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Hoka One One Bondi X Review

By Contributor Nathan Brown

If we look at the landscape of the last five years of running shoes, you will see the infusion of many trends: maximal cushioning, rocker soles, changes in stability mechanisms, crash pads/extended heels, and of course, carbon plates. The HOKA Bondi X is an infusion of many of these popular trends into one package. Our hope is to dive into what we know about these trends, what they actually do or don't do, and critically assess what claims we can take to the bank about the Bondi X. You will find a simple exposition of my testing experience throughout most of the review, and then critical analysis in the "Thoughts as a DPT" section.


Specifications (per HOKA ONE ONE)
Weight:  10.6oz/300g (men's size 9);  9.1oz/257g (women's size 8)
Stack Height: 33mm/28mm (men's); 31mm/26mm (women's)
Drop: 5mm
Classification: Max Cushion Trainer


RUNNING SHOE SUMMARY

The Bondi X has a lot going on, and ultimately it results in a genuinely enjoyable ride on the roads. It is very soft with a moderately rigid carbon plate that spans the length of the shoe to help stabilize the foam, and the typical HOKA geometry provides smooth transitions as well. This shoe is the best "rock catcher" I've had in a while, so only on the roads will I go with this strapped to my feet. Ultimately, this shoe has made me think about footwear design more than any other that I've seen so far this year due to the many components. 



FIT (LENGTH / WIDTH / COMFORT)

Some HOKA shoes tend to be tight right at the beginning of the toe box and contain side walls that give many people blisters. This shoe bucked that trend for me. It is slightly wider and more accommodating than a typical HOKA through the toe box likely due to the flexible and slightly stretchy TPU yarn upper. Heel lock down was good, but I was unable to use the extra eyelets because the tongue (which is a think piece of suede-like material with some overlays) is too short and the laces would go up against the top of my foot if I used them. The rigid heel counter is well padded. Overall, a very pleasing fit, with the one issue being that the tongue is too short. 


PERFORMANCE (RIDE / SPEED)

I initially did not think I'd enjoy this shoe from a ride perspective. First was because of the extended heel. Typically those get in the way for me and irritate my tibialis anterior. Second was how soft the foam is, which HOKA states is "their softest foam in their arsenal". I typically prefer firmer riding shoes like the firm Boston 10, and overly soft shoes tend to irritate my feet. In this case, it seems like I'm sort of a the "princess and the pea" so to speak.

Despite what I expected, this shoe has been very enjoyable for my slower recovery runs and daily mileage. The foam is, as HOKA states, very soft, but I found that over even the first 10 miles the foam settled a bit and was less of a marshmallow than initially. Now that I have many more runs and miles, the foam seems to have found it's groove. Initially it was so soft that I felt like I was sinking into the shoe, particularly in the forefoot, and had a hard time propelling myself forward. Now that it has settled, the foam is still soft, but has some decent rebound to it and I find it easier to roll up onto the toes. 

The other major factor to talk about is forefoot stiffness from to the carbon plate. I don't know details of the specs of the plate, but it seems more flexible than the one in the Carbon X2 or Rocket X. I did not notice the forefoot stiffness being either restrictive or propulsive at slower paces, which made daily miles comfortable. It also felt more natural than I expected compared to how it felt in hand. When the pace picked up for things like strides, I did find that the forefoot stiffness assisted in creating what felt like a quicker toe off than if there was less forefoot rigidity. Long story short, you can tell the plate is there when picking up the pace, but it feels relatively flexible at slower paces. Given how soft the foam is and it's weight, I would reserve this shoe for daily miles, recovery runs, and slower long runs.

My biggest issue with the ride is how easily rocks get lodged into the "X" on the bottom. The foam is so soft that small rocks get embedded in there in no time. I cannot take this on the Green Circle in town, a 26 miles trail around our city made of mostly crushed rock, so it's honestly not a shoe I would choose to add into my arsenal for that reason alone. I took it on the Green Circle for less than a quarter mile and the full X was filled with small rocks on both shoes in that short of a time. Not a deal breaker for city runners, but if you want to use any crushed gravel trails around your area, this isn't the shoe. 



STABILITY

HOKA consistently does stability well in higher stack, softer shoes. Primarily this is done through the very wide and full contact outsole. This prevents excess rolling in or out on the platform itself despite the softer platform. Additionally, the carbon fiber plate does provide stiffness in both the medial and lateral directions which stabilizes the softer foam. The stability due to the plate is even higher in the heel given that the plate is closer to the foot. Even with the natural stability elements, the softer foam may pose issues for those with excess mid and forefoot mobility who have a hard time stabilizing. The foam is remarkably soft, placing demand on the foot itself for stability. 


THOUGHTS AS A DPT / FOOTWEAR SCIENCE

What do carbon plates really do, anyway?

This is a question we've been asked by a number of followers and I thought this might be a good chance to address it. This won't be a fully complete answer, but it will give some categories to consider where plates are at work. First is the category of efficiency. When carbon plates made their big splash in the Vaporfly 4%, the main focus was on the fact that this new plate was making runners more efficient. In reality there is much more debate. A study by Roy et. al. suggests that possibly only 1% of the efficiency improvement was due to the plate, whereas 3% was other factors like the foam compound and geometry of the shoe (Roy et al 2006). Another study actually showed that cutting the plate longitudinally in the Vaporfly 4% didn't change running economy (Healy & Hoogkamer, 2021). Editor's note: It should be known that Hoogkamer was part of the original 4% study AND was part of the recent one referenced. While there might be debates among people on this topic, I think it's safe to say that a plate alone will not make a shoe "faster" or "more efficient". This is why I'm skeptical of the marketing tagline for the Bondi X being "Everyone Can Level Up". A plate is a small piece of the efficiency puzzle, which includes weight, foam, geometry, and ultimately each runner's individual differences. Yes, the plate may stiffen the forefoot a little bit and therefore lengthen the lever arm for the calf around the ankle, but will this really account for a meaningful difference in efficiency? Maybe, but not of great significance in my mind, especially due to the pliable foam and heavier weight found in the Bondi X, which likely offset any of that benefit. 

Another category is stability. This isn't talked about too much in the world of carbon plates, but it's certainly a consequence (positively) of placing a carbon plate in the shoe. Obviously the shape and length of the plate will effect this...but in general having a plate is going to increase the rigidity, and therefore stability, of the platform. This is very evident during my run experience in this shoe, where the soft platform was not a problem, partially due to the plate. Another great example is when comparing the Endorphin Speed and Pro. The Speed is notably less stable in the heel due to the fact that it uses a nylon plate instead of a carbon plate like in the Pro. The increased rigidity certainly can help stabilize these softer "super foams". Think of all of the "trusstic" or "torsion" systems used over the last several years. The goal is to increase rigidity through the midfoot to help stabilize the platform. Now you are seeing the same thing happen through the use of carbon plates. The exact area that is impacted by this will depend on where the plate is. Some are primarily in the forefoot (Skechers), while others go the full length. Like most of the above answers, the magnitude of impact depends on many interacting variables including but not limited to the plate. 

Are they bad for us long term?

This is a question that we don't have an answer to yet from the literature. We don't even have consistent evidence on biomechanical changes that occur with carbon plate use. So take this as a expert opinion and not fact. First I want to say that all plates are not created equal. One plate, such as the one in the Endorphin Pro, may allow almost no motion through the great toe during toe off since it does not flex in the slightest (theoretically maximizing efficiency). Another plate, like the forefoot plate in the Razor Elite or Pacer ST, can almost not be felt because they are so flexible. The Bondi X sits somewhere in the middle. The rigidity of a plate is more than likely going to change the impact on the mechanics of the foot. The theoretical long term impact of the more flexible plates would be less than that of the rigid plates due to how much it changes the demands on the foot and lower body compared to running in a "typical" trainer like the Ride or Ghost. One concern people voice is that "running in carbon plated shoes will weaken your feet". One idea behind this is that the plate is taking over for the Windlass mechanism (the way our foot creates a rigid lever) as well as for our foot intrinsics (and extrinsics that stabilize the arch of the foot when running). The idea is that if this plate is taking over for these things, our foot will weaken over time due to non-use. First, we have no actual data on whether or not foot intrinsic or extrinsic activation changes with the use of a rigid carbon plate. Second, just because it makes theoretical sense that it would, we have studies for other areas of the body that show that what we think to be true in theory doesn't really pan out. One example is in the low back.

For a long time it was thought that wearing a lumbar support would decrease muscle mass in the back and abdomen because the brace "takes over" for your muscles that should provide that support. However, a systematic review by Azadinia et al shows that it simply doesn't pan out that way (Azadinia et al., 2017). That said, I'm not jumping on board of advocating for training daily in plates (in fact I think they should be used sparingly). I also can't fully denounce their use based on what we currently know. If it were me, I'd use a plate for its intended purpose of contributing to the cocktail required to make the most efficient racing shoe possible, and stick to other mechanisms like geometry and partial length plates/nylon to provide stability to a shoe. Just to throw one more wrench in there...if you're really concerned about people using carbon plates on a daily basis, you should be just as concerned about shoes like the Endorphin Shift or ASICS Glideride, because they have just as much rigidity (if not more) than some carbon plated shoes. In the case of the Bondi X, it seems like the plate's main function is in stability, and the rest is a little bit of taking advantage of where the market is at.


Okay but what about the maximalist movement? Is this just the next minimalist movement?

From what we can see so far, there are some pretty distinct differences between the minimalist and maximalist movement. The minimal movement could only be "packaged" in a few ways, such as the Vibram 5 Fingers, to accomplish the goal of removing as much from below the foot. Removing "protection" from underfoot has somewhat predictable patterns of biomechanical changes for runners, namely that many, but not all, move to landing more on the mid or forefoot (Hashish et al 2015). The reason this has a high impact is a couple-fold: 1) Most runners are heel strikers, meaning that this causes changes in a higher number of runners (Hasegua et al 2007, Kasmer et al 2013) and 2) Shifting to a forefoot strike drastically changes the eccentric load demand from the knee to the calf/ankle. Drastic changes that are done quickly typically end in injury, and that's certainly what we saw in the minimalist movement. Does that mean that running with minimalist footwear is bad? Absolutely not. We just saw the trend of a quick, drastic change have a negative effect on many runners. There are actually a number of potential benefits of the use of minimalist footwear that are worth considering for training and strengthening. Dr. Irene Davis is one of many recognized for the recent resurgence in barefoot/minimal running in the scientific community (Davis 2021). When we then switch over and think about the current maximalist trends, there are several ways that a maximalist shoe can be "packaged". Will it be high stack with a firm foam? Soft foam? Rocker? Plated? Flexible forefoot? Rigid forefoot? You can have different constructions that will all serve different purposes. These different purposes/footwear will also work better for different people. That doesn't mean that maximalist shoe construction doesn't come with its own consequences.

We have seen studies show that having a softer or higher platform leads to compensatory stiffening of the joints (Kulmala et al 2018). The logic behind this is that a higher and softer platform is less stable, leading to less excursion of the joints and less demand on your body to create stability. This stiffening of the joints creates a paradox, where higher cushioning in a shoe leads to less "cushioning" or shock absorption done by your muscles and more so by your joints. This doesn't necessarily pose a problem, but for people with bone stress related injuries or impact related injuries, it could be a real consideration. However, another population may actually benefit from this "automatic" stiffening of joints that occurs with softer shoes like the Bondi X. Some patellofemoral pain syndromes are caused by chondral defects on the patellar or femoral surfaces (knee cap or thigh bone). Depending on the location of the defect, it can cause pain in a certain range of motion. For example, someone may have a defect that doesn't cause pain (due to where the defect location and how the femoral or patellar surfaces contact each other) until the knee is bent to 45 degrees. Therefore, if they can avoid that range, they won't experience pain and also won't likely worsen their defect. A high cushioned and soft shoe may be a nice tool to facilitate a slightly stiffer gait pattern, which in this patient may be beneficial. Please hear me...promoting a stiffer gait pattern is not a global recommendation. I'm simply pointing out that we can use what we learn about footwear to help certain/specific populations of people. 




These extended heels look strange but also kinda cool. Do they do anything?

Finally I want to talk about all these extended heels (what HOKA also calls their "extended crash pad") we are seeing, primarily from HOKA (but also present in the Nike Pegasus/Vaporfly). There are definitely two different categories. Category 1 includes shoes like the HOKA TEN-NINE or CLIFTON EDGE. These have extended heels with little to no bevel, and the apex of the bevel is far posterior to the back side of the heel (calcaneus). The philosophy behind this is to create earlier contact with the ground with a chunk of compressible foam, lessening impact. The theory is in line with how the front ends of cars are created to fold during a crash to slow the change in speed, lessen the acceleration, and lower overall impact. The theory is all well and good, but it also creates a much larger lever arm around the ankle joint, putting high demand on the tibialis anterior muscle to slow the forefoot coming to the ground after heel strike. Clinically, I've seen a number of people come in with issues due to this reality. This type of extended heel also leads to earlier contact than our body is prepared for, possibly leading to delayed reaction of our muscles to absorb shock. But that isn't at all the category that the Bondi X falls into...so let's move on. Category 2 are extended heels that have a large bevel and the apex sits at or in front of the back of the heel. The Nike Pegasus, Bondi X, Carbon X2, Mach 4, Vaporfly, and others fall into this category (lots of HOKA). When a shoe is constructed this way, the extended heel never contacts the ground. Sometimes these extended heels, particularly in HOKA, have the "swallowtail" cut or groove.

So if this doesn't contact the ground at all, what's the point? Well, to be honest, I do think a big part is to create a brand, a look, and something identifiable to the consumer. This isn't a bad thing. The pointed heel of the Vaporfly is now, in a way, iconic...and if anyone else does it on their shoe (i.e. 361 Flame) it appears as if they are stealing or copying another company. Same, I think, is true for HOKA. Their brand includes this large, beveled heel that distinguishes their look from others...and it looks cool too! (At least for some people). Although I think these types of extended heels are more branding than anything, it's possible that the extended portion allows the bevel to more appropriately mimic the calcaneus and prevent the runner from hitting the "edge" of the outsole on contact, possibly smoothing out the ride. The swallowtail heel, if extended down into the midsole like in the Kinvara 12, may decouple the foam so it can compress independently. However, if it's simply at the furthest back end of the extended heel, I believe it's just for looks. So in the end, I think the extended heel of the Bondi X is mostly aesthetic and adds a some weight, with a chance of a slightly smoother landing by not hitting the "edge" of the outsole. But if HOKA has some data on how this changes loading or mechanics, I'm all ears. 

REFERENCES

1. Roy, J. P. R., & Stefanyshyn, D. J. (2006). Shoe midsole longitudinal bending stiffness and running economy, joint energy, and EMG. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise38(3), 562-569.

2. Healey, L., & Hoogkamer, W. (2021). Longitudinal bending stiffness does not affect running economy in Nike Vaporfly shoes.

3. Azadinia, F., Takamjani, E. E., Kamyab, M., Parnianpour, M., Cholewicki, J., & Maroufi, N. (2017). Can lumbosacral orthoses cause trunk muscle weakness? A systematic review of literature. 
The Spine Journal17(4), 589-602.

4. Hashish, R., Samarawickrame, S. D., Powers, C. M., & Salem, G. J. (2016). Lower limb dynamics vary in shod runners who acutely transition to barefoot running. Journal of Biomechanics49(2), 284-288.

5. Hasegawa, H., Yamauchi, T., & Kraemer, W. J. (2007). Foot strike patterns of runners at the 15-km point during an elite-level half marathon. Journal of strength and conditioning research21(3), 888.

6. Kasmer, M. E., Liu, X. C., Roberts, K. G., & Valadao, J. M. (2013). Foot-strike pattern and performance in a marathon. International journal of sports physiology and performance8(3), 286-292.

7. Davis, I. S. (2014). The re-emergence of the minimal running shoe. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy44(10), 775-784.

8. Kulmala, J. P., Kosonen, J., Nurminen, J., & Avela, J. (2018). Running in highly cushioned shoes increases leg stiffness and amplifies impact loading. Scientific reports8(1), 1-7.



WHO THIS SHOE IS FOR (Conclusion)

The Bondi X is a very soft, highly cushioned shoe that is another option for a long run trainer and possibly daily trainer (see comments on if plates are good or bad for daily training above). The shoe, despite it's very soft platform, is stabilized by the plate and wide outsole platform, but will still suit people who prefer neutral shoes over stability shoes. It comes in at $200, and I do think there are other options that may comparable in comfort for runners wanting this kind of experience (especially considering I don't think simply putting in a carbon plate is going to give you the extra "efficiency" you may think you will get). It is uniquely soft and has very smooth transitions, and it'll be up to the runner if the extra capital is worth it. 


GRADING (SHOE CATEGORY)

Nathan
Fit: A- (No irritable side walls! Tongue being short does limit lacing versatility for different people's needs)
Performance: A-
 (No hiccups throughout for me, particularly at recovery paces, just a bit soft and foam compresses quickly)
Stability: B (For how soft the foam is, they stabilize well through the plate and wide base, and making sure the bevel is big enough to move the extended heel out of the way)
DPT/Footwear Science: B+ (There's a ton going on in this shoe and it is overall integrated well, but I think some of the design and tech is more marketing than effective)
Personal: B- (Really enjoyed the ride and am using it regularly, but I wouldn't purchase a $200 shoe...and this is my personal grade so I guess I can include that factor in my grading)
Overall: B+ 

VIDEO REVIEW



Hear Nathan Brown's full thoughts on the shoe in his video review of the Bondi X!

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Shop the Hoka Bondi X at Running Warehouse here! Using the link to purchase helps support Doctors of Running. Thanks so much!

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TESTER PROFILES:


Matthew Klein, PT DPT OCS FAAOMPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists

Dr. Matthew Klein is a 150 lb male with notable PRs of 14:45 for 5k and 2:32:44 for the full marathon.  He typically runs 70-100 miles per week and trains at a variety of paces from 8min per mile recovery runs to 4:40 per mile 1k repeats.  He prefers firmer and responsive shoes with snug heels and medium to wide toe boxes.  The stability guy of the group, he also prefers a little stability in his footwear. However, as a researcher, clinician and running shoe aficionado, he will run in anything.

David Salas PT DPT CSCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Dr. David Salas is a 135 lb male with notable PRs ranging from 3:54 in the 1500m to 1:08:36 for half marathon. He typically runs 60 to 70 miles per week and trains from about 7:30 recovery runs to fast shorter efforts at 4:30 pace. He normally prefers neutral shoes with a firmer ride, but is completely open to other types of shoes.  He is a footwear enthusiast at heart and will always appreciate a high quality shoe when it comes around. For updates on training or testing,

Nathan Brown PT DPT MS
Doctor of Physical Therapy 
Masters in Anatomy and Clinical Health Science
Movement Performance Institute Certified in Advanced Functional Biomechanics 

Dr. Brown is a 155 lb male with notable PRs of 18:18 5K, 39:25 10K, 1:29:01 half marathon, and 3:54 marathon. He typically runs between 20-40 miles per week at a variety of paces from 7:30-8:30 min/mile for recovery runs to 6-6:45 min/mile for tempo runs. He typically prefers shoes that provide some cushioning underfoot but still maintain a more firm and responsive feel. Current goals for 2020 are to break the 1.5 hour half marathon and 3:30 marathon.

Bach Pham MS
Marketing and Social Media Manager
Master of Arts in Cultural Anthropology

Bach Pham is a 140 lb male with PRs of 23 5K, 52 10K. He typically runs between 25-35 miles per week at a variety of paces between 8:30 (tempo) -10:00 (recovery) min/miles. He typically prefers shoes that provide some mild to firm cushioning underfoot that is lightweight and responsive. Currently his goals are to complete the half and marathon distances.

Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your
local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided free of charge in exchange for a review.  We thank the  people at Hoka One One for sending us a pair.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We systematically put each type of shoe through certain runs prior to review. For trainers and performance trainers, we take them on daily runs, workouts, recovery runs and a long run prior to review (often accumulating anywhere from 20-50 miles in the process). For racing flats we ensure that we have completed intervals, a tempo or steady state run run as well as a warm up and cool down in each pair prior to review. This systematic process is to ensure that we have experience with each shoe in a large variety of conditions to provide expansive and thorough reviews for the public and for companies. Our views are based on our extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

Please feel free to reach out, comment and ask questions!
Contact us at doctorsofrunning@gmail.com

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Hoka One One Clifton 8 Review

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