Do you run, play in a team, do a fitness class? Don't stop reading if not! I’m not here to encourage you to do more exercise. But if you do, or have done, you may well have found it tricky to find the right pair of trainers. The perfect pair that fits like a glove and offers comfort, support and that little extra spring in your step!
Biomechanics is the study of how the body moves, how your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments work together to generate each movement. This analysis has resulted in many innovations in footwear, particularly in sports shoes, where technical improvements can lead to enhanced performance.
Last year there was much controversy surrounding a Nike running shoe, the Vaporfly. Worn by elite marathon runners, faster times were attributed to the shoes, and when you look at the stats it appears the shoes did make a difference. During 2019, runners wearing Vaporflys claimed 31 out of the 36 male and female podium spots in the six biggest marathons around the world!
Do Google if you’re at all interested in hearing more about how this has been achieved, the Vaporfly certainly looks different and the technology is fascinating! But very few, if any, of us would be looking for a trainer with such a high technical specification.
Our bodies have their own natural suspension system, perfectly designed to absorb the impact of our actions. However, running, jumping and rapid movements can increase the forces acting on our feet and joints by up to five times our body weight. Therefore sports shoes are designed with extra cushioning, higher arch support, extra toe spring and a whole raft of technical features to support the feet during high impact activity.
It is exactly these properties that have seen trainers become a popular choice for day to day wear, because they feel comfortable, but are they good for your feet when worn all the time?
You’ve probably guessed what I’m going to say! They do your feet no favours at all if worn regularly for low impact activities, such as walking. Feet become lazy.
The muscles and tendons in your feet need to work to stay fit and healthy. Too much cushioning and support result in the foot becoming too relaxed, it stops supporting itself. This can lead to muscle loss, weakened tendons, collapsed arches and a wider foot, all of which can be hard to reverse.
A recent study into toe spring linked this feature with an increase in cases of plantar fasciitis. Toe spring is a curvature at the front of the shoe which holds the toes at slightly elevated angle to reduce the effort required to propel the foot forward. All well and good when running, but the study’s recommendation is to wear flatter soled shoes for every day, low impact activity, encouraging the front of the foot to function as nature intended. This will significantly reduce the risk of developing potentially agonising foot conditions.
Before you rush off and bin your trainers, have a good look at them. Have they been designed specifically for high impact activity? Is the sole flat from heel to toe, or does it curve up at the front? Is the interior well-cushioned, is the insole soft and bouncy? Or is it leather lined, with a leather insole? Is the trainer a similar weight to other shoes, or is it lighter?
Many footwear brands design trainer style shoes, without the technical features, and this can be particularly true for children’s shoes.
When buying shoes, think about what activities they will be used for, how often they will be worn and remember that while the foot should be comfortable, it also needs to exercise to stay fit and healthy.
As a children’s shoe fitter, it seems right to end on a note about children’s shoes. As I have mentioned, there are many trainer style shoes, designed to support the healthy development of growing feet, which are absolutely fine to be worn every day and for most activities. However, I recommend steering away from sports footwear brands for young children.
During the preschool years, children really only need one, maybe two pairs of shoes, that can be worn for everything, except maybe jumping in muddy puddles! As they get older and get involved in higher impact, more physical activities, their feet and performance are likely to benefit from wearing footwear specifically designed for the activity.
If you’re unsure what’s right for your little one’s feet, please get in touch, I will be happy to help!