Jason Bahamundi will go to his grave clutching his pair of Hoka One One running shoes. The finisher of five Ironman races and multiple ultramarathons swears by the big, cushy shoes—and he’s not alone. The brand saw sales increase 350 percent from 2013 to 2015 and most running shoemakers now have a maximalist offering. As legions of runners flock to the over-cushioned category, however, they risk some tradeoffs if they don’t do some back-end work—a false sense of security being one.
“The shoes might not be bad, but they will allow you to get away with some movement dysfunction,” says elite runner, physician and natural running advocate Mark Cucuzzella. “If an 80-year old runner wants to run a few miles a week and these shoes allow him or her to do that, great. But for a young marathoner putting in high mileage, ultimately the body will pay a price if the runner doesn’t have good form.”
Physical therapist Dr. Robert Gillanders from Washington, D.C., agrees. “If you think all that cushion will fix things or allow you to stay injury-free, you are being short-sighted,” he says. “When we step back and look over injury statistics dating to the 1970s, not much has changed. Runners still make the same mistakes and equipment variations aren’t improving that.”
Gillanders points out that research shows runners who avoid injuries tend to be those who land softly. He worries that when a runner straps on a heavily cushioned shoe, he or she perceives a soft landing when in fact the opposite is true. He points to a 2007 study in the Journal of Sports Science that tested athletes landing on force plates. When told they were running on soft surfaces, they actually hit the ground harder than when they perceived themselves to be running across hard surfaces.