Should You Rotate Your Running Shoes?
A vast amount of running research has been dedicated to the idea of injury prevention. Is there a certain running form, terrain, or time of day that can lessen a runner’s risk for incurring an injury? Do orthotic ankle braces help prevent re-injury after a sprain? What’s better for your feet, traditional or minimalist shoes?
The questions are seemingly endless and for good reason. Published reports estimate that the incidence rates of injuries may be anywhere from around 20 percent to almost 80 percent of runners. With so many questions out there, it’s helpful to know when a consensus can be made.
When it comes to the question of how long you should wear running shoes and when you should rotate them, a growing body of evidence is helping runners see the light.
What Does the Research Say About Rotating Running Shoes?
Not very much research was conducted around measuring the effects of rotating through running shoes up until the 21st century. In the past decade, however, more and more studies have highlighted the powerful benefits the practice may have.
For example, in 2015, the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports shared the somewhat jaw-dropping results of a study that compared injury rates among runners based on whether or not they rotated through running shoes.
Over the course of 22-weeks, researchers gathered information about 264 participating runners including shoe usage, training volume, other sports participation, and running-related injuries. Running-related injuries were qualified as any physical complaint or pain in the lower back or lower extremities that resulted from running and impeded continued running for at least 1 day.
Of the 264 runners, just over half rotated through at least three pairs of shoes during the study period, averaging only about 58 percent of their miles in one main pair. The rest of the study group, however, did roughly 91 percent of their miles in one main pair. In total, 87 runners experienced a running-related injury.
When researchers looked through the data and accounted for all the variables, they found that the participating runners who rotated through multiple pairs of shoes had a 39 percent reduced risk of incurring a running-related injury compared to single-shoe wearers!
Another study, this one published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concurrently found that the parallel use of multiple pairs of running shoes was a protective factor when it came to preventing running-related injuries.
Benefits of Rotating Through More Than One Pair of Running Shoes
While research is able to draw an association between wearing different pairs of running shoes and a reduced risk of injury, it’s not as clear as to why that is the case. From study results, however, experts conjecture that:
- Rotating through running shoes may alter the impact forces that are distributed throughout your body when running. This may help you avoid overstressing any particular muscle or tendon groups.
- Shoes can take up to a full 24 hours to return back to their original structure, density, and shape. A shoe rotation allows each pair the time it needs to effectively ‘get its bounce back’.
- Some experts believe that your actual foot strike will vary depending on the shoes you are wearing. That is, your body automatically makes kinetic adjustments in different shoes; these adjustments affect aspects like the flexion of your foot, the impact force on your knee and ankle, and the loading rate at the time of heel strike.
Essentially, avoiding the same exact motion, impact, load, and stress on your feet, ankles, legs, and knees is going to help you stay injury-free. This same theory doesn’t just apply to the idea of rotating through running shoes but also to the idea of cross-training in sports different from running (like swimming, cycling, and soccer).
Dangers of Worn Out Running Shoes
If you’re not buying into the research or simply don’t have the budget to invest in multiple pairs of running shoes, that’s ok. Don’t forget though to switch out your running shoes for new ones at least every 300 to 500 miles.
A high-impact activity like running might not necessarily lead to injury but running in old and worn out shoes will definitely increase your risk of getting hurt. So will factors like drastically increasing running mileage or speed in a short amount of time.
Heavier runners are recommended to replace their shoes closer to the 300-mile mark as are road runners. When in doubt, inspect your shoes for tears, visible cracks, creases, worn down sides or heels, an eroded outer midsole, and lack of spring or arch support. Don’t wait until you start feeling aches and pains in your legs to replace your running shoes. Try rotating through a few pairs and see how it feels!