You may have chosen to take running more seriously, but you wonder if buying a new pair of running shoes would make sense. Especially if you still go to college or have a limited budget, you may not want to splurge on the extra for running shoes if they don’t make a big difference. Are there real differences between sneakers and running shoes?
A good pair of running shoes will improve your speed because they design the shoes with lighter construction to improve foot economy and make the muscles work more effectively. This is especially true of carbon plate running shoes, see my post assessing the pros and cons of these.
The difference, however, isn’t going to be more than four percent faster and some researchers are skeptical of that.
If you’d like to learn more about what makes running shoes faster, keep reading as we explore this topic in depth.
How Running Shoes Make You Faster
Researchers see tangible results from those who wore running shoes over regular shoes, which possibly relates to the lighter weight. They found how an elite marathon runner who wears shoes 100 grams lighter could run up to one minute faster. Especially for those who will run competitively, one minute can mean the difference between first place and second place.
The evidence grows stronger with long-distance running. While you may work with the same effort as before, researchers at BYU discovered how you run about four percent faster. Professor Iain Hunter led the charge in a study to learn if marathon shoes could improve performance. The Nike Vaporfly was the subject of the study. It improved running speeds by four percent and reduced energy costs by 2.8 percent.
They began the study with 19 male runners in two days of testing. Each runner had to have completed a run of 6.2 miles in under 32 minutes within the last year. When you run, the muscles contract. They send out energy and they return energy to assist the tendons. A running shoe with a good sole means that less muscle work is required. You can improve your running economy as well.
Another subtle thing that contributes to running shoes improving your speed comes from the higher heel height. Even a small 2-centimeter change increased the stride length, which put runners up to 200 meters ahead in a marathon. The gains from running shoes particularly happened over time.
More Evidence of Running Shoes Improving Speed
We haven’t finished with the technology improvements made to running shoes. They have steadily improved over time. To put this into perspective, when the Zoom Vaporfly hit the market in 2016, athletes began to smash old records on a global level. Going to 2019, twice as many men cleared 2:10 and twice as many women cleared that number at 2:27. This compared data from 2016 to 2019.
Running shoes allow you to maintain speed since it improves the efficiency of your muscles. During a marathon, people lose good running form, which drops their speed. Running shoes allow you to keep form longer, and put less stress on the body to reduce the risk of injury.
Materials for Better Speed
Some materials used in shoes suggest a speed improvement as well. If you wanted one of the best materials in a running shoe, I would recommend that you look for a shoe with nylon mesh. Nylon outperforms polyester due to greater durability and greater scratch resistance. It weighs less than other materials.
Nylon has another advantage in that the material keeps your natural foot shape in mind to conform to it. This allows for maximum mobility. Mobility means that you can actively move your joints through a normal range of motion. Someone who can run 100 meters in 13 seconds has good mobility because it is a must to cover a lot of ground quickly.
Cushioned Shoes: Will They Help You to Run Faster?
Theories vary on cushioned shoes. Some runners love them and others think that they reduce your speed. HOKA shoes give you an example of a highly cushioned shoe brand that has runners who love them and those who hate them. One study from the Spaulding National Running Center found that highly cushioned shoes didn’t reduce the impact any more than regular running shoes.
In fact, they may have contributed to more problems. The higher vertical load rate and vertical instantaneous load rate contributed to overuse injuries, such as plantar fasciitis and stress fractures. The extra cushioning may lull some into believing that they can slam their foot into the ground harder, but it creates greater impact.
With that said, you have ultra-marathon runners who run over 200 miles in HOKA shoes. One example is Leo Manzana, an Olympic runner, who said that his plantar fasciitis disappeared after one week in HOKA shoes.
Whether or not it helps your running form to run faster may depend on the person. With running shoes, they will only go so far. They can help you to run faster, but other factors come into play as well.
As an alternative to cushioned shoes, some people still prefer to run barefoot, which brings it’s own challenges!
Do Running Shoes Reduce the Risk of Injury?
Along with improving your speed, some evidence suggests that running shoes may prevent injury. Granted, you don’t have as much evidence as with improving speed, but there does exist some evidence for it. Many runners attribute the wrong shoes to the cause of an injury. Most shoe companies dodge this type of marketing, however, because they don’t have enough evidence to conclude.
One shoe company called Vibram was even sued for $3.75 million in 2012 in a class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged that its FiverFingers shoes could reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles. The court concluded that the claims of the company lacked enough scientific evidence. This is why shoe companies stray from even claiming that running shoes can reduce the risk of injury. Some evidence may suggest this, but there’s not enough to prove it.
Differs for Everyone
What constitutes good running shoes may differ for each person. One person can find one pair comfortable to run in, and the next person can wear the same shoes and find they make for a painful run. Each person will have different needs.
The best way to determine your needs is to put them on and see if you like them. Walk around in them a bit before you make a choice. Get a sense of whether you like more cushioned running shoes or those with less shock absorbency. The most popular running shoe may have reasons for being so popular, but even that shoe may not make the best choice for everyone.
Can Running Shoes Improve Speed?
Running shoes can improve your speed by up to four percent over regular shoes, but it depends on the shoe brand. The things that contribute to speed improvements include lighter shoes, better materials, aerodynamic design and the right amount of cushion.
Do You Run Faster with or without Shoes?
Running barefoot offers no cushioning or protection of the feet, which will slow you down. You will have a harder time maintaining your speed because the surface can have a big impact. The more complicated the terrain, the harder time that you will have without shoes because of less protection.
Do New Running Shoes Make You Faster?
The new technology in newer running shoes enable you to run faster since shoe brands continue to look for ways to improve speed. The lack of spring and worn-out structure in old running shoes can sap energy. On the other hand, new running shoes encourage good running form through strong support.
To sum it up, running shoes will make you run faster, but we would advise against thinking of them as making this impossible difference. You must come to it with realistic expectations. A good pair of running shoes will improve your running in smaller increments.