Shoes weren’t allowed in the house when I was a kid, so I didn’t bother wearing them much — it was an unacceptable waste of my play time to put them on, only to take them off again if I needed to go inside.
But I always wore joggers for sprinting and cross-country races. They were just cheap things, but I didn’t run as well without them. I was frightened of bindies, and without the shock absorption the shoes provided, my feet got sore very quickly. But according to Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run and Dr Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University, this is false logic.
McDougall and Lieberman believe that running shoes can do more harm than good, and say that the human body was designed to run barefooted. Lieberman reckons that the foot and knee injuries we see today were virtually non-existent before Nike came along and invented the modern running shoe in the 1970s. He says that the thick-soled ones, in particular, are making our feet weak and forcing our ankles to rotate too much. And with more injuries, we’re running less and becoming unhealthier, suggesting that preventable diseases like obesity and diabetes would be less of a problem for the Western world if it weren’t for the modern running shoe.
A study by Switzerland’s University of Bern found that shoes costing over $95 were more than twice as likely to cause injury compared to shoes costing less than $40. Double the price for double the pain. Mind you, this research was done 20 years ago, but it supports McDougall and Lieberman’s core argument. Similarly, Dr Craig Richards of the University of Newcastle revealed last year in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine that there is no evidence running shoes make you less prone to injury. He then contacted shoe manufacturers and offered them an opportunity to prove the validity of their products:
Is any running-shoe company prepared to claim that wearing their distance running shoes will decrease your risk of suffering musculoskeletal running injuries? Is any shoe manufacturer prepared to claim that wearing their running shoes will improve your distance running performance? If you are prepared to make these claims, where is your peer-reviewed data to back it up?
Surprisingly (at least to me), the shoe manufacturers didn’t jump at the chance to get some publicity. Richards got no response to his challenge. In this case, no news was not good news. In their vow of silence, running-shoe manufacturers were basically admitting their $20 billion industry is based on nothing more than false promises.
Playing With Balls is Gizmodo AU’s week-long look at the technology behind the sports we love, from the jerseys to the balls and everything in between. Go the runners up!