Categorized | Shoe Basics

Comfort Question: Should We be Running on Pillows Like the Hoka One One?

Posted on 12 January 2013

by Jim Hixson.

 

Most runners have been taught that “softness” and “cushioning” are positive characteristics when looking to buy a new pair of running shoes. Each year, running companies spend millions of dollars, euros, and yen in an attempt to create shoes that have a comfortable “step-in” feel when customers first put them on their feet.  When customers describe a certain model of shoe as making them feel like they have  “pillows on their feet”, a shoe company knows that it probably has made a very popular shoe.

Was it always this way? Let’s travel back in time several decades.

In a land not so far away, Mizuno used thin and inexpensive insoles in the manufacture of their running shoes, so as to maximize the connection between the runner’s foot and the ground.  This policy made  good sense for runners who wanted responsiveness and less loss of energy.  During the same time, in the same land, other companies had begun to use cushioned insoles and customers were reacting quite positively.  They often exclaimed that they felt as if they were “walking on clouds”, and in fact one company even named some of their shoes after some of these well-known airy entities.

One day a Mizuno footwear sales rep visited my running shoe store in St.Louis.  He was showing the new models to us and he tearfully revealed a company secret.  With a trembling voice he told us that Mizuno was finally giving in to peer pressure and would now also use extra-cushioned insoles in all their more popular models.  Their reasoning was simple and based purely on economic reality.   Although they truly believed that Mizuno shoes were actually better than those of other brands, they also knew that the first experience a potential customer has with a new pair of shoes is critically important in determining which shoe will eventually be purchased.  Mizuno had been losing customers because their insoles made their shoes feel firmer than those of other brands.  By providing customers with a more “comfortable” initial feel, Mizuno would be able to recapture lost market share.  They made the change and their market share increased.

Although Mizuno’s strategy worked, soft shoes are not especially good for running.  It could even be argued that overly cushioned shoes have allowed millions of runners to develop poor form, because the information necessary to notice biomechanical errors that can lead to common injuries are not interpreted correctly by sensory receptors in the feet and throughout the body.

Yet, the main goal of shoe manufacturers should be to develop and sell shoes that encourage health and reduce the chance of injuries, but these aren’t the goals for most companies.  For every pair of Vivo Barefoot, Merrell Barefoot, Altra, Skora or VFF shoes that are sold, probably one thousand “comfortable” shoes by the big brands make their way onto the feet of runners.

The Hoka is a "maximalist" running shoe.

But as the evidence supporting, er, non-supportive shoes with less cushioning rapidly accumulates, forcing even most mainstream companies to offer more minimal (or less maximal) models, one company boldly stand defiant and doubles down: Hoka.  This French company, named after the Maori words:  “Now is the time to fly”, recognizes that they are moving against the grain.  On their website they write:

While much of the early focus of this new era of shoe design has been around minimalism and less cushioning, Hoka One One has pursued innovation in an entirely different direction.
and…

Hoka One One’s maximally cushioned midsoles offer superior protection, comfort and propulsion. The distinctive rockered geometry creates a platform for optimally efficient natural running mechanics. The oversized outsoles — which have fifty percent more surface area than the typical running shoes — allow for maximum stability, traction and connection to the ground.

Call me a skeptic but I tend to question Hoka’s claim that their shoes “allow your feet to move freely and naturally.” They also state that:

The foam in the midsoles of Hoka shoes is 30 percent softer than the material used in traditional running shoes, and there is 2.5 times more midsole volume than in most running shoes. The extra cushioning dissipates up to 80 percent of the shock associated with heel-striking when running and allows for as much as 20mm of compression in the heel.

These numbers strike me as a bit off. Their typical shoe has a stack height of 35mm in the heel and 29mm in the forefoot.  If you’ve seen or tried on a pair, those figures appear to be equivalent to approximately 18” in the rear and 16” in the front.  Hokas are very big shoes, although relatively light.

Hoka's new Stinson Evo Tarmac for the road.

I did try on a pair of Hokas at the Boulder Running Company last year, but only because I needed a couple inches of growth in order to experience the feeling of being 6’ in height.  The shoes certainly did not make me want to compare them to a Porsche 911, which Hoka does on their website, but I was able to do the “Moon Walk”, almost as if I was a combination of Neil Armstrong and Michael Jackson.

The one group of runners that seems to rave about Hoka shoes are ultra marathoners.Specifically they note that they have less muscle fatigue, almost no negative sensation with the ground, and the ability to maintain form after the point where they would already be tired running in other shoes.  I believe these claims are partially true, but are dependent upon the nature of ultra marathons themselves.  For example, it is unlikely that ultra marathons are actually physically beneficial for any runners, elite or (sometimes) pedestrian, because the combination of the distances run and the time on the feet is actually beyond the natural capacity of humans.

Over the course of many hours it is certainly possible that a shoe with an extremely forgiving midsole will, at a certain point, reduce the negative effects of impact, but the distance covered is already too far.  After running for many miles a runner wearing the Hoka might be able to maintain form, but the manufacturers actually assume that humans run naturally by contacting the heel first. Only the softest “pillows” will prevent heel pain from impact in the 50-100 miles range!

The components of the Hoka midsoles touch on another problem associated with modern cushioned shoes:  EVA, or ethyl vinyl acetate.  This substance truly has many positive qualities, including light weight, softness, flexibility, and resistance to low temperatures, but used in the midsoles of running shoes it does not transmit information well from the surface to the sole of the foot.  EVA also deforms dramatically over time, and since the pressure is not uniform, neither is deformation.  The softness of the material is actually a liability, not an advantage.  Incidentally, other names for EVA are “expanded rubber” and “foam rubber”.

Running should be enjoyable, but it should be experienced as fully as possible.  Most companies want to make running seem easy and comfortable, so they provide customers with cushioned and stable shoes to create a sense of comfort and security, but these advantages are illusory.  Despite the research and development that has been invested in improving running shoes, the original design of the modern PCECH (pronation control elevated cushioned heel) shoe is inherently flawed.  It’s as if you developed a car with square wheels and tried to improve shock absorption by making better shock absorbers.

Although a transition to minimal shoes requires some time, these shoes will actually provide more comfort, because the foot will be able to receive more sensory information while being protected from sharp objects, rough surfaces, and extreme weather conditions.  The flexibility of minimal shoes will allow the foot to move without restriction and become stronger and more balanced by developing internal stability.  The zero-drop from heel to toe will place the body in its natural and optimal anatomical position.  Other essential characteristics of good running shoes include:  ample room in the toebox, few overlays, lightweight material, and no added stability. These should be the characteristics of “comfortable shoes”.

The only time you should need pillows is when you are sleeping. Not running.

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67 Responses to “Comfort Question: Should We be Running on Pillows Like the Hoka One One?”

  1. Greg says:

    The answer to your question “Should we be running on pillows like the Hoka One One” is like many in running. It depends on the individual.

    I’ve been running 30 years now and have tried every running product imaginable. The Hoka product is something truly different and unique. This makes the product interesting, as most “new” stuff is merely a variation of something already done.

    I tried the Hokas beginning in May of 2012. I’ve got over 500 miles on 3 pairs. The original reason I purchased the first pair was the stories I had read about on the internet of good results with achilles tendon and foot pain. My achilles problem had gotten to the point of becoming debilitating, and it was getting to the point of thinking about taking my last step as a runner and find something else to do. For an activity which someone is passionate about, this is a tough thing to do.

    The weird thing is that Hokas having a super-soft midsole, you would think this would be a very bad thing for the achilles. My former shoe of choice was the Mizuno precision, which has a relatively elevated and firm heel. Also I had tried custom orthotics (which helped tremendously for a few years) and also Superfeet style over-the-counter orthotics. 99% of the trouble was isolated to my right side, with the left side running in the stock shoe just fine.

    I have been through a period (about a couple of years) of running in very minimal racing flats with moderate success. This was long before the current minimal shoe boom we are in right now. The problem was might feet would get horribly beat up to the point where walking was very uncomfortable. Also lots of hot spots, neuromas, odd pains etc. Never did get anything like a stress fracture though.

    After the prolonged period of experimenting with minimalism and dealing with excessive foot pain, I went back to more conventional style shoes. There was a series of New Balance shoes I had good success in. These were relatively simple shoes. The last one in the series was the 833, and after that I was mostly in Mizuno.

    Finally the left side achilles got bad, and running started happening more in bursts, with long rest periods and then slow build-ups and then backing off when the pain flared. An experiment with Nike Frees ended in disaster when both achilles got painful while training for a marathon. I was wiped out for months.

    Switching to the Hokas has saved my running! I’ll try to explain how…

    The Hokas do have a totally different ride and you will have to slowly work into them (same approach as advocated for minimal shoes). They feel like they have elements of both stability and instability. At first footstrike, they are unstable. Then the foam compresses and becomes very supportive. You need to focus on a footstrike towards the forefoot. You can accomplish this with this shoe design because the cushioning up front is so massive. This is a forefoot striker’s dream shoe, and it’s probably better suited to adapting to forefoot striking than the typical minimal shoe!!! This adaptation will require conscious effort and diligence. I believe my form is better than ever after several hundred miles in these shoes.

    And for the achilles problem…even though I have worked up to more mileage than in recent years, my symptoms have been greatly reduced. This is in spite of hill training and speedwork. I attribute this to the massive forefoot cushioning, which has allowed more of a forefoot strike. This is decreasing the stress on the Achilles in some way or another. Totally counter-intuitive to conventional Achilles wisdom!

    Another interesting result of the Hokas is the jettisoning of orthotics. I wore them for many years in conventional trainers with reasonably good result. As I mentioned before, the shoes dynamically have elements of both instability and stability. At midfoot stance it’s kind of like your foot is swallowed up by the shoe and it feels very firm and solid. They seem to eliminate the requirement for any sort of orthotic. Also kind of helps with the blow of the outrageous price they ask for these shoes!

    I’ve got the same result other report with regards to feeling “beaten up” after long runs or speed work. Wearing Hokas, that “beat up” feeling is minimalized. I assume it has to do with both the cushioning, and the better form mandated by the initial contact softness of these shoes.

    Perhaps cushioning has both its good and bad points. You certainly wouldn’t want to drive a car without shock absorbers! “Ground feel” is gone with the Hokas, but in my book that is a good thing. My feet don’t get beaten to shreds, and I can do more running.

    That’s the story from an experiment of one. For me, this shoe brand will enable me to run for many more years than would have been possible with either conventional or minimal running shoes.

    • MarkC says:

      Thanks Greg,

      Agree that if the runner feels good and is applying good form principles then all is good. mix it up to use diffent muscles and stabilizers. This is why training tools like the bosu ball are effective in the menu, as is trail running on uneven and unstable surfaces. if i were in the later stages of an ultra on a trail and trying to get down a mountain they would be a great option. likely not the best for the climb, at least for me. if one were to run Pikes Peak you might consider stashing these at the top so after 7000 ft of climbing you could descend the rocks with protection.

      i also see a role for these for older runners who have some foot and lower extremity arthritis. make the goal to land really soft and quick light short strides.

      So runners be the n of 1 and try new things. these only have 4 mm heel elvation. i tried them on in Austin at Running Event….a nice ride.

      Mark

      • Mark -

        I couldn’t agree more with this last caveat. My experience has been a consistent mid foot strike in these shoes, but I also train across a broad spectrum of stack heights (although try to keep drop in the 0-4mm range). I find the combination of cushioning on long runs and proprioception in more minimal shoes on shorter/daily runs gives my legs/feet the variability I need to maintain and even build good form.

        And yes, I was the guy who stashed a paid of Hoka One One Mufates at the top of Pike’s Peak during the marathon last year. I ran up in the (comparatively) minimal New Balance MT110s, and then pushed back down with significantly more protection!

        It is interesting to me that most folks who dismiss HOKAs really haven’t spent any time in them. The reality is that while they allow a heel strike, they really don’t promote it. Try thinking about it as a tool in the tool box, but continue discouraging people to use the same tool for every project!

        Best -

        Nathan

  2. Cody R. says:

    no, heck, even pillows aren’t necessary when sleeping

    anyway, i’m a FIRM believer in the minimalist cause, you can’t convince me otherwise
    going against nature is just stupid

    our bodies were not designed to run with these things, i’ve seen people run with these and man do they look bad, in that zombie runner state since they can’t feel anything

    not that i’m trying to look down on anyone, cause i’m not

    i mean, maybe there’s some ways that these are okay, once you’ve got arthritis in your feet or something, you’ve screwed yourself too far, i normally believe you can fix yourself, some conditions however, can’t be fixed by going barefoot, well, at least it’s not consistent, some people claim barefoot running helps their arthritis, others it doesn’t so since i’m no scientist or doctor, i can’t say for sure

    but i do know, humans aren’t MEANT to run with those and i think it’s more obvious than people think

    • Mike says:

      To each his own ways but humans were also not born with clothes or immunity to small pox and a host of other diseases. Does this mean we should never get vaccinated? How about not wearing prescription glasses to see properly? There really isn’t a “right” way to run. Only the way that works for you.

    • Randy says:

      Our bodies also were not designed to run on concrete. Running on grass fields is one thing, running 20 or more miles on concrete is another. The Hokas were designed for long runs on surfaces we encounter in the modern world, not the one we evolved from thousands of years ago. Also, different foot structure leads to different dynamics and different results running minimally, practiced in it or not. I’d feel better about your review if you weren’t so obviously dogmatic and close-minded. “I did try on a pair of Hokas” is not the same as testing them on the road, running 100s of miles in them, which you’re obviously not willing to do. As the saying goes, “before you criticize someone, try running a mile in their shoes.” With running shoe reviews, this is even more true.

      • Harry in Hokas and other shoes too says:

        That is a GOOD reply!!!

      • SoHappyWithHokas says:

        My podiatrist says he just “loves” barefoot runners and minimalist shoes as they keep him and all his pod. doc. friends busy and in business. Hokas are the best shoes I’ve put on my feet in 35yrs of running and triathlon racing. Will never wear another shoe

    • yourenothuman says:

      Humans arent meant to run on pavement, live past 40, walk upright, grow crops, have modern medicine, drive cars, have indoor plumbing, electricity, any technology/science, live in houses or eat meat at high calories foods either. You don’t live like a human is meant to live. Live in a cave with no light or heat.

  3. ken michal says:

    I have to say, I LOVE my Hokas!! Sure you don’t feel the trail as much initially but after working with them awhile, you learn it! I know when I step on small rocks… The advantage is that my feet aren’t fatigued later in the run!

    For a 200 miler I ran in May, I brought a couple different brands and models of shoe so I could work/rest different muscle groups along the way. I never switched shoes! The Hokas were comfortable (well as comfortable as 200 miles can be!) the entire time!! This year, I won’t even bother bringing a different brand!

    I’ll also be wearing Hokas for the super technical HURT 100 next week!! I won’t have any trouble feeling the trail (I run mostly by feel…) and I’m sure my legs will thank me with ~25,000′ of descent!!! Really, good form is key! I can pretty much guarantee that if I wore more minimal shoes (heck even something like Montrail’s Mountain Masochist), I would fatigue a lot sooner and my form would suffer WAY earlier in the run! Running with compromised form would cause way more trouble than any extra cushioning!! I intend to be running strong after the 20 hour mark and I promise that I won’t be passed by anyone wearing flats/minimal!!! ;)

    If I can easily run with better form for a longer time in Hokas, then can minimal shoes really be better for me, even on shorter runs? Sure, they help strengthen my feet. Lifting weights helps me strengthen muscles too… But you won’t see me carrying dumbells on race day!

    All Day!
    ~Ken

  4. Teresa Smith says:

    “Ultra distances aren’t good for anyone.” Really? I love that people are challenging their bodies in ways that is not typical in modern times. Think about our ancestors — how did we get around? A lot of footwork. In this day of convenience, it’s good that a few people aren’t taking the “easy” life with their butts firmly planted on a couch. Get outside and explore it! Whether it’s by hiking, biking, kayaking, running, there are plenty of miles to cover.
    I have 2 pair of Hoka’s and love them. They are worth every penny and then some. I don’t like to feel every rock or the asphalt with minimalist. My body needs cushioning to remain injury free.

  5. So Cody thinks I am stupid and Jim says I am able to exceed natural human capacity? Excellent! This is what I know…

    For years I ran in traditional shoes and for years I suffered from nagging Achilles pain. Two years ago I worked on my form and mechanics, shortening my stride, quickening my cadence and changing to a midfoot strike. About 18 months ago I began a very methodical and considerate transition to more minimalist shoes (Brooks Pure Project and Saucony Kinvara models). They felt fine. To be honest I rather liked them. I ended up with a stress fracture in my foot. That was a first. And that’s a check mark in the bad column.

    This past Summer I picked up a pair of Hokas while I worked on building my base back up. After laying down some big mileage the last four months in training for Rocky Raccoon my feet have never felt better during and after hard runs. That’s a check in the good column.

    I was skeptic at first. I saw what Hokas allowed a couple of buddies to do in terms of their running and decided to give them a shot. I now know firsthand the benefits that Hokas provide me. I am now a believer. For me, the proof is in the pudding.

    • Cody R. says:

      ‘scuse me?

      where did i say you were stupid?
      My first comment was not directly at anyone, how can i explain this…

      i’m just not necessarily for things like this to be used majority of the time, if you don’t use these all TOO much then i guess it’s alright, not natural, but alright
      not to mention fractures happen, just saying

      and how much is “human capacity”
      i’ve ready many stories about our ancestors that ran for long distances quite often barefoot

  6. bill says:

    Xero Shoes are bio mechanically identical to running in your bare feet. In my humble opinion there is only one true way to run. Barefoot.How can you improve on the design that has worked for millions of years? The foot is an amazing thing. Let it do what it already knows how to do. That knowledge already exists in every single person. All you have to do is listen.

    • Mads_o says:

      This has worked for thousands of years, yes. But only for 25-30 years per person. They they’d be worn out and die.

      I’m hoping to be running past 40, 50 and maybe even 60.

      Minimalist running is based on a concept, an idea. There are even people her advocating changing over to Hoka’s when you get injured – maybe super cushioned shoes would stop you from getting hurt in the first place?

  7. Jeff says:

    Lots of Hoka fans coming out, I am the opposite, cushioned shoes, even minimal ones, were giving me terrible knee (after they broke down) and plantar fasciitis issues. I kept going more and more cushioned and it only got worse.

    I read about “barefoot” running and did like most first timers and got five fingers, which worked well for shorter runs but eventually gave them up for running barefoot which was more comfortable to my toes being stuck in pockets. Eventually a slew of minimal shoes have come out and after trying a few I found Zemgear’s give me the best barefoot feel whole letting me do 50 mile weeks without issue. All that aches and pains have gone away. I can go out and run a marathon and not even have recovery because the muscles and tendons of my feet and muscles are already adapted.

    I have never done an ultra and only do mountainous trail running occasionally so maybe for rugged conditions and steep downhills I can see the benefit of these. But I would suspect a runner doing their daily training in a minimal shoe and using these for race day might be better off than one using these 100% of the time.

    My general feeling is that we are born barefoot so we are bio-mechanically designed to be barefoot, we are just conditioned in modern society to avoid it.

    • Cody R. says:

      ^exactly my feelings, not here to talk trash, just in that last sentence, that’s what i believe, that’s all

    • thewind says:

      LOL…..you guys are funny, I have been running in homemade deerskin moccasins, so I think I know a little about no padding, did 28 miles of 1/2 road 1/2 trails, bloodied my toes alittle, but I LOVE my moccasins!

      However, just before I read Born to Run I decided to buy some KSO fivefingers, I was soooooooooooo excited, didn’t last long…..they are great for 1 mile trail sprints, but thats about it, they HURT me, now I have a bulge on my tendon from them, no doubt from them!

      So now I can’t run in my homemade deerskin without worrying that I will break said tendon..

      I have ordered some Hoka O’ne O’ne Mafate “pillows” as the top comment suggests, it can FIX Achilles Tendonitis…..I am excited, since my daughter just joined cross country for the first time.

      I want to run with her…..just the fact that these shoes have a Maori name “Fly over the earth” not “time to fly”….that is good enough for me……..I will test them when they come, I will be back to let you all know.

      You people who think barefoot is all that…..sure it is awesome to connect to Mother Earth, no doubt…….but……pillows sound good about now, can’t wait to test out my “Full Suspension” Mafate 2s………yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeha!!

  8. Dave says:

    I bought a pair of Nike Free after running in VFF’s for three years. They feel like pillows. Can’t imagine running in the Hokas though.

  9. Howie says:

    I wouldn’t normally have considered using Hokas. However, these shoes may facilitate a quicker return to running after recovering from a pilon fracture and ORIF surgery on my right ankle. With time I hope to return to my Merrell Road Gloves, but I’ll be sure to have a quiver of shoes for mixing up the stresses on the body while running.

  10. Jerome says:

    Hello,

    I picked up a pair of Mafate 2s and out of the box I was not a fan…but after a couple of runs my legs were loving them! It has gotten to the point where I can double with out pain and increase my miles on my easier days with out beating up my legs as much. I use them the day after mile repeats or tempo run days or even double days and I have increased my mileage from 50 to 70 without feeling like I’m killing myself…I honestly feel like I’m cheating! My recovery process is sped up with this shoe and I can’t wait to experience the rest of the line!

    Bring on the revolution!

    • MarkC says:

      Jerome,

      you must love these as i see your email address now has the work Hoka in it :)

      thanks for sharing your experience. whether it is barefoot running, minimalist, or hokas….just try it, but again the form and springy turnover with softer landings is the magic.

      Mark

      • Jerome says:

        Mark,

        Thanks for the response! I am a new tech rep with Hoka and I will admit I was quite the skeptic. After my 20 miler yesterday I am as sold as it gets. They aren’t pretty but my 20 miler yesterday was 27 minutes faster than my last!

        I have learned a wealth of information on your site and read it every day!

        Thanks again!

        Jerome

    • Greg says:

      It is a revolution, perhaps a bit more like pioneering. Going where most dismiss or don’t understand.

      I finished my first half marathon in Hoka Tarmacs yesterday. 1:27:44 not bad for a a 50 year old and 2nd place age group in a national class race. That’s a minute 45 seconds faster than last year when the conditions were ideal. Last year it was conventional training shoes and orthotics, and significant down time after the race to let the achilles settle down and recover.

      I’m walking around the house today and I can honestly say I have never recovered better after a hard effort. My feet feel fine, 100%!
      I’m totally sold on these shoes and I’m going to start recommending them to my friends who have foot problems. Not that it will help all of them, but certainly some of them. Amazing product!

  11. Jens says:

    At the running store, it is hard to get people to try Hokas because they are so ugly. However, the majority of those who try them also buy them then. And they are coming back, people love them! Not only that, they come back and bring their spouses, family and friends to buy them.
    Personally, I am partial to them! For me, it is too much cushioning but I like the low drop and apparently people seem to run better in them. I like to give them to people who may benefit from better running form but are not willing to work on it.

  12. Chris C. says:

    Although I normally run in my NB MT101s (which are great), I own a pair of Hokas and love them. My legs feel better and seem to recover faster after longer distance runs (15-20 miles) in the Hokas than in any other shoe I have tried. However, there is a power-transfer loss that no one seems to be discussing. Maybe it is insignificant, but I don’t think so. Think of running in sand; it feel great but is not good for speed. Or maybe a better example is riding a mountain bike with the shock absorbers turned on. Anyone who rides mountain bikes understands this is great for descents, but terrible for ascents. If you turn the absorbers off during an ascent, you can feel the difference instantly as the power generated by your legs is transferred to the wheels rather than to the absorbers. I would think the same principle would apply to shoes with built-in shock absorbers (that can’t be turned on and off): where shock is being absorbed, power is being absorbed.

    My question: how can we determine HOW MUCH power is being lost when running in shoes like the Hokas? If we have that information, we might be able to more accurately determine whether the obvious comfort benefit is worth the cost in power.

  13. Greg says:

    I think it’s a significantly different situation with running versus biking. Running is a very inefficient means of forward locomotion compared to cycling. There’s a big energy loss every time your foot hits the ground. As your foot hits the ground the kinetic energy in your foot and leg has to be dissipated somewhere. The energy gets converted to heat in your muscles (and tendons), and some more heat gets generated when the shoe midsole compresses, and maybe even a little bit gets transferred to the ground.

    Think of it this way. How fast would a runner have to go to run a marathon in 2 hours? 26.2 miles/ 2 hours or 13.1 mph. That’s a trivial pace on a bike. So an out of shape person on a $50 Walmart bike could easily defeat a marathon runner who is faster than the fastest in the world. Those runners are generating lots of heat!

    A runner’s ability to dissipate heat is critical and the fastest distance runners in the world are the ones who can get rid of heat the best.

    The point is the “power transfer loss” is quite large and is a necessary and inherent in two-legged locomotion. The weight of the shoes definitely affect efficiency, however, it’s not clear that shoe’s shock absorbing capacity would have any impact.

    If the shoes are properly designed and well-matched to the runner, it could be that the shoes can augment the shock-absorbing capacity of the runner’s muscles. If the shoes take some of the burden of shock absorbing away from the muscles, then the overall power loss would be the same as without shock absorption in the shoes.

    It would be an interesting experiment to conduct, as it might yield surprising results…

  14. Gene says:

    Wow, this is quite a discussion! From my perspective, being an ultrarunner in my mid-fifties, Hokas are amazing. I’m a mid-foot striker, and I’ve been experiencing pain and swelling in my metatarsal heads, especially when running on pavement. The Hokas got rid of that. I’m acquainted with a well-known “elite” ultrarunner, my age, who has developed arthritis in his toes, and Hokas have helped him continue his running with less pain. (I loved the comment above, that arthritis sufferers have “screwed [themselves] too far” and that he believed they can fix themselves…probably a guy 20-30 years younger than me who has been blessed with excellent biomechanics and nary a bit of arthritis.)

    The condescending opinions (yes, they ARE condescending) of a few of the minimalists on this topic fails to recognize that even though humans evolved sans shoes, not all of us humans are equally biomechanically blessed. Some of us need help. And our barefooted caveman ancestors rarely survived to my age. Being able to run ultra distances at my age is a blessing, and I could never do it with minimalist shoes.

    If one is plagued by injury despite his or her best efforts to improve running form, and cushioned shoes help keep one running (rather than sitting on the couch recovering from injuries), then what’s the harm? Strap on the Hokas and just run!

  15. Greg says:

    http://www.slowtwitch.com/Products/Running_Footwear_by_brand/Hoka_One_One/What_Hoka_Means_3376.html

    Here’s an article with some interesting comments. I really like the comment on what the author thinks the shoe companies should be doing with their shoe designs:

    “I don’t mind having cushion in the heel. What I mind is not having it in the forefoot. My request to Asics and Brooks is, go ahead and leave the heels as they are. Just build up the forefoot. Then, if you’re so certain we all need those big heels, fine, anybody who needs that heel has it. But, those who want forefoot cushion are also rewarded.”

    That’s a great way to state the problem. This is a category of shoe which would be helpful to many. Low drop, but very well cushioned.

    His comments about the Hoka being a simple shoe design are well stated. They are very simple– no unusual gadgetry built into them.

    The author may be overstating the importance of this shoe, however, it will be quite interesting to see where it goes.

  16. Derek says:

    Great debate, here. I am a minimalist runner, i love my vivobarefoot breathos. Never had any injuries since I adopted Dr Phil Maffetone’s methods last year, minimalist works for me. However, Dr Phil was a pioneer in his time (still is), the same can be said for the Hoka brand. I always have room for new ideas and I would not be arrogant to say Hokas are wrong for everyone . Whatever works for you is fine by me, I will watch with interest to see how the Hoka and minimalist brands develop, I have a hunch in ten years they will meet in the middle somnewhere. I notice the Merrel Glove Ascend in a key step towards this possible scenario.

  17. David says:

    The author, Jim Hixson, has clearly never run an ultramarathon. It’s amusing when people start making assumptions about how the body will react to an ultra, and how cushioned shoes won’t make a difference — when they’ve never done it themselves. Run an ultra WITHOUT Hokas, then run one WITH Hokas, and all hypothesis, guesses and smug know-it-all statements go out the window. Running on “pillows” for 50-100 miles is VASTLY easier on the body. Proper form helps immensely, but after 10 – 20 hours on your feet, it’s the cumulative IMPACT that kills you. Run on something soft, and your joints, muscles and tendons are absorbing less impact. End of story. It’s really not that complicated.

  18. BTY says:

    I would like to hear the opinions of podiatrists on this important subject. My guess is over the last few years they have been seeing a greater number of injuries due to minimalist shoes. My belief is, and has always been,based on personal experience, that cushioning is best. I will qualify this by saying the right kind of cushioning is best. Hopefully there will be some good studies on this subject and manufacturers will make the best kinds of shoes for enjoyable and safe running.

  19. Robert Sklenar says:

    This article, simply put, is asinine. It is chock full of opinions presented as fact, that are not supported by research, history, or even anecdotal evidence. Utterly ridiculous statements like “For example, it is unlikely that ultra marathons are actually physically beneficial for any runners, elite or (sometimes) pedestrian, because the combination of the distances run and the time on the feet is actually beyond the natural capacity of humans.” How are you defining “the natural capacity of humans”? Since thousands of people complete ultra marathons each year it is clearly well within the natural capacity of humans. Of course if you believe ultras are ridiculous I can’t see how you would support a piece of gear designed for that purpose. Additionally one might actually race that distance for the challenge and rush, being “physically beneficial” may not need to be a criteria. People do things everyday for joy that are not “physically beneficial.” Running is running…there are plenty of variants and different ways to do it. I like to race and I like to race long. I don’t believe that people who don’t race, run only for health benefits or run races of 1 mile or less are wrong or destroying my experience. There are 100s, probably 1000s of shoes on the market because people aren’t all the same. Run barefoot, run minimal, run traditional or in a Hoka, who cares if it works for you? I run in dozens of shoes from zero drop flats, to 8mm trainers, to 4mm Hokas. I’ve never had a significant injury. Finally if you want to call the massive running community idiots just go ahead and do it. But in your example about Mizuno only one thing is true…they made a product that runners didn’t buy, so they started making one people wanted to buy. Blame it on all the other shoe companies and their marketing but the facts still remain, runners didn’t buy the shoes. My guess is because they didn’t care for the feel and the ride. That’s what nearly every runner I know bases their shoe choice on.

    • MarkC says:

      Thanks Robert for replying…this piece and the comments has added great insight for our readers. Why we run is different for everyone I agree. mix the footwear up w barefoot too on various terrains and speeds….I think is the best plan. Mark

  20. kevin says:

    Hokas! I am a true believer in these shoes! Love them! I did the minimalist and with naturally flat feet my legs took a beating.

    • Jim Hixson says:

      Response to “Hokas! I am a true believer in these shoes! Love them! I did the minimalist and with naturally flat feet my legs took a beating.”

      If you have a big Mercedes with the best shock absorbers known to man, you will think you’re a good driver even if you run over road debris. I can understand the need to become accustomed to running in thinner and less structured shoes, but I can’t understand purposely eliminating necessary sensory information.

      • John G. says:

        Because some of that sensory information can be injurious, particularly on trails or over ultra distances. The fact is, you wouldn’t take that mercedes on a jeep trail, nor would you take a trail jeep on the highway. They are specialized to make a particular type of driving possible. Same with the Hokas. Not for 5K. Probably not even for 10K. But they do have a purpose, even if you “can’t understand”.

        • Bob says:

          But more and more people are using them for shorter races like 5ks. On another blog, someone wrote that they love Hokas for 5ks, because their recovery time is shorter. Who needs to recover from a 5k? That should be a clue that perhaps their form needs some work.

  21. Matthew says:

    I got my Hoka one one’s in the mail yesterday and after spending months researching and reading blogs and comments I was pumped about these. I read this article before going to bed last night and snickered at the suggestion that these shoes were anything but miraculous as I’d read time and time again on the net. See over the years I’ve had many difficulties running and the culprits have always been my knees. As I learnt more about running and heard about barefoot running and the trend of following ones natural mechanics, I tried various shoes and techniques settling on a simple pair of Merrell’s. To my surprize, running with correct form in these shoes seemed to alleviate all past problems. But for some reason I kept searching for something more–perhaps because I felt like my feet were striking the pavement a little hard with Merrell’s extremely thin soles. So I went ahead and forked out over $200 (with shipping) for my Hoka’s. But I’m sad to report that after 500m or so on this morning’s run, my knees haven’t felt as bad since the days when I was a pure heel striker. And the pain wasn’t just limited to one knee as it usually is, it was both of them, and it was immediate. I’m forced to concede you may indeed have a point in your article. These shoes aren’t for me. Anyone want to buy a pair of Hoka’s 8,5 mens? Let me know.

  22. Patrick says:

    Should We be Running on Pillows Like the Hoka One One?

    Runners need to explore the answer to that question based on their own goals and real world experience. The theories and ideologies contained in this article are not substitutes for actual experience and results.

    For me, as an ultra runner, the answer to the question is an unqualified yes when attempting distances over 50k.

  23. Candice says:

    It frustrates me that so many people and authors claim that barefoot running can be good for anyone, as long as there is proper transition time. The fact of the matter is my foot doctor (one of the best in the country who treats professional and college athletes) said that in addition to having functional hallux limitus (my big toe will not flex when it is weight-bearing), my foot bones are also so loose that every time my foot hits the ground, it is like a “bag of bones”. He said there is no amount of foot strengthening that can fix this as it is just the way my foot is designed. There are way too many barefoot/minimalist advocates out there who think one way should fit all and if one doesn’t go the minimalist route it is because they are lazy, don’t want to improve their form, or uneducated. when your bones and ligaments don’t work the way they should, all you can do is try to protect them and get shoes (plus custom orthotics as needed) that help your foot do what it should to protect the rest of your body – legs, hips, back, etc.

    • Bob says:

      Should someone who truly has a foot like a “bag of bones” really be running? I doubt you are really as messed up as you sound, but if you are, maybe try swimming.

      • MarkC says:

        Getting out and moving helps your health, so whatever you put on your feet to allow you to do it comfortable is a good thing.

        Mark

      • Rod says:

        How can you say that? Running should be done by anyone who has the desire too. How awesome that Candice with her foot like a bag of bones can go out and run because of a company like Hoka!

        I’m firmly planted in the camp of do what is right for you and don’t bash or tell another person what they should or shouldn’t do.

        Run in minimalist or maximalist or barefoot or whatever keeps you running. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to get out doors and run.

  24. Jim Hixson says:

    I’m not so sure all advocates of minimal shoe think exactly the same, nor do I think that all supporters of wearing minimal shoes insist that the goal of all runners should be to make a subsequent transition to running barefoot. The goal of both groups of runners is to reach a point where a runner can move naturally, that is to say, without restriction, so that proper form occurs. Proper form, in turn, is likely to reduce injuries, increase efficiency, and improve performance. And yes, there is a correct way to run, just as their is a correct way to swim, throw a javelin, or do a back flip.

    Despite the exceptions, most people can make the transition to minimal shoes over a period of time. If someone tries to make the transition too quickly, they weren’t listening closely or didn’t see the warning in bold print. The dangers of running incorrectly, which is inevitable in traditional shoes, is greater than the time and effort it takes to learn how to run well.

  25. Jim Hixson says:

    I’m not so sure all advocates of minimal shoe think exactly the same, nor do I think that all supporters of wearing minimal shoes insist that the goal of all runners should be to make a subsequent transition to running barefoot. The goal of both groups of runners is to reach a point where a runner can move naturally, that is to say, without restriction, so that proper form occurs. Proper form, in turn, is likely to reduce injuries, increase efficiency, and improve performance. And yes, there is a correct way to run, just as there is a correct way to swim, throw a javelin, or do a back flip.

    Despite the exceptions, most people can make the transition to minimal shoes over a period of time. If someone tries to make the transition too quickly, they weren’t listening closely or didn’t see the warning in bold print. The dangers of running incorrectly, which is inevitable in traditional shoes, is greater than the time and effort it takes to learn how to run well.

  26. Jim Hixson says:

    Thanks for the April 1 reply, which I found to be quite amusing. Although I failed to find any of your statements supported by research, it was clear from your opinions that your views are strongly held.

    I don’t think most runners know what they’re supposed to look for in a shoe, but judging from some of the shoes that are worn they often wear what they are told to wear or think they should wear. Surely you won’t extoll the “feel and the ride” of the Brooks Beast or the New Balance 993.

    Highly technically designed shoes prevent the body from receiving information that indicates something is not run. Since the feet are so sensitive they can serve as an early warning system for the joints further up the chain of movement. Hokas are marketed on the presumption that this information is unimportant and bothersome.

    I don’t remember stating that ultra races were “ridiculous”. Wait a second while I check the document…No, I didn’t find the word at all. Of course some people see words when there are none while others are just so defensive that their comprehension is affected.

  27. I’m mainly running in minimal shoes, but I find the Hokas have a place in my shoe rotation. For the longer (20+ miles) run, with gnarly downhills, I think my ankles get a bit of a break. I am giving them my miles, and we shall see…

  28. Jeff says:

    I like to walk my dog in zero drop merrell’s about 15-20 miles per week. For flatter runs I like the pure grit but for front range CO trails with real vert gain and huge rocks, the hokas are just better on the way down (I weight 175, tall dude).

    That said – I think the zero drop barefoot shoes have strenghtened my feet, though I have no intention of running them. The pure grits feel much more comfortable now and the hokas are downright silly, but there’s nothing else that shields you from impact.

    I changed my foot strike from heel to midfoot about 1.5 years ago, beginning with newtons. Only NOW do I really feel comfortable running a flat course with this new form, it takes a long time to get really comfy in a new style.

    Don’t rush, try things, see if they work, strengthen your feet.

    Jeff

  29. James Wurtz says:

    I first tried Hokas in January of 2013. I am a heavy runner (215lbs) and could never seem to put back to back long runs together because I was so fatigued the next day, needless to say my running had plateaued. i visited my local running store and explained to the salesperson that I was not interested in structured shoes of any type that form was not my issue ( nonsupination of pronation) for me it was about the pounding my body was taking and I wanted maximum cushioning regardless ofmhowmlong the shoe lasted. He immediately offered to show me the Hokas with the caveat that the were a bit different looking.

    The first run in my hokas I shaved 25 seconds per mile off my times. I thought it was just the effects of a new pair of shoes. Now after 1100 miles and a consistent 9:00 pace with no injuries I AM SOLD. I look forward to running now. Until something better comes along Hokas are it!,!!!,

  30. I personally believe we should be using orthopedic insoles regardless of the shoe. I’m not sure softness is too good for long distances but each one should choose according to there experiance

  31. Robert says:

    Born to run is a joke. We were not born to run on asphalt and concrete so anyone who thinks minimal is really better, wrong again. Maybe for shorter races and speed sessions but not on a daily basis. I have seen the results of the minimal movement and it isn’t pretty. Runners are already figuring out what I always knew. Pavement is dang hard and our bodies were not made to support that kind of shock.

    My 2 cents

  32. Kyle says:

    I shook my head after reading this post. The authors validity as a runner was compromised when he bashed ultra running. New flash buddy. They used to think you would die if you ran a3 minute mile. All he does is bash these shoes. BTW humans weren’t naturally made to even wear shoes or clothing or use tooth brushes so instead of trying to make your point, go and live your life the way you view running. Good luck

  33. Jack says:

    …Anecdotal Testimony after SuperFrog Half Tri SD CA, 2013:

    I LOVED THEM, as in past tense. They train great on treadmill or short run BUT GUESS WHAT!!!???!!! THEY RUN HOT ON BOTH THE SOULS AND THE UPPERS! Yes I like snug laces but no other shoe had this MAJOR issue during a race. I had to STOP and air out my foot and loosen the laces, …and they STILL ran HOt! I wanted to love them, BUT NO!NOt to mention my phacaeitis acted up immediately inpsite of the so called cushioning… Maybe BECUASE of it right?! TEST RIDE THEM ON A 10 Miler somehow before buying! NICE TRY HOKA, DISMISSED!

  34. billy says:

    I’m a podiatrist.

    I own hoka stinson evo myself.

    They are good shoes for the right person. You need good hip strength and a stable ankle.
    Due to the amount of midsole compression the foot has the ability to pronate further than normal which can be pathological, especially at the knee. The knee only likes to move in one direction.

    pronation can flare plantar fascia, achilles, and tibialis posterior tendon pain.
    So best to be assessed by your podiatrist before buying new shoes

    Have a nice day,

    Billy

    • yourenothuman says:

      It will cost $100-200 to be assessed by your podiatrist. He’ll say its a matter of personal preference or say don’t run period.

  35. Billy Dean says:

    Like most blogs, I got more information from the replies than from the article itself. And like most debates, this one got a bit polarized into mutually exclusive positions. The pros and cons were based mostly on anecdotal evidence, of course, but I prefer personal experiences over scientific studies. The bottom line always seems to be the same: each of us is the CEO of our own Trail & Error Enterprise ~ it’s an experiment of one. But it’s pretty easy to fool ourselves, so what other people say they have discovered, anecdotally or scientifically, can keep us from getting too far off our own path.

    My paths are mostly on trails, and despite being a minimalist, mid-foot landing runner, I tend to land heel first going downhill because it minimizes the impact. If I’m crossing a stream, I tend to land toe-first to use the rocks as stepping stones. Despite the positive remarks about the Hoka, I’m pretty sure they would not be “right” for me. Words are just handles to carry the idea of something from one person to the other, not the thing itself, but the idea I get is that with a pair of Hokas I would lose way too much “feel” and the wide sole would be far too stable for trail running. Anybody remember the LDV 1000s? Ugh!

    “Diversity is the breathe of life. We must not abandon it for any single form that happens to catch our fancy.” –Jay Bronowski

  36. Daniel says:

    I was running and playing soccer all my life in soccer shoes, on a hard asphalt surface. I never got injured or anything. I was running in shitty old, cheap shoes in last three years. I decide to buy a new one last year cause the other two fall apart :)

    All my life I never paid any attention in what I m running until I decide to buy new one last year. I start reading and according to google, new expensive running shoes are A MUST for every runner, otherwise your legs are f..ked websites were just screaming.
    So after all that I decide to buy new expensive ones(130$), of course specialized only for running. I thought I m gonna fly when I start running in them…and what happend next?

    After a month I got shin splints. Ok, I took a break I got healed and then slowly. Cause world runners said I did too much in too short time. Bullshit :) .
    I start again and no matter how much I did I got them again. Then I pretty much took break big time last summer and on the end I ve notice I lost all the signs of shin splints and started again. I ran for a month and then suddenly my knee start to feel weird. No pain, swallow or anything, just some irritation that I thought that something is going to break down.
    I read some books and web, this time other way. I visit doctor…and apparently there is nothing wrong with me, I m perfectly healty.

    From that day I said f…k running shoes and I went back to my soccer shoes again. No troubles at all except blisters cause they are too tight, so I can feel ball better when I play.
    I dont want VFF, I just want something with flat and super tiny sole so I can feel surface and most likely I ll give it a try to those that are close to barefoot running.

    Since I read some books, inform myself and question myself I belive that running shoes are the one of the biggest lies ever created. Made just to make money…

    At the end, no matter what I said yet what statistics said…since running shoes were created number of injuries connected to running did not decreased indeed, they increased ;)

  37. Jim says:

    It really annoys me when minimally biased folk push their thinly soled zero drop stuff on people and try to get everyone to think that cushion is unnatural. i have tried both and the extra protection of a well cushioned and supportive running shoe does me well. sure, try a minimal shoe out, but it is not for everyone. in fact it is probably as harmful to get everyone to go minimal as it would be for me to say everyone should run in a Hoka or Brooks Glycerin.

  38. austexinkrunnr says:

    Where I live trails are not much nicer on your feet than pavement. I’m coming back from an injury where I sprained in my brooks pure connect 2 while traversing a rocky creekbed. Took 3 months off. Now I’m increasing mileage a little more than one normally would, and find the hokas help me do this with a little more assurance on roads etc. I can switch between forefoot / midfoot strike and they don’t feel like I’m being restricted.

    I agree with above about modern gear for modern surfaces. If I have a glass free field of dirt or grass sure I’ll go barefoot.. I just don’t come across that very often

  39. Karl Kelman says:

    As others have experienced, the Hoka One One shoes can be faster on trail descents than most other shoes. There’s a comfort level with just turning it lose and letting your feet land on sharp rocks now rendered harmless by the pillow-like padding.

    Is it natural? No. But I’m not young, not thin, and still like to run fast. Look at still pics of Usain Bolt running and you’ll notice there are moments when no part of his body is within 2 feet of the ground. No matter how good your form is, there’s bound to be impact at speed. Plenty of impact, in the case of 207 lb. Usain Bolt. Padding dampens the impact.

    There’s a little bit of a learning curve to using the Hoka shoes – they’ll feel unstable at first, but I think most runners will adapt fairly quickly. In my experience, they aren’t always happiest when sideways on a steep hill – the width works against you in that circumstance.

  40. Our bodies were not designed to ride around in cars but you are not about to give up your car.Our eyes were not designed to spend hours glued to TV’s and computer screens but we are not about to give them up. It is a somewhat facile approach if you ask me and would involve us in giving up virtually every improvement that man has made.

  41. I am really thankful to the holder of this web
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  42. Sakari Uunila says:

    I just started running last year to keep company and motivate my granddaughter who is 12, has already done over 40 kids triathlons,won most of them, including Honolulu, ( 18 yr under), and swims open water, including (escape from Alcatraz). I have been and endurance skier and racer, but never a runner. I am 67. I am lucky to be in good shape and condition, but running right away caused issues with my lower legs, calves most and hamstrings, even though pretty careful with fluid intake, electrolytes etc. Changing shoes from solomons to sportivas helped a bit. Heard about the Hokas and bought a pair of Cliftons to try. The lower leg issues pretty well disappeared right away. Did some training and three 10km trail races without issues. Even managed to get my time down from 5.5 min/km down to 4.5 min/km. Hard to dismiss this kind of results and experience. I am sold on the concept and hope to stay injury free. cheers


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