While it’s always nice to slip on a new pair of running shoes, adding an extra pair to your collection can be expensive. So while you may have heard runners and brands increasingly talk about having a ‘running shoe rotation’ you might be wondering whether it’s worth the investment.
What is a running shoe rotation?
Different running shoes are designed for different types of session. While most of your miles will probably be run in a comfortable everyday running shoe or ‘daily trainer’, there are also trail running shoes, speed session shoes and, of course, carbon-plated shoes. The idea of a running shoe rotation is that you’d have several pairs of running shoes that you reach for to do different runs in.
“Some runners will use different shoes due to the surface they’re running on” says Physiotherapist Dr Kathleen Walker a lecturer and researcher at Cardiff University. “So for example if on the trails they will opt for a shoe with more grip, if on a faster surface for an interval session, runners might opt for a racing flat or a spiked shoe.”
When a shoe brand is putting together a range, they’re not just thinking about what different runners want but about what different types of run an individual runner might do.
“We design shoes specifically for different types of running” says Heather Townsend, Brooks Technical Representative and GB International Triathlete. “For example our cushion shoes like the brooks ghost 15 or Brooks Glycerin 20 utilize our softest midsoles DNA Loft V2 and DNA Loft V3 – these would be great for long, relaxed runs. Where as our Speed products such as the Brooks Hyperion Max use our DNA Flash midsole which is designed to be lighter and more responsive benefiting the runner if they are doing Tempo runs or session-based running.”
What are the benefits of a running shoe rotation?
The growing popularity of race shoes shows that more runners are seeing a benefit of pulling on a speedier shoe for everything from their 5k to a marathon, and elite runners are crediting them with faster times.
But if you’re not trying to shave a few extra seconds off your marathon PB, and you already have a pair of running shoes that you love, is adding another, different pair to your collection worth it? If you want to avoid injury, it could be says Walker. “It’s though that by rotating between different shoes, that may still be cushioned or support, you’re varying the external loads being applied to the lower leg, therefore reducing the possibility of overuse running injury. A way of preventing overloading and varying the stresses through the lower limbs.
“One study has looked at this and they found that runners who rotated between different shoes were observed to have a 39% lower risk of running injury compared to those who used only one pair of shoes. So, this study gives a tentative indication that rotating shoes can have the potential to be beneficial in preventing injury. However it’s one study so can’t be truly generalized to the whole running population and other injury risks such as training load and previous injury still need to be considered.”
Are there any downsides to a shoe rotation?
Before you grab your credit card and splurge on several new pairs of running shoe, we need to look at the potential downsides. Of course, cost is one of them. Running shoes don’t come cheap and there’s also the environmental impact of buying more stuff. However, if you’re still using them for the full mileage of the shoe, they should last longer.
Walker also warns that some runners should be more cautious about adding an extra pair of shoes to their rotation. “A possible risk could be that if you have podiatric issues that mean you require a bit more support and you try using more neutral shoes or cushioned shoes, then you may aggravate those issues. If you know for certain that some brands of shoes are not right for you then is it even worth considering rotating shoes?”
Adding a pair of shoes to your rotation
If you’re a runner who currently does all their running in the same shoe, what shoe you add to your rotation first will depend on the type of running you like to do. If you’re interested in running off-road, then a trail shoe will be the obvious new addition but if you’re training for a race, you might benefit from something a little speedier.
Townsend says: “A speed shoe is a great addition to any runner’s shoe rotation. Most people will start with their general day-to-day shoe they use to bank miles so something lightweight and a little more responsive can offer a great alternative to your everyday milage shoe.”
Walker agrees, but urges caution before you lace up. “If you’re going to add a speedier pair of shoes to your rotation then I think you obviously have to consider the new carbon plate running shoes. The proposed benefits to running economy cannot be ignored and they are proven to improve speed compared to non carbon plated shoes. As always with introducing a new type of shoes, consider taking a transition period to allow your body (and you) to get used to the differences.”