09 February 2014

Gait and Shoe Analysis at FootWorks Physical Therapy

It's interesting that I am a huge fan of getting a bicycle fit but getting analyzed so you wear the shoes that suit your body/stride/gait the best? This had not occurred to me when I started running.

That changed in the last couple of years. As I ran farther and farther I started noticing that my body had certain 'issues'. Combined with some visits to my PT, a greater understanding of my feet and one over-use injury, I am now convinced that people should pay attention to not only shoes but gait/form as well. So much to learn!

To shed more light on all this, last Friday I took several pairs of shoes to Neal Goldberg at FootWorks PT and we spent some quality time with his treadmill and video camera.

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I also shot some video but the quality of my video is only marginal when you slow it down and try to see exactly what is happening. Sorry.

First a little about my feet. I think I have this correct...
  • I have tall arches but they don't flex. This means that my feet don't absorb shock like an average/normal foot does.
  • Less flexible arches means impact/shock is transmitted up my leg instead of being absorbed by my feet. Luckily I have been fairly free of knee/shin injuries with the exception of one IT band injury that was due to wearing the worst possible shoes for my body and one over use injury that was probably due in large part to me attempting a long run before my body was ready.
  • I strike with the outside of my foot (supinated) and then in part because my arch does not flex I roll across my foot and end up supinated.  I think this is my body trying to absorb shock since my arch does not flex.
  • My natural tendency is to heel strike lightly. Luckily this is not a problem on trails. On pavement I could probably help myself by working on minimizing that and striking more with my midfoot at least. Striking with your midfoot or forefoot lets your calf and ankle absorb more impact which would be beneficial in my case.
All this means my feet kind of go "slap, slap, slap" (think fly swatter against a hard surface) when they hit the ground instead of going "pad, pad, pad" (think jungle cat sneaking up on some prey). My heel usually touches the ground first and then my forefoot follows suit more roughly than is ideal. One result of this is I am more prone to getting blisters under the ball of my foot no matter what shoes or socks I wear.

I have been wearing neutral shoes ever since I started running and after seeing my feet collapse I naturally assumed that I would want stability shoes instead. According to Neal this isn't the case. Turns out I do want my shoes to collapse and absorb shock since my feet are not doing this themselves. What I ideally want is a shoe that is also torsionally rigid so that when my foot collapses it doesn't put my ankle in jeopardy by twisting/collapsing too much.

Are any of the shoes that I currently use torsionally rigid? Turns out not so much. Here is how they stack up. If you want to see my videos in slow motion, just click the Settings icon and change the speed like so.

YouTube_Settings

Brooks Launch

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The Launch was my first pair of nice shoes. I took it on faith from two friends that these were the bomb and got some. They were indeed comfy and this is my third pair. They are light, soft, but it turns out they are also super flexible so very poor at stabilizing my foot when I run. There is no shank or midsole insert in these shoes, I have heard them described as 'half Hokas' by one friend which is pretty accurate. You are just running on soft foam with no support whatsoever.

This shoe is a great light trainer if you are also light and a super race shoe without going all out minimalist. I also know three people who have worn them from start to finish in a 100-mile trail race and I have worn them for a 50k trail run with no issues. I just had to be a little careful where I stepped while running downhill as they did not protect me very well. I am not very light.

That said, these have got to be the most purely comfortable running shoes I have ever worn.



Brooks PureGrit

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The PureGrit was my first pair of 'high performance' (read: light) trail running shoes. They are incredibly comfortable and there is something to be said for the intimate contact and feel and control you get from a thinner shoe. At first I just used these for shorter training runs but then I tried them at a 20-mile race which went well and finally I ran a 50k race where I sprained my ankle (the shoes did not contribute to that particular injury) but my feet were fine.

The foam in the PureGrit is significantly firmer than in the Launch and you get reasonable protection from sharp objects but I would not want to wear them on a long, rocky descent. Knowing they are light makes them 'feel' fast. To me that is the biggest value in a shoe like this.

Pictured is my first pair of these and I liked them so much I got the Brooks PureGrit 2 which I have yet to run in.

As you might expect these do not help stabilize my foot but they feel great on the trail and I feel very connected to the ground.



Brooks Cascadia 8

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The Cascadia is straight up meat and potatoes when it comes to trail running. As far as I know it was the first trail-specific shoe that Brooks ever made and it's still hugely popular. The Cascadia does have a protective layer between the rubber sole and the EVA foam to insulate you from sharp rocks and this edition (the 8th variation that Brooks has made) has a cool lacing system that keeps the tongue securely in place.

These shoes are very comfortable and have been my go-to off road shoes ever since I got my first pair. This is my third pair. I have worn them for a 50-mile race and wore them for the first half of a 100-mile race.

Going in I thought these would be the clear winner.

Not. Turns out that although the sole does a super job of protecting the foot from impact and sharp objects, it still twists pretty easily and so doesn't help my situation much. That said, they have worked very well for me and I will continue to wear these as my go-to trail shoes.



Brooks PureCadence 2

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Why did I get these shoes? Because they are light and cool as hell. This is as close as I will ever get to a minimalist shoe. My body just isn't built for them and I'm not such a small guy.

How do they feel? Freaking light! And fast. Do they support my foot? Nope. Can I run in them? For short distances only. I did seven miles once and that felt okay.

Did I mention they look cool?



Brooks Glycerin 11

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I thought this shoe would come in 2nd for sure. After my knee injury I got these in an attempt to get something with plenty of protection, slightly more stability and weight was not a concern. This is a real 'trainer' and it's all I have been wearing on the road/stairs/treadmill since I have been able to run again.
They do help stabilize my foot a little more but it's not as much as I was hoping for. This is still a very neutral shoe with very average torsional rigidity. Just like the Cascadia, they do offer more protection from the ground and you can get more miles out of them but they still twist.

This is my first pair of the Glycerin and I do like them. And by 'like' I mean that they feel more supportive and protective than any other road shoe I have worn.



Hoka Stinson Trail

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The shoe that I have is actually the Stinson Evo which has been replaced by the Stinson Trail.

When I started running trails and then started running more in general I was getting beat up. This was probably due in part to the rapid ramp up in mileage that I subjected myself to and the fact that my feet do beat me up more than normal feet would. So I got a pair of Hoka shoes. Everyone said they were the ultimate recovery run shoe and that you could hammer rocky descents and not even feel it. Of course you need to take advice like this with a grain of salt but they do insulate you from the ground WAY more than anything else I have ever worn. I have come down Mt Teneriffe pretty quick in them and could tell that they were helping big time.

These shoes twisted the least. They don't have an insert or shank so it must be due to the extra EVA foam. More is more after all and in this case more foam is less likely to twist.

What's interesting is that even though they feel like they protect me from the ground better than anything else, it feels like I collapse to the inside MORE with these shoes on. I'm not sure if it feels this way because there just is more stuff to collapse or what. The video is unfortunately only so good.



So what did I learn? Let me attempt to paraphrase what Neal said and I'll add some personal opinions.
  • Neutral shoes are okay for me.
  • I should try to find a shoe that is vertically compliant and torsionally rigid. [For those of you that are into bicycles this will sound incredibly familiar...] Neal recommended the Brooks Dyad 7. This is very similar to the Glycerin but with more EVA foam underfoot. I plan to get these once I wear out my Glycerin shoes.
  • Neal also recommended more Hokas.
  • It might just be the case that my body will not tolerate 100-mile races well. Or at least that I need to ease into them most slowly. Every body - but especially mine it seems - needs time to acclimate to the stresses of running and it might have been the case that I did too much too soon.
  • I love trail running! Thinking back I would never have said this even four years ago. Now it's hard to describe the thrill, the joy and the rush of cruising along some pristine single track under your own power. This means I will pay more attention to my shoes and what I wear each pair for.
In conclusion here is how my shoes stacked up from best (for me) to worst (for me). Honestly, there was not a huge difference between #2, #3 and #4.
  1. Hoka One One Stinson Evo
  2. Brooks Glycerin 11
  3. Brooks Cascadia 8
  4. Brooks PureGrit
  5. Brooks Launch
  6. Brooks PureCadence 2
Which shoes do I subjectively feel protect my foot and ankle the most? That goes something like this.
  1. Brooks Glycerin 11
  2. Brooks Cascadia 8
  3. Hoka One One Stinson Evo
  4. Brooks PureGrit
  5. Brooks Launch
  6. Brooks PureCadence 2
And lastly, which shoes are the most fun to run in? 'Fun' is hard to define but it usually means what shoes feel fast, are light and what shoes are comfortable when I use them. Here you go.
  1. Brooks PureGrit
  2. Brooks Cascadia 8
  3. Brooks Launch
  4. Hoka One One Stinson Evo
  5. Brooks Glycerin 11
  6. Brooks PureCadence 2
I should say that many of the shoes that are not ideal for me are great for other people! And in spite of the fact that I have been logging miles in some models that are not ideal for me, it's definitely the case that all these Brooks shoes are incredibly comfortable. That is worth quite a lot.  And finally, it might well be the case that there is no 'perfect' shoe for me and that I just need to be careful and listen to my body when going longer.

3 comments:

LukeD said...

Thanks for posting Martin; interesting stuff.

Lindsay said...

Whoa, your shoe collection is eerily similar to mine. Jesse sent me to read this post as I am going in to see Neal tomorrow.

Pretty interesting how the shoes rank, but I'd believe it. My feet felt like they collapsed quite a bit in the first pair of Hokas I had. The next pair I bought was one size smaller, and it made a huge difference. I still think I'd like to have some more arch support with Superfeet inserts in them or something. I guess I'll have to see how tomorrow goes.

Martin Criminale said...

@Lindsay - I also dropped a half size in my Hokas and the smaller ones feel slightly better. In general I do prefer roomy shoes to having my toes touch but even in these slightly smaller Hokas my toes are not close to touching the front so I guess dropping down was good.

When I started running for real I sized up really fast but have stabilized now. My first pair of running shoes ever were size 11 (dumb!). My next pair was 11.5 and that didn't last long either. I finally started buying size 12 and then even 12.5 which is kind of where I have stopped. My first pair of Hokas were 12, my second were 13 and my current pair is 12.5. All my Brooks are 12.5 except for two pair. Bottom line for me, each shoe is different and you might end up owning all kinds of sizes if you wear lots of different brands/models.