was not as noticeable in this model. On the inside of the heel cup, there are two moisture management bars. While some would think that that's going to be a problem, the complete opposite was the case; in fact the shoe felt more secure for it. While running, the cushioning was not as noticeable as the Asics Gel-Excel33 and not quite the same. The run was as good if not better. This was another one of those runs that I did not want to end! Love the ironguides colours.
What you have to remember is that these types of shoes, the so-called barefoot running shoes, are totally different from the style of shoe we have been used to over the last 35 years. Each of the shoes had it pro's and con's but you could definitely feel (bar maybe the Nike Lunar Glide) what each of the four manufacturers were trying to achieve. I was lucky in that I was able to test each of the shoes on the same route in the same conditions, except for the odd degree of variation in temperature. Some clearly stood out for me but rather than place them in order of preference, I'd rather leave it up to the athlete to choose as every foot shape is different. What I felt may feel different to what you do.
If I did have to place them in some sort of order, then the Asics Gel-Excel33 is the most comfortable fitting shoe. The most supportive (without it being a corrective shoe by any means) is the Nike Lunar Glide. The best feel, though, while running was the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara. The Kinvara also happens to be the best value for money despite the Nike Free Run 2 being the cheapest of the lot by far.
If I had to choose a shoe then I would compete in the Kinvara over an Olympic, maybe a 70.3, distance race but would feel more confident in the Excel33 for a 70.3 and ironman race. Yep I have based my choices on my running style, my height (6ft), my current weight (80kg) and my level of fitness (or lack thereof as my squad so cheekily pointed out to me the other day).
The best advice is for you to go to your running shoe shop. Try them out and then, based on the video evidence and your perception, choose the shoe that YOU feel is right for you.
Enjoy your training!
Jono Rumbelo, Certified ironguides Method Coach – South Africa
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