Sports shoes: the shocking truth
5 November 2001
Sports shoes are not designed to help the average punter and may do more harm than good, says an Australian podiatrist. Speaking at the Australian Conference of Science and Medicine in Sport last week, Simon Bartold from the University of South Australia said it was a myth that shoes with softer midsoles provide better cushioning.
"To a large degree shoe design doesn't make a lot of difference", said Mr Bartold, a research fellow within the School of Health Sciences. "The perfect model we should be working on already exists — the foot. In fact, shoes with harder midsoles are preferable", he said. The midsole is the part inside the shoe under the foot. Anything placed between the foot and the surface it is hitting interferes with normal proprioreceptive feedback, the conversation going from the foot to the brain, Mr Bartold explained.
"So you completely alter the way in which you run, the efficiency and the function with which you run. The research now is looking at enhancing the foot rather than trying to control it or contain it."
This is not new research. The information that harder midsoles attenuate shock better than soft soles has been public since 1987. "We've known about it for a long, long time," said Mr Bartold. The problem, he says, is that many sports shoe manufacturers have spent considerable amounts of money marketing certain products and are unwilling to change their marketing focus.
"What you are dealing with is a very unusual crossover between hard-core science and a commercial product, and it's an unholy marriage."
Biomechanics, the science behind sports shoe manufacture, is a very active area of research both inside and outside manufacturers' laboratories.
"So there is a lot of lie detection going on," Mr Bartold said. But don't give up on sports shoes yet. "There is a widespread acknowledgement now that things have to change," said Mr Bartold, who in addition to his work at the university, advises a sports shoe company.
Research that was done on shoes for an athlete for the Olympic Games last year showed he could increase his time by between 0.5 per cent and 3 per cent. "If you can change it by that margin with an athlete of that calibre, you can guarantee a gold medal," said Mr Bartold. And while footwear as an ergonomic aid is not necessary for the average weekend jogger, the wrong shoe, regardless of cost, can potentially cause injury. "Eventually these ideas get down to the level that is used by Joe Average." In the future, Mr Bartold believes we will see radically different running shoes on shop shelves, with considerably less bulk and flexibility where the foot flexes. "I think we need to recognise that the foot is a terrific piece of engineering."