Possibly the most important aspect in footwear selection involves identifying what the athlete is currently adapted to.
Or more simply put, assessing what shoes the athlete is wearing now.
This entails evaluating questions such as:
- What is the athlete currently conditioned to?
- Is it working?
- Is the athlete symptom free?
- Are they comfortable?
- Do they feel or look ‘balanced’?
- Is it not working?
- Are they experiencing discomfort or injury?
- Do they feel heavy/hard/loose?
- Do they feel or look ‘sloppy’ or ‘unbalanced’?
Identifying the individual’s current ‘baseline’ of what they are conditioned to allows us to identify how those current features are influencing their current injury and therefore overall the suitability of the shoe.
This is also a significant factor in regards to the selection of potential footwear and the likelihood of success of transition into an alternative shoe selection from their current. Whether this change be for symptom reduction, an increase in training loads or performance.
The reason why this selection is so important is because we know that footwear and the shoes associated design features and characteristics can have a substantial impact on loading rates of specific tissue.
An easy way to demonstrate such is to explore through a simplified example.
Meet Frank and Timmy .
Two Athletes, Training partners both training for the same event- Run Melbourne half marathon.
Both undertake the same training program, off the same previous conditioning base, transitioning into the same shoe- with very different individual results!
Athlete A- Frank
Frank trains in Hoka Bondi, widely considered more ‘maximalist’ in regards to their level of cushioning and structure. He wears them for everything! Long runs, intervals and speed work too. Frank started the half marathon training program 4 weeks ago off the basis of 30km of running per week with his mate Timmy.
Athlete B- Timmy
Timmy typically trains in his Nike Pegasus, widely considered to be more ‘traditionalist’ in regards to their level of cushioning and structure. Also does a speed session twice a week in his Nike streak, widely considered more ‘minimalist’. Timmy also started the half marathon training program 4 weeks ago off the basis of 30km of running per week with his mate Athlete A. Lucky for both of them, as part of the entry they got access to 50% off a pair of super fast New Balance fuel cell 5280 to race in! How Great!
For Timmy yes!
He incorporated his new 5280’s for 2 training sessions a week in the Final 8 weeks of training. He liked them so much that come race day he wore them also and finished with a PB!
Frank, not so much.
He also incorporated his new pair of 5280’s into his 2 speed sessions a week however after 2 weeks of training he had developed an acute tibialis posterior tendinopathy and sadly couldn’t compete.
Due to Timmy’s current adaptation to the Nike streak, his current conditioning threshold and loading tolerance was more receptive to the demands placed on his lower limb by the more responsive, decreased stack height New Balance 5280.
However for Frank, this transition led to an increase in demands and loading above the current threshold adapted for the specific tissues within his lower limb. In particular this tibialis posterior tendon. Ultimately contributing to overload and injury to this tissue.
From this, we can begin to appreciate that an athlete’s current adaptive state can provide us with the ideal platform in guiding the prescription of footwear.
Esculier, J. F., Dubois, B., Dionne, C. E., Leblond, J., & Roy, J. S. (2015). A consensus definition and rating scale for minimalist shoes. Journal of foot and ankle research, 8(1), 1-9.
Mackey, A. L., Heinemeier, K. M., Anneli Koskinen, S. O., & Kjaer, M. (2008). Dynamic adaptation of tendon and muscle connective tissue to mechanical loading. Connective tissue research, 49(3-4), 165-168.
Nigg, B. M., Baltich, J., Hoerzer, S., & Enders, H. (2015). Running shoes and running injuries: mythbusting and a proposal for two new paradigms:‘preferred movement path’and ‘comfort filter’. British journal of sports medicine, 49(20), 1290-1294.
Gus McSweyn is a Podiatrist who specialises in the prescription of footwear, orthotics & rehabilitation exercises to reduce pain and restore confidence in difficult foot and lower limb injury presentations.
Based clinically in Sole Motive Running shoe store, he consults with prominent athletic and running clubs throughout Melbourne. He also actively provides feedback to leading athletic footwear companies such as Nike around new innovations and features.