Does it seem like each time you walk into your favorite running store, every shoe on the shelves has changed? We know, it can get frustrating when you can’t just re-purchase the exact sneaker that powered you to a PR last year. But, hey, technology is constantly evolving. Scratch that. It’s constantly improving, and all to help you reduce your risk of injury, ease your aching feet, and score new personal bests. Check out some of the latest advancements in running shoe tech — and learn how you can take advantage of them.
If you like a cushioned running shoe…
No clue what type of shoe you should buy? The right running shoe for you is the one that feels the best, says marathoner Andrew P. Gerken, M.D., a foot and ankle specialist with the Hoag Orthopedic Institute. But, if your knees are worse for the wear, or you’re battling pains like shin splints and plantar fasciitis, chances are cushioned shoes will feel pretty darn good. “Just like a shock absorber in a car, cushioned shoes dissipate the stress of landing on one’s feet. By doing this, the peak stresses that occur to the joints, tendons, and ligaments lessen,” Gerken says. The cushioned category ranges from shoes that provide more ‘neutral’ cushioning, like the New Balance and Asics options below, to the ultra-padded Hoka One One.
Luckily, cushioning is no longer synonymous with heavy or bulky kicks. Case in point: The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante, which hits shelves this spring, only weighs in at 6 to 7 ounces per shoe (depending on your shoe size, of course). Plus, the shoe’s designed to spring you into your next stride. “If you look at the shoe sitting flat on the ground, you’ll see that the forefoot pops up,” explains Claire Wood, senior product manager for running at New Balance. “This is something we wanted as a part of the Zante to contribute to the fast, quick transition.”
ASICS’ new running shoe, the GEL-Quantum 360, comes out in July. It’s the first ASICS model to feature the company’s GEL cushioning throughout the entire midsole — and the first model to feature a full-length footbridge (the plastic bridge that typically appears on the sole of your shoe, under your foot’s arch). Everything about the shoe is designed to give runners added cushion and stability.
The men’s model has a heel that’s 22 millimeters high and a forefoot that’s 12 mm high, while the women’s version are 21 mm high in the heel and 11 mm high in the forefoot. That hefty dose of cushioning, along with the 10-mm drop (the height difference between the heel and forefoot), lessens shock on your feet and shifts your weight forward — which is the direction you’re heading, right?
If you haven’t yet heard of Hoka One One, listen up, because the brand is getting huge. Hokas are designed with 50 percent more midsole cushioning than comparable models from other brands, says Jason Hill, product line manager for Hoka One One. Plus, the midsole wraps high up onto the foot for added stability. Because of that, Hoka One One shoes are designed for a wide variety of running gaits, from neutral to over-pronated, he says. (Full disclosure: Docs say the best way to deal with over-pronation is with an insert, not a shoe.)
Some models get your feet up to 30 mm or higher off of the ground. Key styles include the Stinson Lite, which has been updated to be super-light — just 8.3 ounces for a women’s size 7, despite its extreme cushioning. That may be because Hoka One One’s EVA, or ethylene vinyl acetate, the polymer used to cushion the footbed, is 30 percent lighter than standard EVA. “There isn’t a part of the shoe that we don’t look at and ask, ‘Does this part have a purpose or can we do something different or take it off?’” Hill says.
Gerkin says he uses Hoka’s when he’s running on concrete, or when his body needs relief after several successive days of training. “Hoka One One allows for cushioning without taking it in the heel,” Gerkin says. “I have a few patients who are running again thanks solely to Hoka One One shoes.”
If you like a minimalist running shoe…
The barefoot shoes of years past are now giving way to a more broad category of “minimalist” shoes. Combining the natural feel you get from barefoot running with the support and cushion you need when you’re pounding the pavement, these pared-down kicks are designed to provide the best of both worlds. Going the minimalist route is ideal for experienced runners who want to work on shortening their stride, says sports medicine physician and marathoner Jordan D. Metzl, M.D.
This spring, Nike launched the new Free collection, made up of the Free 3.0 Flyknit, Free 4.0 Flyknit, and Free 5.0. The 3.0 gets you closest to the ground (and to a barefoot feel), with a 4-millimeter drop, meaning your heels sit in the shoe just 4 mm higher than your toes. The 4.0 raises the heel with a 6-millimeter offset, while the 5.0 has an 8 mm drop that is still designed to keep your foot landing as naturally as possible. Which shoe you choose depends on how much you prefer your heel to be raised above your toes. If you are used to highly cushioned shoes, the Free 5.0 might be an easier adjustment, while the 4.0 — and especially the Free 3.0 Flyknit — will get you closer to true barefoot running.
The “Flyknit” is a thin, stretchy, breathable, sock-like upper (the part of the shoe that wraps around your foot) that moves with your foot and makes the shoes incredibly light. Since the technology debuted in 2012, Nike has reduced almost two million pounds of waste with the minimalist technology.
If you want to run even flatter, Altra is the leader in zero-drop running shoes. “It places the foot and body in its natural position, so when you run you have a more natural stride,” says Altra founder and product developer K. Golden Harper. Plus, the shoes force you to shorten your stride, which is one of the easiest ways to prevent a running injury, says Metzl.
Earlier this year, the brand released the Provision 2.0, which combines a zero drop with tons of stability. It does so through the use of three StabiliPods, one placed under the first metatarsal (big toe), one under the fifth metatarsal (pinky toe), and one under the outer calcaneus (outer heel). Altra’s StabiliPods widen the sole of the shoe by 5 mm, but only at these three spots. “If you look at traditional stability shoes, they look bulky and fat,” Harper says. “But if you stabilize the tripod, you stabilize the whole foot.” In the Provision 2.0, the shoe widens at each of those three spots by 5 mm. The result: More stability with less weight.
Ready for New Running Shoes?
It can take up to a year to transition from shoes with large heel-to-toe offsets (aka: cushioned) to a traditional barefoot shoe. But, luckily, because the latest minimalist shoes like those from Nike and Altra do provide ample padding, you’ll only need a few weeks in them to hit your stride, Metzl says. They key is slowly integrating them into your running routine.
Try wearing them for a couple mile-long runs during your first week (wear your old running shoes for longer runs), and then gradually play with the mileage so that you are running more miles in your new shoes and less in your old ones. Eventually, you can retire your old shoes and be a minimalist runner for good. If you’re transitioning from minimalist to high-cushioned shoes, you should give yourself the same slow-and-steady break-in period before hitting the streets.
Disclosure: All products featured on our site are hand-picked by our editorial team in the hopes of getting you closer to your health and fitness goals. We only recommend products we love and believe that you will, too. In some cases, you might come across an affiliate link on our site, which means we receive a small commission should you decide to make a purchase.