The beginning of the end for pronation control.
The biggest paradigm shift in history is currently under way in the running shoe industry. In the past, biomechanical research into the causes and prevention of running injuries concentrated primarily on the way in which the back of the foot moves during the ground contact phase of running. Clinical observations unanimously found that runners who pronate – i.e. roll their ankle inwards – too much or too little are more likely to sustain running injuries. As a consequence, all runners were classified as either ‘overpronators’, ‘supinators’ or ‘neutral runners’. From this point on, motion-control, cushioned or supportive shoes were used to limit or stabilise the movement of the rearfoot.
Unfortunately, despite 40 years of research and innovation, injury rates among runners are higher than ever. Now, Nike – the global market leader in the running shoe industry – has recognised that it is time to take a new approach to prevent injuries caused by running. For the first time, the manufacturer is shifting its focus to the stability of the forefoot. In a new study, Nike compared injury rates in 226 runners, split into two groups over a 12 week training period. One group wore a conventional rear-foot motion control shoe (nike zoom structure 22) and the other group wore the ‘Nike Infinity React’ which is a radical change in shoe design concept for Nike, placing the emphasis on an exaggerated forefoot flare to stabilize and control the forefoot. The outcome of this study was a 52% reduced risk of injury in the group wearing the Infinity React and the implied increase in forefoot stability.
Swabian mid-sized company presents
As a pioneer in the field of toefreedom and functional footwear®, the Swabian family business BÄR Schuhe has been researching for more than four decades how more space for the toes can increase stability while running. "We are very pleased that Nike, with its 'Run Fearless' project, is now also using a lot of marketing power to draw attention to the fact that more toe room increases stability when running," says Sebastian Bär. Under the brand Joe Nimble, he has been transferring the expertise of the parent company BÄR Schuhe to the running shoe sector for a good ten years. Together with renowned running coach and biomechanist Lee Saxby and a team of experts including biomechanists, technicians, engineers, industrial designers and shoe industry professionals, Bär - himself a passionate runner - has developed a revolutionary shoe design with a wider toe box for maximum stability. At ISPO in early February, he launched the campaign for the latest collection under the tagline "Discover Freedom," which uses artistically refined X-ray images to show how the foot position in traditional running shoes differs from those in Joe Nimble footwear.
"That's 'Run Fearless' in Swabian," Bär smiles. "And innovation made by Mittelstand in Germany." In its mission of pain-free running, however, the functional footwear manufacturer goes even further than the world market leader. That's because Nike's solution does create a wider, more stable base for the forefoot by widening the base of the shoe in the midfoot area. But the big toe and its metatarsal still can't be fully straightened. "We shouldn't just relieve symptoms in the short term, but address the real causes of the problem," Bear says. Only when the big toe, as the strongest muscle in the foot, and the metatarsal, along with their muscles and tendons, participate one hundred percent in weight bearing can they provide stability.
Dare to think new together
"If we have the courage to rethink running shoes' design and shift the focus from the rearfoot to the forefoot, let us as an industry tackle this issue wholeheartedly and provide for more freedom for the toes," Bear urges. "Scientific studies show that the more deformed and shoe-shaped a runner's big toe position (hallux valgus), the more pronated the rear foot becomes in the stance phase." And it is this pronation that is considered a risk factor for knee injuries in runners.
Biomechanist and running consultant Lee Saxby agrees: "Mother Nature designed the optimum human foot," the expert explains. Wearing shoes with toefreedom allows the big toe and smaller toes to assume their natural position and perform their natural function. "This approach gives runners greater stability in the forefoot and removes the cause of the problem using Mother Nature's favorite principle: form is function."