Heavy runners risk injury in lightweight running shoes

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  Last updated February 5, 2018 at 5:07 pm

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Minimalist or lightweight running shoes have been found to cause more harm than good for runners carrying extra weight.


Lightweight shoe: Asics Piranha SP4


Runners with a body weight of more than 85 kilograms and training in lightweight running shoes were three times more likely to sustain an injury than when wearing conventional running shoes, new research shows.


The study by University of South Australia’s Sansom Institute for Health Research assessed the experience of 61 trained runners over  26 weeks.


“About two million Australians participate in regular running or jogging as a means to improve their fitness or health, yet over half of us that run will incur an injury over the next 12 months,” says Dr Fuller, lead researcher of the study.


“The common solution is to buy a new pair of shoes – but do we buy heavily-cushioned shoes with lots of support to protect us from impacts when running, or lightweight shoes with minimal cushioning and support, to try to simulate a ‘bare-foot’ running experience?


“We found that the best shoe choice depended on your body weight.


Heavier runners should think twice


“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, despite lighter shoes being popularised as a safe alternative to conventional trainers,


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


Co-researcher, Professor Jon Buckley, Director of UniSA’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA) says that while the findings are specifically connected to body weight, not body mass index (BMI), running distance also had an impact, regardless of weight.


Running-related pain and injury


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


Conventional shoe: Asics Gel-Cumulus.


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


The study investigated the potential for running-related pain and injury, interactions between shoe type, body mass, and weekly training distance.


The randomised controlled trial compared injuries and time trial performance of trained male runners, aged 18-40 years, with a habitual rear-foot footfall pattern and a weekly training distance of approximately 22 kilometers.


None of the runners had previous experience with minimalist shoes and so transitioned to new, randomly-selected conventional or minimalist shoes over the trial period.




About the Author

Annabel Mansfield

Published By

The University of South Australia is Australia’s University of Enterprise. Our culture of innovation is anchored around global and national links to academic, research and industry partners. Our graduates are the new urban professionals, global citizens at ease with the world and ready to create and respond to change. Our research is inventive and adventurous and we create new knowledge that is central to global economic and social prosperity.


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