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: The Impact of Footwear on Masters Runners
By Matthew Klein

This week Matt reviews the limited research on the impact of footwear on masters runners. Having just completed his PhD on the impact of aging and the biomechanical factors that contribute to Achilles tendinopathy in masters runners, Matt's focus on aging and running encouraged him to look at the literature on footwear in masters runners. The results suggest that data is limited but there are a few things that can be used to guide future research.

As a few may know, I recently completed my PhD investigating the changes the occur between younger and masters runners and the biomechanical differences between masters runners with and without Achilles tendinopathy. The results of my systematic review found that movement changes occur at the hip and force/impact changes occur mostly at the ankle (Klein & Patterson, 2023). Specifically, hip extension movement increases, stride length decreases and propulsive forces at the ankle decrease. This formed the basis for my studies on the biomechanical differences between those with and without Achilles tendinopathy. Given my interest in the impact of aging on the body and its effect on aging runners, the next natural thought was to wonder whether masters runners responded differently to footwear. Running footwear is continuing to go through the greatest evolution in its history with the introduction and continued progression of "advanced footwear technology" (AFT, a scientific term given to super shoes). How that may impact masters runners similarly or differently is currently unknown but we have some emerging evidence that can provide some suggestions. 

Results of Matt's Research

Borgia et al., (2021) compared the running biomechanics of younger and masters runners in traditional and maximal running shoes. The results suggested no significant differences were present between groups, although the primary outcome used was joint stiffness at the ankle and knee (the change in joint angle relative to the joint moment, aka joint forces). My own research found that the majority of force changes happen at the ankle and the majority of movement changes happen at the hip, so the lack analysis of the hip leaves us with more questions than answers (Klein & Patterson, 2023).

Beltran et al., (2023) assessed the impacts of stiffer footwear on masters runners specifically using a flat carbon fiber insert. Most super shoes do not use a flat plate and most are curved (except shoes like the Metaspeed Sky Paris). However, the results suggested that increased longitudinal bending stiffness did not improve running economy but did reduce stride length and peak vertical ground reaction forces. Other variables including ankle force and propulsive forces were not different. This may suggest that overly stiff footwear by itself does not provide a benefit to masters runners and may further decrease an already shortening stride length (Klein & Patterson, 2023). 

Thoughts from a DPT

The information we have at this time is limited and there does not appear to be any information that either takes into account the addition of super foams or AFT shoes specific to masters runners. Many people may still be wondering what happens when you start introducing super shoes into the mix and we can make some educated guesses. We know that masters runners tend to use more hip-dominant movement strategies than younger runners, possibly because of decreasing propulsion abilities from the ankle (Klein & Patterson, 2023). This same change in movement strategy is also seen in normal aging adults as many will use a larger hip strategy for balance compared to a smaller ankle strategy even with small levels of unsteadiness (which can actually cause falls so work on your ankle function).

We know that super shoes tend to shift work up to the knee and hip, so this footwear may be beneficial to work to the strengths of masters runners IF they have adequate strength and control at their hip muscles (Sobhani et al., 2014). It may be possible that curved plates may be better than flat plates for masters runners given the response above and that masters runners increase their hip extension motion (Klein and Patterson, 2023). The biggest factor that some masters runners may like and where the largest economy improvements may lie is either in the highly soft and resilient foams or in the combination of the super foam, curved plates and geometry. The resilient foams may provide bounce that is often being lost due to aging and a loss of power/elasticity in the lower extremities of masters runners (you can also work on this through power/plyometric training). This is often the most frequent report of why older runners like these shoes. If this allows people to run or to continue being competitive, by all means they should be used as we do not have any evidence on negative impacts. Masters runners likely experience economy improvements like younger runners in response to super shoes and super racing shoes. Whether the improvements are exactly the same remains to be seen.

A word of caution still remains on these shoe types as they are known to alter biomechanics. Any body, including aging bodies, need time to adapt to new stimuli. Super racing shoes are known anecdotally to increase stress into the hamstring and often calf muscles due to the rocker geometry and soft foams. Masters runners tend to experience greater numbers of injuries to these tissues compared to younger runners, so adequate tissue preparation and easing into this footwear is still recommended (Mckean et al., 2006). So like younger runners, there are most likely benefits and risks to using super shoes. While we do not have clear evidence on them at this point, masters runners interested in using these shoes should consider additional strength/power work not only to reduce their general injury risk but also to prepare their bodies to adequately use these tools. 


Beltran, R. T., Powell, D. W., Greenwood, D., & Paquette, M. R. (2023). The influence of footwear longitudinal bending stiffness on running economy and biomechanics in older runners. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport94(4), 1062-1072.

Borgia, B., Radzak, K. N., & Freedman Silvernail, J. (2021). Similarities in joint stiffness across footwear conditions in younger and masters-aged runners. 
Footwear Science13(3), 209-219.

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

McKean, K. A., Manson, N. A., & Stanish, W. D. (2006). Musculoskeletal injury in the masters runners. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine16(2), 149-154.

Sobhani, S., Bredeweg, S., Dekker, R., Kluitenberg, B., Heuvel, E., Hijmans, J., Postema, K.  (2014).  Rocker shoe, minimalist shoe and standard running shoe: A comparison of running economy.  Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport
, 17(3): 312-316.


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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
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