[New research] Are Your Trainers Doing You More Harm Than Good?

You wear trainers, right?

I mean, who doesn’t.

In this day and age, it is rare to find anyone who doesn’t have at least one pair of trainers.

Especially if you do any sort of running.

But are trainers really good for you? Or could your trainers be doing you more harm than good?

That’s a question a new research study attempted to get an answer to.

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The research

The study was carried out by a team at the University of Helsinki. You can find the details of the study here.

For the detail-oriented amongst you, below are the parameters for the study. If you are just interested in the findings, feel free to skip to the next section.

  • Number of participants: 12, healthy men.
  • Age group: Between 22 and 32
  • Trainers tested: 2 types – the first with 33mm padding under the heel and 22mm under the forefoot, the second set of trainers (maximalist trainers) with 43mm padding under the heel and 37mm under the forefoot.
  • Distance: 30 metre
  • Running speed: 2 speeds were tested, 10km and 15km per hour
  • Metrics: The whole length of the 30 metre platform was fitted with sensors to measure how hard the runners’ feet hit the ground. They also wore reflective stickers – to help the video cameras to capture their movements for analysis.

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The findings

Here are the highlights of the study’s findings:

  • Runners wearing trainers with extra padding hit the ground harder, at both speeds.
  • The peak impact force for those wearing the maximalist trainers was, on average, 6 per cent higher at the slower speed, and 11 per cent higher at the faster speed.
  • Video analysis suggested that runners wearing the extra padded trainers hit the ground harder because they were bending their knees and ankles less. This, in turn, put extra pressure on their legs as they had to decelerate faster.
University of Helsinki research on the impact of highly padded shoes
The impact of highly padded trainers on our body. Image source: Nature.com

What does this mean for you?

Our bodies are incredible machines – and our legs are part of an intricate and sophisticated system.

This is how our legs are designed to work, naturally: when we run, our legs act like springs. Our ankle and knee joints bend so that when our foot hits the ground our legs compress.

Now here is how they work when extra padding trainers are worn: the extra padding already compresses under our feet so our body adjusts by bending our knees and ankles less. Our joints don’t need to bend as much anymore is the information our body gets. So as a result of the decreased bending, our feet hit the ground harder.

More harm than good?

A lot of runners, especially those who are injury-prone, as advised to get trainers with extra padding to reduce injuries.

Now, as it turns out, that might actually do more harm than good!

The higher impact and extra stiffness in our joints mean that wearing maximalist trainers, ie. trainers with extra padding, can cause you to hit the ground harder. Totally opposite outcome than the one intended.

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So, no trainers?

The findings of this research does NOT mean you should throw away your trainers and stop using them!

No, what it does indicate is that trainers with extra padding don’t provide you with long-term benefits.

A better option may be to go for trainers with a moderate amount of padding. Excess of anything being bad and all that…

This was summed up well by the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Kulmala: “Like many health-related things, we should be somewhere in the middle”.

Makes sense don’t you think.

“Like many health-related things, we should be somewhere in the middle”

Last words

More work needs to be done in this field to get more insights.

But it is good to remind ourselves that our bodies are incredibly sophisticated machines, and often attempts to artificially aid something without properly understanding the full biomechanical process, and impacts can do us more harm than good.

Running is a great way to stay healthy, but the next time you are in the market for a pair of trainers, consider getting something with a moderate amount of padding and don’t automatically assume that more padding = more protection.

Because now you know that that’s just not true.

Do you run? What is your experience with trainers?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Source: Running in highly cushioned shoes increases leg stiffness and amplifies impact loading – University of Helsinki research

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