Let’s Discuss: Are Running Shoes Total BS?



Ask a runner which running shoe he/she wears and chances are they’ll tell you a long, detailed story of the many frogs they had to kiss before they found their true running sole-mate (I’m sorry. I just couldn’t resist.). But not Chris McDougall: McDougall published the book Born to Run in 2009, and thanks to one chapter where he questions running shoes’ claims of injury prevention, the book has become known as a “barefoot manifesto” of sorts.

In light of a recent lawsuit against FiveFingers shoe company, regarding—what else?— false claims of injury prevention, Deadspin decided to catch up with the guy who first called shoe companies out on their BS a few years back. Spoiler alert: He still thinks running shoes are a load of crap.

As McDougall told Deadspin:

“The big thing that needs to be justified is why we are buying this line of bullshit from the running shoe companies and from the running press, which are telling you stuff like, ‘First go to your specialty running store, where your gait will be assessed. There’s a particular type of shoe for your individual needs.’

“It’s just complete horseshit. It’s complete make-believe. Yet we all buy it. When you start looking at the scientific evidence, you realize there is none.

“I’m really not saying, ‘Go barefoot.’ What I’m saying is, what is the evidence to back up this scientific claim that you need special shoes in order to do something that your species has been superb at for two million years?”

I did some digging and found that, like McDougall says, the belief that prescribing shoes based on plantar shape has any impact on injury prevention is indeed “complete make-believe.” Both recent studies I found (here, and here) on the subject concluded that selecting shoes based on foot shape had very little influence on risk of injury during running. One paper, published in Performance, analyzed a slew of studies on this subject and came to the conclusion that runners should quit depending on running shoes and instead focus on form, when it comes to injury prevention.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t recommend you ditch your running shoes for a barefoot fun run down Broad Street. With that said, McDougall brings up an interesting question: Are fancy-schmancy running shoes really necessary? What do you think Be Wellers?

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  • Annie

    As someone with super flat feet, I ran hurting for a lot of years before finding a great pair of shoes…that unfortunately cost $150. If you are blessed with good feet, then I feel like mostly any sneaker will do. That being said, don’t decide you want to run and spend $150 on sneakers before you even run a mile! :-)

  • Michelle C.

    As an extremely flat-footed runner, according to traditional shoe wisdom, I should be in severe motion control trainers. In practice, I can tell you that paying attention to form and training smart has done way more for my running comfort and speed than any expensive, heavy, professionally picked out, and stiff shoe ever did. I’ll never waste my money on that stuff again, and although I’ve never tried barefoot running, much more neutral and lightweight shoes have worked way better for me and my wallet.