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: Why Our Legs Feel Different Using Super Shoes
By Matthew Klein

How do super shoes affect our bodies? In a lot of ways, it turns out. Matt tackles one of them in today's Monday Shakeout, exploring some of research that's come out on super shoes in the past few years.

For those who are familiar with and train in super shoes, the "dead leg" sensation after immediately switching back to a traditional running shoe is all too familiar. Super trainers, like the Mizuno Neo Vista, New Balance SC Elite v1 and ASICS Superblast, or super racers, like the Nike Alphafly 3, ASICS Metaspeed Paris series or the Saucony Endorphin Elite provide highly cushioned, resilient, rockered and stiff midsole experiences that are still different than the majority of traditional training shoes on the market. For those new to switching back and forth or perhaps have spent a long period of time using only super-type shoes, the sensation of feeling like there is no pop or elasticity in your legs after returning to running in a traditional shoe can be a bit concerning. Given a few days or weeks it usually goes away but the question is, "Why does it happen?"


The midsole material, or the foam underneath the foot in the shoe, provides the majority of cushioning within the shoe. The new midsole materials, including PEBA, PEBAX and all the combinations of different foams with these materials and others, are creating softer and more bouncy foams than ever before seen in the running footwear world. The body will adapt to whatever surface it is placed upon for various reasons. 

  • On firmer surfaces, it is normal to see increased joint excursion (motion) to provide appropriate shock absorption. 
  • On softer surfaces, it is normal to see decreased joint excursion and increased lower extremity stiffness to improve stability (softer surfaces are inherently less stable).
The various sensory nerve endings in joints (proprioceptors) pick up information regarding the quality of surface underfoot and can tune the amount of muscle stiffness and motion to maintain safety from impact or falls (if all systems are working normally...).


Not only are the midsole materials soft, which replicate softer terrain, but there is TONS of this material underfoot in these new shoes. The current super shoes, despite having stiffening agents like plates in them, feature tall slabs of foam that compress incredible amounts underneath each footstrike. This can amplify the feeling of softness underfoot in the shoes. Softer, highly cushioned shoes may cause individuals to land with stiffer legs (Kulmala et al., 2018). This is due to the body predicting that due to the perception of a soft surface underfoot, that the body needs to worry less about impact and more about the stability on this surface type.

The decreased joint excursion and increased stiffness of the joints of the lower body are an adaptation to provide stability with each step. The longer you spend in this footwear type, the more ingrained this movement pattern becomes as your body learns and adapts to the type of underfoot surface. The opposite also occurs when running in traditional or even minimalist shoes. As your body learns and adapts to the firmer surface, you may see increased joint excursion and increased efficiency with the new surface and appropriate shock absorption.


A great deal of the change in stiffness occurs at the Achilles tendon and calf. The rocker geometries and softer foams are well known to reduce stress on the Achilles tendon acutely (Agresta et al., 2022). The calf and Achilles complex are most responsible for forward propulsion and a great deal of the elasticity felt in the lower extremities with athletic movements (Hamner et al., 2010). While these shoes can reduce stress upon this area, the calf muscle and tendon need appropriate stress to maintain function and the stiffness that provides the natural bounce and elasticity in one's stride. Spending the majority of time in these shoes may reduce this as these shoe types generally shift the responsibility of propulsion and movement up to the knee and hip (Agresta et al., 2022Hébert-Losier et al., 2022; Hébert-Losier et al., 2023; Sobhani et al., 2017). Super shoes and trainers are not bad, but the body may adapt in certain ways that can make transitioning back to traditional or minimalist shoes difficult.


For those who choose to spend most of their time in super trainers and/or super shoes, additional work should be taken to maintain calf strength and elasticity. This means higher level strength training and plyometrics must be  to maintain appropriate stiffness and elasticity. The strength/plyometric program does not have to be extensive as simple calf raises, jumping rope and single leg hops with lower repetition ranges and higher quality are highly effective when done consistently. These should not be done every day as most higher level strength and plyometric training only needs to be done 2-3 times per week for the maximum benefits (and safety). Tendons adapt to the stresses or lack of stresses placed upon them. These structures are known to lose their function with age unless appropriately stressed with training (Klein & Patterson, 2023). To maintain normal lower extremity function and tendon health while running in super shoes, an appropriate shoe rotation with different non-super shoes should be utilized or specific exercises need to be done to maintain tissue function. Optimally, a variety of shoes should be utilized along with a strength/plyometric program as evidence suggests these may be some of the few ways to decrease injury risk (Agresta et al., 2022; Kulmala et al., 2015). The softer shoes themselves do not reduce injury risk as no evidence has demonstrated differences in injury rates and softer shoes actually increase joint loading in certain individuals due to less joint movement (Kulmala et al., 2015).

This is not saying any specific shoe type is good or bad. The body adapts to whatever surface or shoe that is underfoot. That adaptation becomes stronger and more difficult to change out of the more time you spend in that specific environment. Just like transitioning between roads and trails can sometimes feel awkward given the different requirements of each, the same can occur between traditional shoes and super shoes. The differences between these two shoe types are becoming less each year as these super foams are being integrated into traditional shoes (Nike Vomero, Saucony Triumph, etc).

In the future, this may be a greater issue for those interested in switching between minimalist and super shoes, where the concepts above apply to an even greater degree that with traditional shoes. The same ideas apply as the body will adapt to whichever you spend time in. For safe transitions, each one should be slowly integrated regardless of which way you are going to allow the body to safely adapt. Abrupt changes can put you at risk for injury, so the more consistent you are experiencing and training in a variety of things, the better off you may be.


Agresta, C., Giacomazzi, C., Harrast, M., & Zendler, J. (2022). Running injury paradigms and their influence on footwear design features and runner assessment methods: A focused review to advance evidence-based practice for running medicine clinicians. Frontiers in Aports and Active Living4, 815675.

Hamner, S. R., Seth, A., & Delp, S. L. (2010). Muscle contributions to propulsion and support during running. Journal of Biomechanics43(14), 2709-2716.

Hébert-Losier, K., Finlayson, S. J., Lamb, P. F., Driller, M. W., Hanzlíková, I., Dubois, B., ... & Beaven, C. M. (2022). Kinematics of recreational male runners in “super”, minimalist and habitual shoes. Journal of Sports Sciences40(13), 1426-1435.

Hébert-Losier, K., & Pamment, M. (2023). Advancements in running shoe technology and their effects on running economy and performance–a current concepts overview. Sports Biomechanics22(3), 335-350.

Klein, M., & Patterson, C. (2023). Changes in running biomechanics in master runners over age 50: a systematic review. Sports Biomechanics, 1-29.

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.

Malisoux, L., Ramesh, J., Mann, R., Seil, R., Urhausen, A., & Theisen, D. (2015). Can parallel use of different running shoes decrease running‐related injury risk?. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports25(1), 110-115.

Sobhani, S., van den Heuvel, E. R., Dekker, R., Postema, K., Kluitenberg, B., Bredeweg, S. W., & Hijmans, J. M. (2017). Biomechanics of running with rocker shoes. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport20(1), 38-44.


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