“Super shoes” have become a big topic in the running community in recent years, with both professional athletes and casual runners praising their capacity to improve performance. This subject gained more attention when Eliud Kipchoge broke the sub-2-hour barrier in Vienna in October 2019 by running a time of 1:59:40 for the full marathon distance. His performance made headlines throughout the world. Also Since the introduction of carbon fiber plate shoes in 2016, every woman’s and man’s world record from 5 km to the marathon distance has been broken, and on top of that, the recently modified rules governing competition shoes for elite athletes, announced by World Athletics, that include sole thickness that must not exceed 40 mm and must not contain more than one rigid embedded plate, seem to set a new standard for performance.
What exactly are “super shoes?”
Super shoes are running shoes with a variety of design features meant to enhance running performance:
1. The large layer of foam in the shoe’s midsole is the most noticeable of these design features. This foam is made to offer a high level of energy return and cushioning, which can aid to lessen fatigue and increase running efficiency.
2. The midsole has a carbon fiber plate incorporated into it. The carbon fiber plate is intended to provide the shoe with more support and stiffness, which can increase running efficiency and lessen energy loss from foot flexing.
3. Athletes get a “kick back” that propels them forward when running on lighter, more responsive midsole material.
Several athletic shoe companies have developed their own versions of “super shoes” with advanced technologies to help runners improve their performance. Some of the most popular brands that make super shoes include:
- Nike: The Nike Vaporfly and Nike Alphafly are two of the most well-known super shoes on the market.
- Adidas: Adidas has developed its own line of high-tech running shoes, including the Adizero Adios Pro and the Adizero Pro.
- Hoka One One: Hoka One One’s Carbon X and Carbon X2 models feature carbon fiber plates and high-energy foam for improved performance.
- New Balance: The New Balance FuelCell TC and FuelCell RC Elite shoes incorporate carbon fiber plates and nitrogen-infused foam for enhanced energy return.
- Saucony’s Endorphin Pro and Endorphin Speed shoes are designed with a carbon fiber plate and newly enhanced foam for increased energy return and speed.
How do these design features translate into improved running performance?
Let’s take a closer look:
A) Reduced energy loss
One of the key benefits of super shoes is their ability to reduce energy loss during running. When we run, our foot strikes the ground and compresses the cushioning materials in our shoes. This compression causes energy to be lost as heat, which means that we have to expend more energy to maintain our speed.
Super shoes help to reduce this energy loss by providing a high level of cushioning and energy return in the midsole. The new and enhanced foam used in many super shoes is particularly effective at returning energy, which means that less energy is lost during each foot strike. Additionally, the carbon fiber plate in the midsole helps to stiffen the shoe and reduce energy loss through foot flexion.
B) Improved running economy
Another benefit of super shoes is their ability to improve running economy. Running economy refers to the amount of energy that we need to expend to maintain a certain speed. The better our running economy, the less energy we need to expend to run at a given pace.
Super shoes can help to improve running economy in a number of ways. Firstly, the cushioning and energy return provided by the foam can help to reduce the amount of energy that we need to expend to maintain our pace. Additionally, the carbon fiber plate in the midsole can help to improve running efficiency by reducing the amount of energy that is lost through foot flexion.
C) Reduced muscle fatigue
Finally, super shoes can also help to reduce muscle fatigue during running. When we run, our muscles experience a high level of stress and fatigue due to the impact forces generated by each foot strike.
Super shoes help to reduce this muscle fatigue by providing a high level of cushioning in the midsole. This cushioning helps to absorb some of the impact forces generated by each foot strike, which means that our muscles don’t have to work as hard to maintain our pace.
So, do super shoes really work?
The evidence suggests that they do. Numerous studies have shown that runners wearing super shoes are able to run faster and more efficiently than those wearing traditional running shoes. For example, a study published in the journal found that runners wearing super shoes were able to improve their running economy by up to 4% compared to those wearing traditional shoes. One very interesting study compared the top 7 most well-known supershoe brands and versions together to see if there was a resounding winner. In this study by Joubert, Dustin P.; Jones, Garrett P. on “A comparison of running economy across seven highly cushioned racing shoes with carbon-fiber plates,” it was found that all super shoes performed between 1 and 4 percent better than normal running shoes. Nike’s top-performing shoes took first place, followed by Saucony’s super shoe versions.
However, it’s important to note that super shoes are not a magic bullet for everyone. While they can help to improve running performance, they are not a substitute for good training and proper running form. In fact the athletes that will benefit from these shoes already have a very decent running form and training regimen as the study also explains that the 4% improvement in running economy and performance only occurs if you can maintain a pace of 4 min and 58 seconds per km over a long distance. Running at just under 5 min / km is not a crazy pace at all and completely realistic to maintain for any runner who engages in running on a regular basis.
Additionally, the cost of super shoes can be prohibitive for many runners, so it’s important to weigh the potential benefits against the cost when considering whether to invest in a pair. The cost of the 7 most well known versions range anything between $274-$450 or 1000 to 1600 UAE Dirham where you can pay about a fifth of that price for any decent running shoe.
In conclusion, super shoes are a valuable tool for highly trained runners looking to boost personal records and improve on their times with each and every season, rather than recreational runners who imagine they are better runners who just run for fun or health reasons at an easy and relaxed running pace.
Are you planning your 1st marathon or triathlon race? Running is much more than just cardio capability. Be sure to book your very own body and performance Transformation meetup session with Coach Hannes for a comprehensive strength, mechanical and movement assessment to determine your weaknesses and what areas you’ll have to best work on to get ready for the race injury free.