After the minimalist running shoe craze of the last few years, the pendulum seems to be swinging in the opposite direction. The “maximalist” cushioned running shoe is now all over the marketplace, and runners everywhere have put their hopes and dreams for easy, comfortable runs into these remarkable new shoes.
We’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about this new trend, so you can make an informed decision about whether or not cushioned running shoes are for you.
What is a Cushioned Running Shoe?
While almost all running shoes have some sort of cushioning, even if it’s a minimal amount, we’re examining high-cushioned running shoes. The defining characteristic of these shoes is that they have a stack height of 24mm or more. Sometimes they even range upwards of 30mm. These shoes are often considered “maximalist.”
So what exactly does stack height mean? Stack height is simply a measure of how much cushioning material there is between your foot and the ground. So a high-cushioned running shoe should have at least 24mm of cushion between your foot and the ground.
Anatomy of a Cushioned Running Shoe
The stack height can be measured at various points on the shoe, commonly in the fore-foot area and the heel. In most cases the heel is going to have the most amount of cushioning, with it gradually reducing as you move forward to the toes. This is because the vast majority of runners strike with the heel first, and then roll forward onto the toes.
Heel-toe drop is measuring the stack height at the heel and at the toe, and subtracting them. The higher the heel-toe drop, the more likely you will be to strike the ground with your heel, instead of your mid-foot.
There has long been quite a bit of debate about whether a mid-foot strike or a heel-strike is better for your body. The consensus seems to be that a mid-foot strike forces you to alter your gait, reducing impacts through your heel, ankle, and leg, which explains the minimalist shoe trend.
So what is driving the new “maximalist” trend?
Proponents of maximalist shoes will tell you that the extra cushioning can reduce injury and lower the impact forces from your heel striking the ground. The idea is that when you land with your heel first, the extra cushioning will absorb the shock, protecting your knees and other joints from the impacts.
Extensive research into these claims has proven this to be untrue; there is no significant difference in injury level or impact forces when wearing them. Of course, there is no known increase in injuries either in experienced runners.
However, some runners swear that they reduce fatigue and joint pain after a long-distance run, and many will wear them during recovery runs to help rest and restore between harder runs and races. They have become quite popular with ultra-marathoners.
Who wears Cushioned Running Shoes?
Deciding to buy cushioned running shoes is largely a matter of personal preference, as well as your individual foot type. Some people love them for long distance or marathon running because it makes their feet feel better, removes joint pain and leaves the sole feeling much better after hours of running on hard surfaces.
Still other runners will refuse to run in them due to the potential problems, which we’ll discuss in a minute, but will wear them for every-day use because they can help strengthen ankles and increase foot stability since they aren’t as stable as other shoes.
Who Shouldn’t Wear a Cushioned Running Shoe?
If you’re new to running, buying a pair of super-comfy, squishy shoes to shield your feet from the impact of running on hard surfaces may sound like a great idea; it’s not.
If you’re a beginning runner, there is a danger to wearing high cushioned running shoes, and that’s the formation of bad habits. When we feel the impact forces through our feet and our legs, we automatically adjust our body mechanics and our gait to cause less pain and injury.
If you haven’t established good form, putting your feet inside these pillow-like shoes removes the vital sensory input that you receive every time your foot strikes the ground. If you’re not a seasoned runner, you should probably stick with a minimalist or normal running shoe until you’ve worked out all the kinks in your body mechanics.
There is also the issue of over-pronation and supination. If you need a supportive shoe because of one of these issues, maximalist cushioned running shoes are probably not for you. Without the support you need they can exacerbate the issues and lead to further injury.
How to Find Out if a Cushioned Running Shoe is Right for You?
As always, you should consult a podiatrist if you’re having any specific difficulties. They can help you to determine if you have any issues with pronation or supination, and they can evaluate whether or not you have any problems to address. They may even be able to help you out by creating a custom insole for your foot, that will reduce any specific problems you have.
If you have determined that you are an active runner, with few problems, and you’re interested in trying out cushioned running shoes to see if they’re right for you, stop by a running store to get yourself properly fitted. These professionals will be able to talk to you about your running style, your gait, and your preferences, and to help you find the best shoe for your foot.
What to Look for in a Cushioned Running Shoe
If you’re in the market, you need to know your specs before you go shopping. If you’re interested in purchasing a cushioned running shoe, know the features you want in any shoe, and don’t settle for something you don’t want.
Have a checklist of your requirements and know why you have each of those requirements. If you want a well-ventilated upper because you sweat or because you run in the rain, those things aren’t going to change just because you have more cushion. Make sure that the shoe meets all of your needs. If you’re shopping for a cushioned running shoe, you should be an experienced runner, and you should already have a pretty good idea of what your needs are.
Make sure that the shoe has a stack height of at least 24mm. If this is your fist pair of cushioned running shoes, it’s probably best not to jump straight to a 35mm stack height. Stay in the lower end of “high,” so that the change isn’t as dramatic for you. If it works out, you can increase stack height when you by your next pair.
Remember that just like any other running shoe, there isn’t a whole lot of side-to-side stabilization, and it’s much easier to roll your ankle when you have more than 3 cm between your foot and the ground.
Beware of any cushioned running shoe that advertises great arch support or other stability feature. This is a contradiction; highly-cushioned running shoes are super-soft by design. This is a good indication that the manufacturer is just using the label as a marketing trend, and that the shoe hasn’t been thoroughly researched and designed.
Where to Find the Best Cushioned Running Shoe?
When shopping for running shoes, NEVER underestimate the value of trying them on before you buy them. Whenever possible, find a running shoe store locally where you can establish a relationship with the staff, and make sure that you devote several hours to the shopping experience.
Once you’ve found a shoe that you love, feel free to shop online to see if you can find a lower price. Some people will even by 3-4 pairs at one time to avoid the problems that arise when your favorite model has been changed or discontinued.
If you don’t have a reputable running store nearby, make sure that any online store you are purchasing a cushioned running shoe from has a good return policy so that you can be certain you’re getting the right fit for your foot.
Best Cushioned Running Shoe Reviews
If you’re interested in finding out if you may gain some benefit from a cushioned running shoe, check out our previous article where we’ve reviewed 32 of the most popular models.
While maximalist cushioned running shoes are growing in popularity, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen these types of crazes take off, and then crash.
Remember that in May of 2015, Vibram settled a lawsuit over false claims that their FiveFinger shoes had health benefits that just didn’t pan out. It’s possible that this maximalist trend is just as much of a fad as those funny-looking shoes.
It’s important to realize that there is no magic shoe out there is going to make you a better runner. Focus on your body mechanics, gait, strength and endurance. A cusioned running shoe is simply a useful tool to help you get your body into the best shape possible.
While having a well-fitting, comfortable shoe is important, making sure that you are running with good form is the best thing that you can do to increase your running abilities.