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The shoe cushioning paradox

THE GIST

When women ran 5Ks in maximally cushioned shoes (with extra padding in the forefoot, midsole, and heel), they experienced more force and impact on the joints with each step than they did while wearing a neutral shoe, according to a new study in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. Those factors can increase your risk of injuries like plantar fasciitis and tibial stress fractures.

EXPERT INSIGHT

“The goal of healthy running is to hit the ground as softly as possible,” says Jordan Metzl, MD, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and author of Running Strong. In both men and women, taking shorter steps minimizes impact by helping you strike the ground with your midfoot. But more cushioning encourages longer strides, making you more likely to land heel first, he explains. That jolts the impact straight through your lower limbs.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you’re experiencing pain or getting injured in maximally cushioned shoes, your best bet is to swap them for a neutral pair. If you’re not ready for that change, shorten your stride and increase your cadence, or steps per minute.

For extra help, download an app like Spring or Spotify, choose songs with 150 to 160 beats per minute, and match your steps to the beat. Hill work (whether outside or on a treadmill set to an incline) also forces you to shorten your stride, Metzl says. Do it to get a feel for taking smaller steps, then try to replicate that form when running on level ground.

Photo: Getty Images