Don’t run in the same shoes all the time
We see quite a few runners who have favourite running shoes; they won’t buy or wear anything else. I used to be like that. Once I’d found a particular type of shoe, I’d be very cautious about changing it for fear of increasing the risk of developing a running injury.
Nowadays, I’m a little more relaxed about my running shoes. A while ago I moved very firmly away from the structured anti-pronation shoes that I thought were correcting and protecting me from getting injured. It seemed to make sense: if overuse injuries are caused by over-stressing the tissues in the body, then shifting things around a little might actually reduce the risks. Simply, running in different shoes alters the loads on the stress points in our bodies.
It’s always nice to have these personal observations confirmed by some science and the people who are at the sharp end of research. In his excellent book, Tread Lightly, Peter Larson suggests that rotating or mixing the shoes we run in could reduce our risks of developing running injuries. Now we have a recent scientific study that adds weight to the idea.
The study examined 264 recreational runners over a 22-week period. 116 of the subjects ran in the same shoes, whilst the other 148 ran in an average of 3.6 shoes throughout the period. The startling result (although not so startling to some) was that the multiple shoe wearers had a 39% lower risk of developing injury compared to the single shoe wearers. Scott Douglas in his Runners World article about rotating shoes commented. ‘The researchers wrote that this could well be because different shoes distribute the impact forces of running differently, thereby lessening the strain on any given tissue.’
That statement (even without the science to back it up) seems like common sense. So why isn’t it a more common practice amongst runners to vary their shoes? Perhaps it illustrates how entrenched some runners are in the belief that they need very specific types of shoe to remain free of running injuries.
The paper was summed up nicely by Peter Larson who said, ‘It’s OK to experiment with footwear, and in fact it may be a good thing.’
Some have suggested that the research could be funded by shoe manufacturers to encourage people to buy more shoes (yes, it can happen). However, I believe it is an independent study. Furthermore, in my experience, although we might have more shoes on the shelves, they last much longer, and being less choosey we tend to pick up many more bargains.
Get a few differing pairs of running shoes on the go at the same time and rotate them frequently. This will allow your body’s tissues to take a break from grinding along in exactly the same way, step after step, mile after mile.
Here is another way to cut your injury risk.
Strength training for runners to reduce risk of running injuries
There are plenty of research studies relating to the efficacy of strength training and other exercise regimes on reducing injury risk for runners. The problem is, some conflicts exist and it is hard to determine what actually works and what doesn’t. Now we have a review of a large quantity of research papers that gives us some very firm recommendations.
The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials
This review included 25 trials, involving 26,610 participants with 3,464 injuries. The objective of the review was to determine whether physical activity exercises can reduce sports injuries and to analyse the effect of strength training, stretching, proprioception and combinations of these, and provide separate acute and overuse injury estimates.
When we work with our athletes on the track we always include some strength work as part of the session. But this is only really a taster for them; we simply don’t work with them frequently enough for these short periods of exercise to have optimum benefit. Although we stress the importance of the exercises, it is often apparent that many runners are simply not doing them outside of a formal training session. Why? Probably, because as runners we like to run and don’t perhaps see any immediate benefit.
So are there any benefits regarding injury risk for runners who perform exercises aside from running? The results are quite staggering really, ‘consistently favourable estimates were obtained for all injury prevention measures except for stretching. Strength training reduced sports injuries to less than 1/3 and overuse injuries could be almost halved‘. I’ll repeat that last part: ‘overuse injuries could be almost halved’. When we consider that overuse injuries account for most running injuries these figures cannot be ignored by runners wishing to remain injury-free — that’s all of them I suspect.
The irony is that for many runners, the only other exercise they do apart from running is stretching. Yet this was the one form of exercise that was shown to have no benefit to injury risk reduction.
If we could sell a pill that would reduce running injuries by a half I don’t think we could make them quick enough. Yet, the evidence is there: if you want to injury-proof your body, allocate some of your training time to strength training — a great place to start is on our body conditioning for runners page.
What do you think? What are your experiences of shoe rotating and strength training?