Do Super Cushioned Running Shoes Change Your Stride?

Key Takeaways

  • Running shoes with thick cushioning do not seem to cause muscle fatigue and leg stiffness as previously believed, a new study suggests.
  • If you are new to running, choosing a shoe with neutral, or medium, cushioning may be better than starting with heavy cushion.
  • No matter what shoes you use, planning to progress gradually with your running is another way to prevent injury and progress efficiently.


Thick, heavily cushioned running shoes have been appreciated for shock-absorbing protection, but there has been a prevailing belief that it came at a cost of more muscle fatigue and leg stiffness. However, a new study in the Journal of Biomechanics finds no evidence that these effects change your stride or tire out leg muscles faster.

About the Study

Researchers looked at 20 experienced runners who ran on a treadmill in four different sessions, with three types of footwear and barefoot. Their movement was assessed using 3D motion capture technology, as well as plates on the treadmill measuring force.

Nicholas Holowka, PhD

Our studies show that runners don’t need to worry about the amount of cushioning when it comes to stride mechanics

— Nicholas Holowka, PhD

Although participants showed significantly greater compression in the foot’s longitudinal arch when running barefoot, there wasn’t a similar change with the footwear, even the selection that represented heavy cushioning in the midsole. That means increasing the thickness in a running shoe’s sole is unlikely to cause leg stiffness, and subsequently, the way you run.

“Our studies show that runners don’t need to worry about the amount of cushioning when it comes to stride mechanics,” says the study’s lead author, Nicholas Holowka, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo, part of The State University of New York. “Your running style will still be natural even with heavy cushioning.”

Running Shoe Selection

This information doesn’t mean that you can select just any type of athletic shoe for running. Running shoes tend to provide more midsole foot support, which takes the pressure off the toes, heels, and ankles during a run, according to Idalis Velazquez, CPT, Beachbody trainer and former professional track-and-field athlete.

Idalis Velazquez, CPT

Many runners find that the right shoes can improve their performance.

— Idalis Velazquez, CPT

“The arch support helps prevent injuries, especially overuse injuries like stress fractures and joint pain, as well as tendonitis,” she says. “Also, many runners find that the right shoes can improve their performance.”

However, if you’re brand new to running, heavy cushioning may not be your ideal starting point, she adds. Instead, try shoes described as neutral, which means they contain a medium amount of cushioning. Later, you can transition toward more or less cushioning as you get a feel for running.

“If there’s a running store where you can get your feet measured and have a specialist see you run, that’s ideal,” Velazquez says.

Either way, trying shoes on can help you get an idea of overall comfort level, especially whether they feel wobbly or unstable. Feeling wobbly tends to mean you do not have the right midsole support because your feet aren’t being supported properly.

Top Running Tips

Making sure you have a consistent stride despite which type of shoes you choose also is important. But there are additional factors to consider to make running more successful for you, especially if you’re a beginner.

When starting a run, it is best to start slow and increase your pace over time, depending on the purpose and goals of that workout, according to Amy Morris, an RRCA-certified running coach and director of personal training at CrossTown Fitness in Chicago.

“If you start too quickly and maintain that intensity, your body will begin accumulating lactic acid and your lungs won’t be able to keep up with how fast you’re running, which will cause your pace to slow down dramatically,” she says.

If you’ve been training for long enough to have a base level of fitness, Morris suggests mixing up workouts with options like tempo runs, hill workouts, and long runs. Even speed workouts on a track and practicing your race pace are important parts of training.

Mixing up workouts also can help advance running skills and keep you motivated, she says. If it’s available as an option, working with a certified running coach also can be helpful, since that trainer can assess your stride—including whether the heavily cushioned shoes are really working for you—and give you feedback, motivation, and accountability, Morris adds.

What This Means For You

A new study suggests heavily cushioned running shoes don’t cause leg stiffness or muscle fatigue. But running experts suggest beginning runners may still want to start with medium cushioning. Ideally, you should be fitted for your running shoes if you can. It also may help to work with a certified running coach to help establish a workout routine and have your stride assessed.

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