Physical Therapists Using Clinical Analysis To Discuss The Art And Science Behind Running and The Stuff We Put On Our Feet

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Asics DS Trainer 20 Review 

   Long ago during my super-minimalist phase I suffered a stress reaction (no fracture in the bone) on one of my left metatarsals before my sophomore year of cross country.  The shoe I jumped into to continue running was the DS Trainer 14.  They seemed like a lighter and faster shoe with one of the lowest heel drops I could find at the time of 8-9mm (back when I obsessed over things like that).  I enjoyed them despite the weight and heel drop.  The second my foot was doing better, my minimalist tendencies overcame me.  I jumped into the first generation of the Saucony Kinvara and ran in that series of shoe for over a year.  Had I not been so minimally focused regarding shoes I think I would have enjoyed the DS Trainer more.  It's the type of shoe I gravitate toward now: lightweight trainers maybe with mild support.  Probably why I've now run in all 4 versions of the Brooks Purecadence (a review of version 4 is on the way).  Now that it is my type of shoe, I finally decided to give it a try as the specs seemed to fit exactly what I was looking for at the time.  Here are my thoughts:

Sole/Feel: The sole of this shoe has some great grip and responsiveness.  The DS Trainer 20 runs on the firmer side, so this may be better for most people as a uptempo workout shoe or marathon shoe.  The firmness does translate to a faster ride and I have done some very quick workouts in this shoe ranging from 400m repeats to 6 mile tempo runs.  Some mild support is provided by the Dynamic Duomax Support system in the heel and midfoot.  It is very minor, so neutral runners could easily run in this shoe and not be bothered by it (see my thoughts in the durability section).  The Propulsion Trusstic System going from the posterior midfoot to the medial forefoot is very similar to the extended forefoot torsion system in the Takumi Sen and Ren 2 (which was taken out in version 3.... which I'm not happy out).  I do really like the feeling it provides and combined with many other aspects almost gives the DS Trainer 20 a racing shoe feel.  The toe spring is moderate to low, which combined with good forefoot flexibility gives the shoe a wonderfully fast and aggressive feel.  My only issue with the sole of the shoe is the complete lack of a heel bevel (curve), which really really ruins the posterior part of the shoe.  I will address this extensively in my "PT Thoughts" section

Upper/Fit: I do like the upper of this shoe.  It has just enough room and holds down your foot very well for uptempo training.  The toebox is not super roomy, but has enough room not to be constricting.  That being said, those with wider feet in general may not have as much success with this shoe outside of using it for racing things like the marathon.  The heel counter in this shoe does a good job of locking down the rearfoot and preventing any excess motion without being too firm.  I do wish that the achilles tab had a split in it, because the ones that don't (like the DS Trainer 20) can irritate my Achilles.  This only bothered me a bit and seems to be shoe specific, as the Takumi Sen 2 did not have a split in the achilles tab but is still one of my favorite racing flats.

Responsiveness: This is where the shoe shines.  It is a fairly aggressive and responsive shoe that I have thoroughly enjoyed for faster paced runs and workouts.  This is not a soft or very cushioned trainer for easy miles.  If you like a firm and snappy ride then you will like this shoe.  Like I mentioned earlier this would be a great shoe for longer races like the marathon for those who need a bit of support and substance under their foot but still want to go fast.  I have been continually impressed by this DS Trainer 20's versatility in workouts.

Heel-Toe Drop/Ramp: The heel drop is listed at 10mm which feels about right.  It could be anywhere from 8-10m and to me feels just right in terms of not too much but not too little for a traditional lightweight trainer.

Durability:  After 110 miles in this shoe I'm seeing any major durability issues.  The sole is holding up well and there does not appear to be any seems loose in the upper.  I have seen a few reviews commenting on limited upper durability but so far I have not had any problems.  The only real durability issue I have is the Dynamic Duomax Support System which breaks down really quickly.  I get this is only a lightweight support shoe, but after 110 miles the DS Trainer 20 feels almost like a neutral shoe.  I am doing fine with this, but am disappointed it broke down so fast.

Weight: The DS Trainer 20 is listed at 8.7 ounces and that is how the shoe feels.  8-10 ounces is the perfect training shoe weight for me and this shoe fits nicely in that realm.  Much lighter than the DS Trainer 14 that I ran in years ago.  For those of you who like the Brooks Racer ST series, this would be another option as now the two are essentially the same weight and have similar specs.

Thoughts as a DPT (Student): I really like this shoe except for one glaring detail: the complete lack of  a heel bevel.  Landing with heel first in the shoe is jarring and uncomfortable.  Yes this is one of the many reasons this shoe should probably be reserved for uptempo work, but the human calcaneus (heel bone) does have a curve to it.  Why?  Because that is first rocker mechanism of the foot/ankle that allows for more efficient translation of force and maintenance of forward momentum.  There are three of these rockers: the heel rocker, ankle rocker and forefoot rocker.  Each one is important, especially during walking gait, for efficiency of motion and a smooth gait transition.  The midfoot and forefoot of the DS Trainer 20 are great.  The midfoot has a nice transition to the forefoot, which has both flexibility and a nice pop during terminal stance/pre-swing (known to most people as "Toe-Off").  In contrast, the heel is very rigid and harsh.  Any kind of landing with the heel in this shoe is shocking and I actually had the exact same problem with the DS Racer 10 (which is one of the major reasons I returned it).  In fact, walking kinda sucks in this shoe.  So why can't I just accept this and move on?  Because a harsh landing means your pre-tibial muscles (extensor hallucis/digitorum muscles, anterior tibialis muscle and more) receive huge eccentric loads (which places them at risk for injury), a great deal of force travels through your joints (ankle, knee, hip, low-back) and all the muscles of your lower extremity excessively tense up to try to stabilize all these joints and attenuate the shock.  Which can (but not necessarily will) lead to injury.  That's exactly why our calcaneal/heel bones have that nice rounded posterior section.  Again, it helps with shock attenuation, forward translation of force (instead of the forces going right back into our bodies) and for maintenance of momentum.  Asics does seem to have an issue with this in most of their hoes.  I would give them a pass, but the whole rest of the industry has been beveling the heels of their shoes for years.  Nike has been doing it for a while.  Adidas is pretty good about it.  Brooks by far does the best job, especially in the PureProject series.  Saucony, Mizuno, Hoka, Altra.  Even Newton does it!!  That's right!  The brand that is based around landing almost exclusively with a forefoot strike (which side note is a result of your hip mechanics if done right.  I will post something about this).  So at this point it is not acceptable for Asics to keep doing this.  Many of their shoes get away with this due to excessive gel in the rearfoot that collapses with initial contact of the foot.  Some of these models can pull this off.  The DS series clearly can't.

Final Thoughts: Despite how long I went on for in that previous section, I do really like the Asics DS Trainer 20.  It has a really fast and firmer feel that translates really well into uptempo runs, workouts and faster long runs.  Again this would be a great race day shoe for someone coming from a moderate to high stability shoe for anything from the half to full marathon (and shorter depending on your needs).  For me this is a great lightweight trainer than is unfortunately brought down by one glaring issue.
     ASICS!!!  All you guys and gals have to do is bevel the heel.  One little thing.  In my humble opinion, that would make this shoe close to perfect.  Instead it has a very abrupt and shocking transition that can make it hard to run in for anything but workouts.  Unless you only land exclusively on your forefoot, which most people don't (most people will land on different areas of the foot as a result of different hip mechanics at different speeds), this shoe's transition will likely feel harsh to you.
   That being said I still suggest you give these a look if you're in the market for a lightweight light stability shoe.  As I have mentioned, other than the heel issue these are great shoes for faster running.

Thanks for reading and don't forget to Tack On!

These shoes were provided free of charge for winning the Bryan Clay Fit4Fall 5k.  I put at least 100 miles on every pair of shoes before I review them (except racing flats which I put on at least 50 miles).  Currently I have 110 miles on my pair.

As always, my views are my own.

-Matt Klein, SPT

*Images obtained from the Asics America website.  Go down to your local running retailer to check them out.  If you are in the SoCal area, these are carried by A Snail's Pace and Running Centers as far as I know.

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