Could Your Running Shoes Be Harming You?

university of australia health research study
Kenyan runner David Maru crosses the finish line to win the 20km of Brussels race in May 2017.
REX/Shutterstock

Recent research conducted by the University of South Australia’s Sansom Institute for Health Research suggests that lightweight running shoes may cause more harm than good for heavy-set runners. According to the study, though lighter-weight sneakers are intended to be a safe alternative to conventional running trainers, this may not be the case for all.

The research examined 61 trained runners over the course of 26 weeks. It discovered that runners weighing more than 85 kilograms (approximately 187 pounds) could be at a much higher risk for injury wearing lightweight sneakers. The study suggests that these heavier runners are over three times more likely to sustain an injury in such shoes than when wearing traditional running shoes.

Dr. Joel Fuller, a UniSA Ph.D. graduate of the Sansom Institute for Health Research, led the research and explained more on the study’s findings.

“We found that the best shoe choice depended on your body weight,” Fuller said.

“Lighter runners, weighing less than 71 kilograms, were able to improve their performance more when training in lightweight shoes, and this had no adverse effects on their injury risk. 

Heavier runners, weighing more than 71 kilograms, also improved their performance in lighter shoes but had more injuries in that shoe type — and the heavier the runners got, the greater the risk of injury.

Runners weighing over 85 kilograms — as the average Australian male does — are three times more likely to sustain an injury when wearing lightweight shoes,” he continued.

Co-researcher Jon Buckley, director of UniSA’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity, stated that the findings are specifically connected to body weight and not body mass index. However, running distance was also found to have an impact, regardless of weight.

“Minimalist shoes do have an appeal to runners, as they can help you run faster, but heavier runners should think twice about using them because they can increase the risk of injury,” said Buckley.

“Weight produces higher impact forces that increase injury, regardless if this is the result of being a taller and possibly heavier person, or a person carrying a little more weight than average.

“So it’s not the BMI to be concerned about; it’s the actual weight.

“By following the bodyweight guidelines for using minimalist shoes, runners can avoid unnecessary injuries that result from inappropriate shoe choice,” added Buckley.

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