Do Lighter Running Shoes Make You Run Faster
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. Or, put another way, if you lose weight you will not run 5k that much faster on the flat, in fact you will run approximately 1 second faster over 5k for every 100g you lose in terms of body weight/body fat].
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 the weight of the shoes at 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, less energy is used each time with lighter shoes.
So, lose that weight from your shoes and you WILL. Honest!
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 about that. (There is a 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 barefoot 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 in the comments that’s probably because I should train in my flats]
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9 thoughts on “Do Lighter Running Shoes Make You Run Faster”
What shoes do you run in?
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.
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.
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.
I’m impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and amusing, and
let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something too few folks are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy I found this in my
hunt for something regarding this.
thank you! pleae tell me you are a kind and generous person and not a spambot 🙁
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i just read this because it was class work… this is the worst article i have ever read in my entire life.
Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. Be happy and have a great life.
i sometimes train and race barefoot, as noted here, it is just logical from a speed perspective. i run reasonably fast and people say when they see my times, imagine how much faster he could run in shoes. but i run slower in shoes, even in the supershoes. there is a considerable performance benefit.
the reasons why elites don’t do it is because recovery time is longer, particularly for calves and achilles area; they wouldn’t be able to run enough miles every week even with well-conditioned muscles. i have found the same when actually racing – a 42k marathon is too long for me barefoot, the muscles are stressed too much. a 21k and anything below is fine. when i run a 42k in supershoes, my legs feel fine after the race because the supershoes provide so much foam cushioning. but dragging all that weight around will still have slowed me down, maybe by about 30 seconds an hour.
anyway when you are stressing your calves in the low profile shoes, like any muscle workout, the muscle grows back stronger and over time you can run longer and further and faster. i have found i have much stronger calves than other runners around me, this is noticeable when going up hills in a race, I will overtake a bunch of runners because my calves and achilles have more bounce in them. It also means I can excel in trail races (wearing shoes obviously).
for me i run barefoot about twice a week and in shoes 3 or 4 days a week. i am not at a stage where I can run barefoot at reasonable intensity every day.
a word of caution, your achilles will get injured if you run too much on the balls of your feet barefoot or in low profile shoes. it’s because we all wear shoes throughout childhood and the rest of our lives – the achilles never gets a proper workout. either strengthen it considerably first, or better, run with more of a midfoot strike.
stress fractures / stress reactions in bones of foot happened to me, likely will happen to anybody that does too much too soon without much material underfoot to protect the bone. but the bone heals back stronger, so this should only happen once and then never again…
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