For those of us who enjoy breaking a sweat on the treadmill or outdoors, there’s nothing us pleasant as the luxurious and soothing cushioning of a superbly designed pair of running shoes. It is as if the shoes tend to urge and cheer you on. With the reverberation of the generously padded inner soles coupled with the supportive effect of a well-placed tongue and bolstered uppers, it’s possible to spend hours on the track with the motion control and confidence of an Olympic medalist.
But this is only if you’re lucky enough to land such a high-quality pair of ergonomic athletic shoes. I say lucky since, unfortunately, nowadays both online and brick & mortar stores seem populated with ill-designed and equally ill-fitting shoes. That is if you are in the market for anything below $250. And honestly, even $200 seems a little too much to spend on a pair of shoes, given that you’re not also guaranteed that the pair will be as resilient and sturdy as it is comfortable.
I once almost took a soft loan to acquire a $450 ‘designer’ pair of running shoes. This was after my gym coach suggested that I should try the same pair of shoes that the likes of Tyson Gay and Bolt sport in their million-dollar sprints, having complained severally of perpetual soreness and frequent sprains. So after scouring the internet for days, I purchased my prized pair from an online vendor, Finish Line (described in detail here). I have to say that I was moved by rich ‘plushness’ that embraced my feet when I wore them for the first time. That day I even surpassed my usual 3-mile threshold. Unfortunately, however, my joy was short-lived as the pair didn’t even last a week of my light workout routine.
The experience ushered me into the world of over-priced and over-rated athletic footwear. And the only explanation for my somewhat bad luck is that someone is sleeping on the job. In fact, each time I look at my ruined $450 pair of running shoes, I can’t help but get the impression that sometimes very little research and development goes into the mass production of the athletic footwear.
Research on athletic footwear has come a long way. Despite its substantial progress over the past 30 years, there is still a lot to be explored. This is why Nike’s Sport Research Lab continues to strive toward improved performance and innovation And here are some of the reasons why this nature of research is important.
- Biological adaptation and control:
A good manufacturer should know that pronation and impact forces on the track are the two main factors that contribute to injuries, sore feet, and sprains. The main premise here being that overpronating will easily cause the rotation of the lower leg (knee, ankle, tibia). As a matter of fact, this is the most probable explanation for 78% of sprains sustained on treadmills (mine included). If manufacturers dedicated more time to research on the proper degree of pronation, I have a feeling that more people would enjoy participating in track events.
- Durability and cushioning:
The repeated impact forces sustained by feet as an athlete taps on a concrete track, call for the right amount of ergonomic cushioning. And it is only via a comprehensive research involving a variety of feet that manufacturers can come up with running shoes that will adapt to anyone’s feet. On that note, with the aid of 3D mathematical models in research labs, designers can come up with ways on distributing the pressure or weight shouldered by our feet to other parts of the body as well. It could reduce the likelihood of feeling sore or the typical tingling effect associated with sprinting powerfully over a short distance.