Runners have a shoe obsession.
We just can't help it.
We hoard shoes.
Read about shoes.
Buy multiple pairs of shoes at the same time.
Read about how to make our shoes last longer…
It's a whooolle ordeal.
Not necessarily a problem.
But it's a thing.
Especially when it comes to the "right" shoe.
The "right" shoe (or shoes) is almost sacred.
It has the power to keep injury at bay.
To make our runs feel almost effortless.
And with the right strategy, we can prolong this miraculous state.
Enter: Rotating running shoes.
Being honest, I've always wondered about this. Does it really do everything it's said to do? Or is it partly urban legend?
Rotating running shoes has been touted to:
allow the foam to fully regenerate which apparently can take up to 24 hours. By waiting and allowing the shoe to rest, you supposedly won't need to replace them as frequently
decreased risk of injury
be more cost effective (yes, you spend more buying 2 pairs of shoes, but supposedly by switching between 2 pairs your shoes last longer)
improve your runs by wearing different shoes for different terrain (Malisoux & Theisen, 2020)
Make of these as you will and follow accordingly…but one of these stuck out to me; that rotating running shoes can decrease your chance of a running injury. I've read a lot of research articles as a doctor of physical therapy, but hadn't seen any article exploring this in the recent years.
Believe it or not, this is a relatively NEW area to be explored and either be proved true or debunked.
So naturally, let's solve this together: Does rotating your running shoes really decrease your risk of injury? Or is there more to this picture and what's missing?
Let's dive in…
Theory #1: Multiple Running shoes is a protective factor against injury
Short version: Scientists are still exploring the "why" and "how" behind this, because there's frankly NOT a whole lot of data out there surrounding this issue.
However, an EXCELLENT start has been made to close this gap. This particular study that was published in 2013 and it's been well-cited and used by various running publishers.
The goal of the study was to determine whether runners who rotate through running shoes are less likely to sustain a running related injury (Malisoux, et al., 2013).
Everyone is very quick to note that this study concluded that "the parallel use of more than one pair of running shoes" results in a 38.9% potential decrease in injury.
Pretty darn cool, right? Now we have a science-backed reason to buy more running shoes!)
However…there's more to the study that other publications tended to overlook, potentially. Look at the study's hypothesis:
"It was hypothesized that runners using concomitantly more than one pair of shoes would be at a lower risk of sustaining a running related injury. A secondary hypothesis was that the practice of other sports would be a protective factor as this also allows a variation of the type of stress applied to the body.
Ummm….excuse me, running media outlets. I think you forgot something…
If you're looking for the study's data:
38.9 % possible decrease in running related injury with parallel use of more than 1 running shoe
73.2% association with lower risk of injury with increased weekly volume of other sports
"It has been previously speculated that runners who spend more time in others sports decrease their risk of overuse injuries, because they use different muscle groups…" (Malisoux, et al., 2013).
This seems like a big deal to me, running fit fam.
If we put those two findings together: "alternation of running shoes induces a variation in the type of physical load applied to the musculoskeletal system. Furthermore, a decreased risk was observed in runners who practice concomitantly other sports" (Malisoux, et al., 2013).
What is this saying?
It's saying you can rotate your shoes and it'll help! But, if you really want to be a bullet proof runner, what you really need is cross-training, a variety of movement through different activities and sports that use different muscle groups. And the stats back this up.
(Hmmm, it's like that's what this whole website and blog are about… )
Theory #2: Multiple running shoes create variability.
We know that different shoes can create different body and running mechanics all around, especially when it comes to adjusting foot strike (think heel strike, mid foot strike, forefoot strike).
This question becomes: when do you use these different running shoes?
I've heard of different runners having different pairs of running shoes for speed workouts on the track, speed work outs on roads, long distance days, trail days, race day shoes etc!
So already…you're adding in variability.
But not JUST variability of running shoes.
You're introducing different terrains and different speeds (Malisoux & Theisen, 2020, Malisoux, et al., 2013, Hoenig, Rolvien & Hollander, 2020).
What one study found was this:
"As a higher running speed seems to make it necessary to change the footstrike pattern towards the forefoot, mid-foot strike and fore-foot strike are commonly seen in sprinting and middle-distance running. In long-distance running, a greater percentage of rear foot strike in recreational runners (compared to competitive or elite runners) was reported. Nevertheless, there is evidence that even competitive runners prefer using an rear foot strike during running" (Hoenig, Rolvien & Hollander, 2020).
What does all that mean?
For the average runner it's this: as much as your shoe matters, your speed matters more. Because while your shoe will position your foot to act in a specific manner as your roll through stance phase (think heel to toe), the natural biomechanics your body travels through has the ultimate say (Malisoux & Theisen, 2020).
Because your body is responding to speed, to going fast. And speed is what determines how your foot responds. Imagine sprinting down the straight away of a track. Now imagine trying to do that again but on your heels.
It doesn’t work!
Speed (running fast) naturally places us on our forefeet and on our toes. So by rotating through shoes and dedicating a certain pair of shoes for "speed day", you are essentially trying to choose the right tool for the job. You are adapting your footwear to the variability of your workout (track day vs. trail day). However, you are introducing variability via your training plan more than via your shoe.
So what’s the takeaway from this study?
I think a solid interpretation can be this: having a dedicated pair of shoes that help support and facilitate that forefoot strike for your speed days can be beneficial! Is it absolutely necessary? Depends on your level of competition!
How about having other pairs of shoes specifically for different terrains, like a very cushioned shoe for long road runs and more "grippy" type shoes for muddy trails? Those seems like good choices to me!
At the end of the day though, it truly is YOUR personal preference. So run and do you, boo.
With just two studies, we've already found that having different running shoes and rotating those shoes is just one piece of the puzzle. It's definitely a very helpful piece for sure! But it by no means stands alone in injury prevention (Malisoux & Theisen, 2020, Malisoux, et al., 2013).
The Final Takeaway is This:
Various running shoes will not replace your hip mobility, core work, cross training, strength work, running-specific movement and speed/sequencing training.
What different running shoes will do is encourage various muscle activation, from your feet all the way through your core. Rotating through different shoes may help strengthen your feet a little! But the shoes can't do everything for you. You still need to train for strong feet and a strong, activated, coordinated body.
But Dr. Whitt, how do you strengthen your feet? How do you teach your body to do all this?
I'm so glad you asked!
Like we just said, different running shoes may strengthening your feet depending on the type of shoe you're wearing. However, your body may still struggle to understand what to do with that strength and how to translate it into running.
That's where my workshop comes in.
I've had runners in the PT clinic tell me during their sessions "I've been doing towel scrunches and picking up marbles with my toes…"
And yet, I'm seeing them for plantar fasciitis and they've been diligent with rotating running shoes.
So what's missing? Why are they still having foot pain and different foot injuries?
Because it's not just about strength. It's about movement and control throughout the motion of running. It's about your body understanding what to do and how to the use to tools you've created.
That's why I created the Blueprint for Runner's to Stronger Feet Workshop. I've taken those exact exercises from the clinic that I use with my running patients and turned them into a step-by-step workshop for you!
These exercises help teach runners how to activate and strengthen their feet in a running-specific way in order to facilitate correct muscle use from the ground up (meaning from feet to hips), encourage forefoot activation, healthy foot strike patterns, and decrease foot fatigue.
All in a 1 hour replay workshop!
The amazing part of this that I love: in the 1 hour workshop, I walk you through tests at the beginning and the at the end of the hour. You will *literally* feel the difference for yourself and see your own improvement in just 1 hour's time with this quick series of exercises.
Because I use these in the clinic on the regular- I know they work.
Check out my live workshop replay here: The Blueprint for Runners to Stronger Feet.
If you're curious and want to learn more about how and why you need strong feet, I've got you covered with these blog topics too:
Check those out (here) and (here)!
Who knew shoes could be so confusing?
So regardless of which side you land on when it comes to the "rotating shoes debate", here's one last final quote that sums it all up perfectly:
"In short, it is possible that the role of running shoe technology in injury prevention has been largely overrated…It seems that some basic rules are still valid, such as the subjective feeling of comfort when choosing a pair of running shoes, transitioning progressively and carefully into a new pair, and listening to your body when training.
…[S]cience can provide general guidelines, but the final decision will always be an individual one and should preferably be based on correct and unbiased information. Although some will gladly accept a simple lie regarding the role of footwear in injury prevention, the truth is far more complex. (Malisoux & Theisen, 2020)"
I'll end with this:
If you find your holy grail shoe, the "right" one, then run with it (pun completely intended). If your feet feel amazing and your stride feels like flying, more than likely, you're on the right track.
Run strong and as always, Dare to Train Differently,
Dr. Marie Whitt // @dr.whitt.fit
Hoenig, T., Rolvien, T., & Hollander, K. (2020). Footstrike patterns in runners: concepts, classifications, techniques, and implicationsfor running-related injuries. Deutsche Zeitschrift Für Sportmedizin, 71(3), 55-61. doi: 10.5960/dzsm.2020.424
Malisoux, L., & Theisen, D. (2020). Can the “Appropriate” Footwear Prevent Injury in Leisure-Time Running? Evidence Versus Beliefs. Journal Of Athletic Training, 55(12), 1215-1223. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-523-19
Malisoux, L., Ramesh, J., Mann, R., Seil, R., Urhausen, A., & Theisen, D. (2013). Can parallel use of different running shoes decrease running-related injury risk?. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports, 25(1), 110-115. doi: 10.1111/sms.12154