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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The Monday Shakeout: Do We Adapt to Shoes or Do Shoes Adapt to Us?
By  Matthew Klein

In this week's Monday Shakeout, Matt shares a late night thought he had about footwear and whether it is about us breaking into the shoe or the shoe breaking-in to the runner. He looks at both sides of the coin in this feature and talks about adaptation. Check out all of our Monday Shakeouts at the end for more think pieces from the team!

One of the things that sparked this website was my goal of finding the "perfect shoe." This started working in running stores, attempting to learn and share what I was experiencing with customers, hoping to help them own their own journeys of finding that shoe. As this continued past working in running stores and into DPT school, through a combination of learning and experience, I recognized that there may not be such a thing as a perfect shoe. Instead, there may be different shoes that work for different people in different situations. Those different situations may include different speeds, distances, ages (for us) and more.

What I eventually began to think about is the fact that our bodies to adapt to different things. I noticed that many shoes I initially had mixed thoughts on would eventually become comfortable. I knew shoes broke-in, but also began to recognize that our bodies may be able to adapt to different shoes. So the question is, which one plays the bigger factor in choosing shoes?

Do Shoes Adapt to Us?

The "break-in" period is a well-known phenomenon in footwear and many different types of clothing. Materials have to break-in as you wear them in. Shoe uppers are definitely something that slowly adapt and stretch (depending on the material) as they are worn over time. Midsoles are also known to break in and break down as various sources have tried to estimate how long shoes really last as the materials wear out. Much of this wear comes from us impacting, stretching and using the shoe. The materials of the shoe stretch/compress to our unique foot shape, biomechanics and movements as we continue to use them more and more. One of the cautions we have continually provided about excessively worn shoes is that you will wear your unique movement signature into the shoe, which at a certain point may exacerbate any movement abnormalities you may have (we all have them). This is a clear example of shoes adapting to the demands of the body. Some shoes will do it more than others, meaning some shoes will break in and feel better while others may not. 

Or Do We Adapt to Shoes?

The other "break-in" period comes from the body's ability to adapt to new stimuli. The same ability to adapt to training, be it running, weight lifting, etc also applies to footwear. Any time you put on a new shoe, your body must adjust to the cushioning level, fit, stability, flex points, weight and transitions of the shoe. Depending on how adaptable you are (ie your motor learning ability and tissue capacities) this can be quick or slow. Your nervous system must learn to coordinate new movement patterns while your muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments etc must adapt to new or different stresses.

This is exactly the reason we suggest transitioning slowly into new shoes, especially new types of shoes (like super shoes or minimalist shoes). Your body has to get used to all the new ways it has to interact with the ground. This can be negative if the stimuli is too much and a tissue mentioned above gets overloaded too quickly or does not have the capacity required to adapt. This can also be a good adaptation if builds strength, stability, or facilitates motions. So while time is not always available, the more of it you can take to transition, the better (depending on the individual as we at Doctors of Running must constantly adapt to provide you with the most up-to-date reviews)


There is no such thing as a perfect shoe. There are better shoes for different people with the understanding that this interaction is a two-way street. Some people and some shoes will be more or less adaptable. The goal of each person is to find a shoe that matches them as closely as possible while recognizing the shoe may also need some time to adapt. This is also combined with accepting this may change as our bodies change over time. Some footwear companies have already taken note of this concept with the designs of recent guidance/stability footwear, which are moving away from forcing people a certain way and instead attempting to facilitate their mechanics. While we are constantly studying and trying to improve how our bodies adapt, footwear is also evolving to better adapt to us. What that will look like in the future is unknown but I personally am excited to see it. 


Research on Finding the Optimal Shoe

About the 1st MTP and its Role in Running
What is Drop and Why It Doesn't Always Matter
The Science of Sole Width
Challenges with Large Toe Spring
Phases of the Swing Gait
Can Running Shoes Reduce Injuries?
The Best Shoes of 2023 for Highly Specific Reasons
Andrea's Favorite Shoes of 2023
David's Favorite Shoes of 2023
Matt's Favorite Shoes of 2023
My Favorite Flat Feet Shoes of 2023
ChatGPT Reviews a Shoe, Volume 2
How Forefoot Rockers Help Toe Mobility
Running with Backpacks
How Much Does Doctors of Running Make?
Changes We're Excited to See
Why Heel Bevels are Natural
Do Heavier Runners Need Different Shoes?
Shoe Rotations for Different Runners
Strength Training to Prevent Injury - A Case Study
On the Impacts of Different Stacked Shoes
The Importance of Heel Bevels in Shoe Design
Low vs. High Drop Shoes
Why is Proprioception Important to Runners?
Best Running Movie Scenes of All-Time, Part 2
Best Running Movie Scenes of All-Time, Part 1
What a Week at DOR is Like
Reflections on Saucony's Running Economy Study
Sustainable is Only Going to Work if It's Good
A Simple Guide to Footwear and Foot Health
Best Flat Feet Shoes by a Flat Feet Runner
How Long Do Shoes Last?


*Using the link to purchase helps support Doctors of Running. Thanks so much!

Ultraspire Fitted Race Belt: The best way to carry your phone and goods on the run. No bounce and various sizes for waist. (Also recommend the Naked belt)
Saysky Running Gear: We were really taken aback by this Scandinavian company's ultra-thin, durable performance clothing
Skratch Recovery, Coffee Flavor: Mental and physical boost post run. Coffee flavor is excellent and goes great straight into a fresh brewed cup
goodr Sunglases: Run in style with goodr's super fun sunglasses.
Feetures Socks: Massively grippy socks that will make you feel more one with the shoe
Amphipod Hydraform Handheld Water Bottle: Perfect for long runs when you need hydration in the summer
Trigger Point Foam Roller: Help get those knots out post-run and feel better for tomorrow
Theragun Massager: This small version is great on the go for working tired legs
Ciele Hat: Our team's favorite running hat of choice!
Fractel Hats: Our team's wider fitting running hat of choice!


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Research on Finding the Optimal Shoe

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