What Makes Super Shoes ‘Super’?
It’s easy to be drawn in by a shoe’s appearance or brand name. What if we told you that shoes can do more than just look good?
Welcome to the new era of performance footwear where so-called ‘super shoes’ help athletes run faster than ever thought humanly possible. In fact, these shoes are so powerful that they have even been compared to doping in terms of their performance-enhancing abilities.
While there are a lot of technical components that do not initially meet the eye, such as carbon-fibre plates that enhance forward propulsion or midsole foam that reduces energy loss while running, not all shoes are created equally. This begs the question, how can you discover what brand or model of shoe will work best for you?
That’s why Kintec includes Function as the second step in our Fit System. Our goal is to make the process of finding the right shoes as easy as possible so you can feel comfortable, perform better, and reduce your risk of injury.
Are you ready to take your performance to the next level?
The Rise Of Super Shoes
Running shoe technology has come a long way since the early days of leather soles and heavy uppers. Over the last 50 years, footwear manufacturers have strived to make shoes lighter, more cushioned, and softer than ever before
However, the quest for the ultimate ‘speed shoe’ heated up when Nike unleashed the Vaporfly 4%. Nike claimed that this shoe improves running economy, the amount of oxygen required to cover a certain distance, on average by 4% compared to competitor’s racing flats. As a result, we witnessed a flurry of new records and faster race times, all thanks to the emergence of high-tech footwear.
The impact of the Vaporfly 4% was felt not only in the world of professional athletics but also in the broader running community. The shoe’s innovative design inspired other sportswear companies to create their own high-performance footwear. This led to a surge in research and development of running shoes, with companies pouring resources into creating the ultimate shoe that would give athletes a competitive edge.
Are Super Shoes Truly Super? The Science Behind Super Shoes
A Nike-funded study published in 2017 looked at 18 sub-elite runners who had recently run a 31 minute 10 000 meter time. The study found that the super shoe, the Nike Vaporfly, significantly reduced the energy cost of running by an average of 4 percent across three different running speeds, compared to two other racing flats that were tested.
In the graph above, the runners labeled ‘NP’ are wearing Nike super shoes while those labeled NS and AB are wearing non-carbon racing flats from other brands. Over the three velocities tested, runners in the NP shoes used an average of 4.16% less metabolic energy than the NS shoes and 4.01% less than in the AB shoes. The 4% reduction in metabolic energy expenditure prompted Nike to name their first-generation super shoe the Vaporfly 4%
Moreover, the study led by Hoogkamer and team yielded another intriguing finding. The runners who wore the super shoe took longer and less frequent steps than those who wore the control shoes. This suggests that the Vaporfly 4% likely allowed the runners to bounce higher with each running step, thereby improving their performance.
In 2018, The New York Times conducted a study using race data from 500,000 marathon and half marathon running times since 2014. The study relied on public race reports and shoe records from a popular fitness app, Strava. As seen in the graph above, the researchers discovered that runners wearing super shoes with a carbon plate, ran 3 to 4 percent faster than similar runners wearing other shoes and over 1 percent faster than the runners wearing racing flats without a carbon plate.
Similarly, in a 2020 study that analyzed the performance of elite and sub-elite athletes from 2015 to 2019, the estimated effect of wearing the Nike Vaprofly shoes on marathon times was substantial. The study estimated that the Nike Vaporfly shoes improved marathon times between 2.0 and 3.9 minutes. The authors further estimated that men’s marathon times improved by 1.4 to 2.8 percent and women’s marathon times improved by 0.6 to 2.2 percent while wearing super shoes.
However, critics initially argued that the results of these studies would not be replicated in slower runners. An independent study published earlier this year indicated that while athletes running at slower paces could still benefit from the super shoes, the improvements were slightly less pronounced. The study found that runners could experience a 1 to 1.5 percent improvement in performance when running at 10 km/h. This is still a significant boost, amounting to approximately “a 3-minute improvement for a 3:30 marathon runner and approximately 2.5 minutes for a 4:15 marathon runner.”
Functional Components Of Super Shoes
Despite Nike’s subsequent super shoe, the Alphafly, being banned from competition for providing too much of an advantage, the Vaporfly 4% sparked a race to create the next cutting-edge technology for even faster speeds. While the shoe’s individual components – energy-returning midsole cushioning, forefoot rockers, and carbon plates – weren’t revolutionary on their own, when combined, they created a performance-enhancing powerhouse of a shoe.
What exactly makes these three components so special when combined? Continue reading to find out.
Carbon Fibre Plates
What it does: Carbon fibre plates are embedded in the midsole and store kinetic energy. The curve of the plate also assists with forward momentum.
What to consider: The carbon plate allows runners’ legs to stay ‘fresh’ longer during a race and recover more quickly. However, the plate is rigid and does not bend much, which means that muscle load is shifted from your calves to larger muscles such as your quads, hip flexors and glutes. Therefore, it is best to gradually integrate a carbon plate shoe into your rotation to prevent overuse injuries.
Benefits: As a result of the increased energy return, the plate improves running economy and allows you to run more effortlessly while maintaining a faster speed for longer without fatiguing.
What it does: Energy-returning midsoles AKA ‘super foam’ is another key component in performance-focused footwear. These midsoles are designed to store and release energy with each step, making both walking and running easier. Additionally, ‘super foam’ is significantly lighter than traditional foams such as EVA and polyurethane.
What to consider: Compared to traditional soft midsole foam, energy-returning foam feels lighter and springier. Additionally, super shoes tend to have a thick stack height, indicating there is more foam underfoot than in a traditional shoe.
Benefits: By returning energy to the body, these shoes can help to reduce fatigue and improve overall performance. This is a great option for athletes who are looking to improve their speed and endurance.
What it does: The forefoot rocker makes it easier to shift one’s weight over the front of your foot and propel yourself forward.
What to consider: The curved carbon plate and added cushioning in the heel contribute to the rocker construction. This creates a ‘teeter-totter’ effect that may initially feel unstable and alter your balance.
Benefits: The rocker design provides smooth transitions that keep you moving forward even once fatigue sets in.
Are Super Shoes For You?
Let’s face it, most of us are not elite runners. But does that mean we can’t benefit from wearing a super shoe?
Contrary to popular belief, super shoes aren’t just for those who set new records or cross the finish line first. Wearing super shoes such as the Nike Zoom X Vaporfly Next % 2 or Hoka Carbon X3 can still provide benefits that will help you reach your next personal best and boost your confidence. You can enjoy the advantages of being able to maintain a faster pace for longer periods of time and reduce fatigue.
However, it’s important to note that not all super shoes are created equal. That’s why it’s essential to choose a shoe that’s right for you.
How To Find Your Perfect Fit
Navigating the endless sea of shoe options can be overwhelming, especially when trying to find the perfect pair that will give you a competitive edge. Every shoe is crafted with a multitude of technical components that contribute to its performance, either by enhancing your athletic abilities or reducing discomfort. We understand the importance of finding a shoe that aligns with your specific needs, and we’re here to help guide you through the process.
At Kintec, we offer a comprehensive Fit System that takes into account your individual needs and fitness goals. Our team of experts can help you find the perfect shoe to suit your lifestyle and help you perform your best.
When you arrive for your footwear assessment, we will start by conducting a thorough gait analysis and 3D scan of your foot to assess how your body moves and determine the optimal footwear for you. Once we’ve completed your gait analysis, the second step in our Fit System is focused on function. We understand that every athlete has different needs when it comes to performance, and we’re here to help you find the perfect shoe to take your training to the next level.
If you’re looking for a “super shoe” that’s designed to optimize your performance, our experts will guide you through the selection process to help you find the perfect shoe for your needs. We’ll take into account factors such as your training routine, competition goals, and personal preferences to identify a shoe that will help you achieve your best results.
According to a study conducted in 2022 the impact of super shoes on an individual’s running performance is specific to each runner. The graph below indicates the variation between the group average in increase in running economy and one test subject’s personal response.
Certain runners experienced an improvement in their economy with a particular brand of super shoes, while others did not. This response varied among runners and brands, emphasizing the significance of consulting experts to identify the optimal fit for one’s needs.
Your feet are your foundation, and we understand how foot pain, discomfort, and injury can have a big impact on your life. That’s why we’re so passionate about helping you find the perfect fit—so you can move better and go further than you ever thought possible.
By working with our team of experts, you can feel confident that you’re making an informed decision when it comes to your footwear. We’ll help you navigate the complex world of athletic shoes and find a pair that’s tailored to your unique needs, so you can perform at your best and stay injury-free.
Next time you’re in the market for a new pair of shoes, remember that Function is just as important as fashion. By choosing a shoe that’s designed to perform, you can improve your comfort, reduce your risk of injury, and even set a new PB.
Give Yourself That Competitive Edge
Reserve a FREE footwear fitting today and a Kintec Fit Expert will guide you through a 30-minute personalized footwear journey.