Maximalist Running Shoes – Is too much cushioning a bad thing?

By now, any runner with a social media account would have seen the recent research that linked maximalist shoes (like the Hoka Bondi) and increased external loading forces during running. The implied association is one of a harmful increase in forces generated on impact. Perhaps the maximalist shoe, with its extra cushioning, inadvertently causes us to generate greater forces on the leg joints and bones. But this research finding is nothing new and it’s not what it seems!

So what does the research say?

Research conducted as early as the mid 1990s found shoe properties led to adjustments in running biomechanics. The brain accounted for the shoe’s ability to absorb force and altered the leg position on landing.  If the shoe provides more cushioning, you don’t need to absorb as much force with the leg muscles. This allows you to land with a stiffer leg positions.

Vice versa, if a shoe has very little cushioning, you decrease the impact force on the leg. Instead, increasing the amount of muscle work on landing. The overall force may change when we adjust for the shoe. But the net force acting on the limb is fairly consistent.

In simpler terms, the latest research finding, confirms a more cushioned shoe allows you to land with a stiffer leg. You do not have to work as hard to absorb the impact.

Are maximalist shoes right for me?

If maximalist shoes are used to decrease shock loading forces on bone, (for example to prevent stress fractures), it’s not necessarily the case due to our altered loading profile. If however maximalist shoes were being used to decrease the amount of muscle work required, particularly during fatigued running in marathons and ultra marathons, then it works a treat.

So, before we sensationalise the increase in overall loading based on one study, we need to keep in mind the previous 20 plus years worth of research. Results show the brain’s ability to adjust for the shoe’s properties maintain a consistent force profile acting on the body.

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Pete Colagiuri
Sports Physio with 17 years experience and a Level 2 Running Coach. Pete's clinical specialties are complex and chronic running injuries and lower limb biomechanics. Pete works with track, road and trail runners and coaches across the spectrum from recreational to elite.

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