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Rotating Running Shoes: Thoughts From Saucony

Posted on February 14 2014

The concept of rotating shoes is one that I have written about many times, as have others in the running blogosphere. Yesterday I posted about how foot strike changes with running speed, and I touched on the fact that different shoes might thus be appropriate for different workouts. I’ve also written about a study that suggests that rotating shoes might reduce injury risk.

The reality is that a segment of the running community has long recognized the value of rotating shoes for different workouts or to keep the legs fresh. However, there are more than a few runners who would never consider doing so and to whom the concept of a shoe rotation is totally new and a bit scary.

A fair number of the injured runners I see in the clinic do all of their training on roads in a single shoe (or maybe two very similar models from different brands). Often when I bring up the idea of rotating shoes the response is something along the lines of  “It’s OK to do that???” Many are receptive to trying something different, but when I tell them it’s ok to mix a new shoe in with their current one on different workouts they seem perplexed.

I’ve long wondered why running shoe companies and retail stores aren’t more vocal about this concept of a shoe rotation. It seems like a win-win (provided the runner can afford multiple pairs of shoes). I’ve asked a few retailers and brand reps about this, and there seems to be some sensitivity about the possibility that a customer might feel they are being pushed to buy something they don’t need. Shoes are expensive after all, and getting more expensive every year.

I was pleased therefore when I came across this post on rotating shoes on the Saucony blog. Sure Saucony is a very biased party here – rotating shoes means selling more shoes, and what shoe company doesn’t want to sell more shoes?

I do think that the article makes good sense, and it’s written by Spencer White, head of the Saucony Lab. Spencer is a good scientist, and I’ve spent a few days with him down at Saucony HQ (he did a full gait analysis on me with their force treadmill and 3D kinematic setup). He and I share a lot of common ground in our thinking about shoes, running form, and injuries, and this paragraph pretty much sums up my own thinking on why rotating shoes makes sense:

“Our bodies are best at doing one thing: Adapting to the environment and the stresses we expose them to.  For runners this means that our bodies adapt to the stress of running, becoming fit and strong. But… because running is so repetitive, it can occasionally overstress our bodies, especially when we increase training intensity. Every step loads the same tissues in the same way as the previous step.  Running shoes can affect how the stress of running is distributed within the tissues of your body.  By wearing different shoes on different days, you may avoid overloading any one muscle, tendon, bone, or ligament while simultaneously strengthening others.”

Spencer goes on to talk about shoes and speed:

“If you run at different speeds on different days, or on different surfaces (if you don’t do this, you should!), you may find that a shoe that feels just right at a training pace feels too mushy for intervals, or that the racing flat that works so well for a track workout just feels jarring when running more slowly on the run home. For many runners, a shoe that compresses more feels like it works better with their stride at slower paces, while a shoe that compresses less feels like it works better with their stride at faster paces.”

Read Spencer’s full post here.

I personally liken running shoes to golf clubs. A golfer would never play 18 holes with just a putter. Golfers have a bag full of clubs that each has an intended purpose. In a similar manner I think some runners would benefit from having a few different shoes to use for different purposes. Find the most comfortable shoe you can find for most of your mileage. Get a flat for days you run a bit faster. A trail shoe to maximize variation by getting yourself off of the road once in awhile. I think that by mixing things up you’ll avoid hammering your body with the same repetitive stress every time you run, and this might reduce your chances of getting hurt.

What do you think, do you find value in rotating shoes?

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