Monday, December 12, 2011

Beware the Offset

Or at least be aware of the offset. Offsets are the buzz in the world of running shoes. This isn’t new but you’ll soon hear a lot about it. You’ll also see many more options added to the current offerings from Inov-8, Saucony, Altra and Brooks. First, a little context; the offset is the difference in height from heel to toe of a shoe measured in millimeters. Traditionally (at least for the past 30 years) running shoes have been 10mm or 12mm. There have been exceptions in the form of racing flats and in the past decade from the UK brand Inov-8. Now there is an ever expanding selection of 8mm, 4mm, and zero drop (even from heel to toe) shoes.

So what gives, and why should you care? First of all, you don’t have to care. Many people don’t get injured and are happy with their shoes. Assuming that’s the case, it would be difficult to make a compelling argument that you should change anything. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Most companies have shown no sign that they will change the offset in their franchise shoes. You’ll be able to stick with them and run your brains out.

Saucony, most notably, is choosing a different path. With the tagline “a new angle on running” they will come down to an 8mm (or less) offset on all new shoes that come out going forward. This will take some time as many of their shoes won’t update until Fall 2012 or even Spring 2013 but within the next 18 months they plan for all their shoes to be either an 8mm, 4mm, or no offset. Even in a time of ample change in running shoes, this is a gutsy move by Saucony. Other major shoe companies are on board. We saw Brooks make a splash in October with the introduction of their Pure project shoes (all 4mm offset) but Saucony’s willingness to move ALL their shoes shows some serious commitment.

Our take at FootZone is a positive one. This is a lot of hubbub over 2-4mm (if you take the difference from 10 or 12 to 8mm). Look on a ruler, that’s not very much. Saucony feels confident after testing that moving to 8mm will not require break in for the average runner and will improve the ride and stability while allowing for a less emphasized heel strike and encouraging a more natural stride. They would advise that switching to a 4mm or zero drop shoe may require a more gradual transition to avoid calf strain and injury. Based on personal experience and watching many runners experiment with different shoes, we would have to agree. The 8mm offset will not even be noticed by many runners and if they choose, the 4mm offset will also be an option. The zero drop shoes require a bit more patience and practice and for some runners simply feel too strange.

Of course, the frustrating part of all of this is that there is no science supporting any of it. The idea of natural running makes some inherent sense and appeals to many but has already proven that it’s not simple for most runners. Many are calling for a more definitive study and surely there will be many on that task in labs across the country. Given all the variables of different runners with different histories, foot types, biomechanics, and efficiencies, I struggle to think that we will come up with anything TOO definitive. Regardless, I trust that runners will do as they always have and buy the best running shoes available that work for them. Whatever the slope from heel to toe will be interesting to talk about but will ultimately mean less than our ability to go out and enjoy our run. Cheers-Teague


Erin Nielsen said...

I am going to have to disagree that there is no research to back up barefoot/minimalist running. What about Daniel Lieberman, Harvard professor and his extensive work on minimally shod or un-shod runners?

Shoegeek said...

Erin-Agreed on the Lieberman study. We actually reference that study in our Good Form Running Clinics and it is compelling. I guess the point I was making is that there is no science giving us a definitive answer about whether a drop of 0,4,8 or higher is optimal. The struggle with the Lieberman study is that it shows with out much doubt that running barefoot with untainted proprioceptive feedback decreases impact forces. I haven't met very many people who can pull off running without shoes so the question is how to practically apply his findings for runners. thanks-Teague

inglourious alpha said...

I'm running with the new 8 mm offset and i got injured.

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