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Are modern "barefoot running" or air-cushion running shoes better that the previous EVA-soles of the 80s and 90s?

I feel better protected with the EVA, landing solidly on the heel, and have the impression that shoes that are too soft hurt my ankles (since they provide less stability). Normally, I run 3-5 miles 3x/week and weight 70kg.

Are EVA-shoes that bad?

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Minimal running shoes aren't 'too soft' they are often made of the same material, simply less of it. What's more problematic is the shoe manufacturers picking EVA probably because its cheapest way to make a decent sole. They could make better soles if they wanted to. –  Ivo Flipse Aug 23 '13 at 6:54
    
Yes, EVA shoes can be of the cheap kind. But I have higher quality shoes like New Balance and Nike in mind. –  jayron Aug 23 '13 at 14:02
    
While the shoe may be expensive, that doesn't mean the material its made out of is expensive as well. There are other foams that have much better characteristics, but they might be bad for the environment (in such volumes) or simply be more expensive –  Ivo Flipse Aug 23 '13 at 15:31
    
And there are a couple class action lawsuits on the minimalist footwear, and studies are showing increased injury rates with chi/pose/forefoot running fads. –  JohnP Jul 28 at 16:59

4 Answers 4

This is part of your problem.

landing solidly on the heel

Prior to the invention of cushioned shoes, most people ran using a mid-step or forefoot, rather than with a heel strike, because as you mentioned without cushioning, the pressure of a heel-strike impacts on the foot, ankle, knee and hips.

There are plenty of questions on the site that address barefoot running, but the common thread is a slow introduction and focus on a good mid-foot or forefoot technique.

As for whether or not traditional running shoes are bad all comes down to the runner and their technique. The general concensus is that heel-strike running patterns are bad for the legs in quite a few ways as they encourage heavier foot falls. The problem is that traditional runners make heel strikes less painful, but not necessarily more safe for the leg over all.

If you learn to switch to a mid-strike and enjoy traditional runners they are fine. But, and I can't stress this enough, continuing with a heel strike gait, regardless of shoe will increase your risk of injury in the long-term.

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Yes, I think that I'll have to train a mid-strike gait. Thanks for the tip. And I'll keep running with EVA sole shoes. My problem with other shoes was ankle sprains. Good EVA shoes leave my feet better protected, specially when I'm running on a terrain that is not perfectly flat and free of stones. –  jayron Aug 23 '13 at 14:10
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You can get that kind of protection from much thinner soles. I think that most shoes won't prevent ankle sprains, so unless your ankle is really unstable, you'd be better off doing more stability or strength training. –  Ivo Flipse Aug 23 '13 at 15:33

I had been having ankle sprains and twists regularly, once every 1 to 2 years, until I changed my running to the barefoot-midsole style (at first, actually running barefoot). My motivation was knee pain, although in the 5 years since, I haven't twisted my ankle once. I attribute this to foot awareness -- with the cushioned shoes I wasn't 'feeling' the ground, and the stronger ankle muscles that developed.

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You often see people looking at the bottom of a running shoe to see if it needs replacing, for example by seeing whether it has much “tread” left. This is not the right test of whether a shoe is finished: the main determinant of the longevity of a shoe is not the extent of wear to the outer sole, it is the compression of the mid-sole, which is the spongy layer between the outer sole and your feet.

Most running shoes today have an EVA mid-sole. EVA is light and absorbs shock well, but it gradually compacts as it is used, which reduces its shock absorbency and gradually distorts the shoe. As a result of the compression of the mid-sole, most running shoes have an average life expectancy of about 300-600 miles.

Very heavy or uneven runners might wear out part of the outer sole before the mid-sole is too compressed, but this is unlikely.

The actual life of your shoes depends on your weight and your running style. You can see whether your shoes are past their best by looking at the compression lines along the side of the shoe, and seeing whether the mid-sole can be compressed with pressure from your thumb.

If you can no longer compress the mid-sole, then it is time to replace the shoes. If you begin to get any kind of ache or pain in your ankle or knee, check that your running shoes don’t need replacing.*

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EVA is fine in moderation, and as others have said it wears/compresses relatively quickly.

For the most part shoes are just tools. There are different types of shoes for different jobs; and any shoe/tool used improperly is going to be less efficient if not destructive.

Running is an interesting sport in that everyone assumes they already know how to run. "I know how to run, it's instinct, it's like walking but way faster." The average person doesn't seek out instruction on how to run they just go do it, but if they want to learn tennis or golf they hire an instructor. Unfortunately, most people don't instinctively know how to run, and when you factor in bad habits, poor posture, gait altering shoes, and sedentary lifestyles you get a recipe for injury.

What I look for in shoes:

1) Do they fit properly? Your toes should have plenty of room at the ends and on the sides. If your toes are scrunched at the end or squeezed together you need a larger size, or very likely a shoe with a different toe box shape. Make sure that there aren't any weird points of pressure on your feet and that none of the overlays (the sturdier material often incorporated into the styling of the upper) rub your foot. (for example: if an overlay meets the midsole at your pinkie toe, it may rub and cause blisters during runs) Your feet should not significantly overhang the sides of the sole. If they do you need a wider shoe.

2) Do they interfere with the function of your foot? Your feet flex for a reason, and stiff shoes that restrict the flexion of your foot will then displace that stress on to other muscles and tendons. Your shoe should allow your foot to move naturally. Not only will this help to strengthen your foot but it allows you to react to the surface you're running on better and avoid rolling your ankles (think top heavy SUV). NOTE: Another responder indicated that there is a higher injury rate among barefoot/minimalist adopters. For one thing, I'm not necessarily promoting barefoot/minimalism though I think it has its place; I am promoting allowing your foot to move instead of more or less hinging at the ankle. As with any fad, many people enthusiastically dove into barefoot/minimalist running despite the adamant warnings of specialists to take it VERY slow. The fact is, the combination of poor footwear that will literally change the shape of your foot over time, poor posture, long periods of sitting, simply not knowing proper running form, and on top of all that diving in too quickly (not to mention those who neglect strength training and stretching) all contribute to an unsurprising injury rate.

3) Do they have a 6mm drop or less? The 6mm number is pretty arbitrary, but you do want a pretty low if not flat heel on your shoe. The reason is that an elevated heel on your shoe will simply get in the way of a proper running stride. It encourages you to land hard on your heel as the rest of your foot flops uselessly down. Instead of artificially encouraging a forward body lean, people instead reach farther forward with their feet and increases plantarflexion. It's not necessarily bad if your heel hits first as long as it lands under your center of mass (which is achieved with a slight forward lean hinging at the ankles) and it is a soft landing followed quickly by your midfoot.

4) Do they fit their purpose? Greater tread an durability for a trail shoe, etc. Don't trail run in a Nike Free, the flexible upper and tall narrow sole will let your foot slide off the side and roll off the edge of the sole, in turn rolling your ankle.

You will develop footwear preferences over time. I would encourage some minimalist running periodically for short distances to improve your foot strength. However, it is not the only way to run.

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Great answer, especially regarding folks jumping into barefoot/minimal shoes so quickly. –  Eric Kaufman Nov 5 at 20:56

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