Do Lighter Running Shoes Make You Run Faster

The Pump Triple Break

Image by DeusXFlorida via Flickr

A: Yes !

I used to think that this was a ridiculous question. But I saw it the wrong way. My view was how on earth could wearing a pair of shoes that are, say, 300g lighter make any material difference?

But that was not the point.

Sure, if you wear a backpack with a 500g weight in it and then run 5k you will do it in a certain time. Sure, if you take out 300g of that weight you will, other things being equal, run just a tiny bit faster.

But, and here’s the rub. The 500g weight is NOT on your back and is not the analogous weight (fat) around your tummy. It is weight of the shoes on the end of your leg. AND the end of your leg pivots , broadly speaking, from your hips. So you are swinging that 500g weight from the end of your metre long legs. I’m no mathematician or physicist but once i realised this it just becomes obvious that a heavier, swinging weight is hard to slow down and speed up than a lighter one. So quite a bit of energy is wasted in doing just that THOUSANDS of times over a 5k.

Hopefully that explains why lighter running shoes will make you run faster.

IE IF you lose weight you will not run 5k that much faster (on the flat at least). But lose that weight from your shoes and you WILL. Honest! [Actually, as a broad rule of thumb, you will run approximately 1 second faster over 5k for every 100g you lose in terms of body weight/body fat].

This subject also links in with the technique whereby the 5k runner is encouraged to flick up his or her heels. This flicking makes the effective leg length LESS and so the pendulum effect described above is reduced. Probably there could be a similar argument with knee lift, I’m not sure on that. (There is debate about these two ‘techniques’, knee lift focus may well cause heel flick and not the other way around for example)

Also lighter running shoes often have a thinner heel and that causes the runner to pivot forwards more than usual and often this causes more of a faster forefoot strike running than pseudo-flat-foot strike. That is a faster but more injury-prone running style. But that faster speed isn’t a result of the weight necessarily. And we start getting into bare foot running if we continue from here.

** I race up to 10k+5k with racing flats. (New Balance RC 130X). It knackers my calves, I have to use compression gear to recover and I can only go fast once a month with those shoes on! [And as Dan says below that’s probably because I should train in my flats]

13 thoughts on “Do Lighter Running Shoes Make You Run Faster

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  4. With regards to calf pain after races: First off you’ve done a lot of hard work so you’re going to have some soreness regardless. Secondly, and the thing that so many people do wrong (IMHO), is that you don’t run in your flats enough to allow the muscles to adapt to the different strike angles caused by the change in heel heigh with respect to your trainers. Imagine a cyclist decided to fit a shorter seat post to his bike on race day in order to save a few grams on weight which force him to sit lower with respect to the fix position of the frame and cranks. That would totally mess them up. Why should runners be any diffferent?

    If you want a long term solution to avoiding post-race calf pain start wearing your flats more. I now run only in my Asics Piranhas or adiZero PRs. Even for 18M long runs on roads or rocky uneven trails. Now the day after a race I don’t suffer with specific pain, just general fatigue! Plus running in flats all the time is much more fun than big clunky trainers.

    Some people like having the psychological effect of having PB trainers. But I have the psychological benefit of going to a race knowing that my legs are more conditioned than those around me and that I won’t suffer for days afterwards.

    FYI I’m a modest club runners with PB’s just the wrong side of 32min and 15min for 10/5k respectively.
    ————-reply————–
    I would love to be able to do a ‘modest’ 5k in 15 mins…think that might give me a pretty amazing age grading tho! I have to admit over the last few months I have been wearing my flats much more than I used to – so, yes,I definitely concur with your eminently sensible advice there. This has given me some grief in my right soleus (calf) but as you say it is training the muscles that I’m going to be using,how I’m going to be using them.

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  5. I agree it makes a noticeable difference. I’m in the process of trying to switch to barefoot running and a mid foot strike running form over my traditional heel strike. Switching between my heavy old sneaker type running shoes and the very light Merrell trail gloves i have found to be surprisingly noticeable.

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