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Do Supershoes Actually Make You Super?

By: Kayla Feng

There have been so many running world records broken lately.

For example, Faith Kipyegon of Kenya broke the women’s one-mile record by almost 5 seconds. Track stars tend to beat world records by mere tenths of a second. She also broke two other records.

Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia also set a new mark in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase.

Not to mention that four high schoolers set their times in gold during June.

Why suddenly so many fast times? What factors are causing this?

Sports scientists believe super shoes are the cause. These shoes are thick and provide more rebound energy when a runner takes off.

But there’s more to consider. Sports scientists believe training in these shoes for several years is also a factor- and it’s one that recreational and professional athletes can benefit from.

“Because the shoes are a new tool, the more we run in them, the better we adapt,” said Geoff Burns, a physiologist and biomechanics expert in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Burns thinks that this is just another example of the specificity principle. Train like you’re not training, and it’s the real thing. They do everything as they would in their race: running like they would run at a race, drinking the same beverages, and wearing the same shoes.

The super shoes were first introduced by Nike in 2016, known as the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%. The shoes visibly improved speed, so the World Athletics limited the shoe’s midsole height in 2020.

Although super shoes do make you faster, they also have some cons.

An independent study published in 2022 by Joubert found that super shoes didn’t have that same kick for slower people.

“Most of the research that had been done was on people and paces that would be relevant to people who were running like sub-three hour marathons, which is a really small fraction of runners,” Dustin Joubert said. He is the lead author of this independent study. “And yet these shoes are marketed to everybody.”

They tested people in the control shoe (ASCICs Hype Speed) and the Nike Vaporfly. These people ran as fast as 15 kilometers an hour and 10 kilometers an hour.

The 15-kilometer people only improved their speed by 1.6%. Meanwhile, the 10- kilometer people did worse with the Nike Vaporfly.

Burns noticed that the Nike Vaporfly has a stiff plate. That stiffness could cause slower runners to go even slower.

“There could also be a speed dependency to that plate," Burns notes. “You need to have some level of speed threshold to kind of really not be working against the plate or fighting it.”

Also, two experts studying running injuries, Adam Tenforde and Amol Saxena, believe super shoes can cause severe ailments. “The shoes can put atypical stresses on the bones and soft-tissue structures,” Saxena says.

However, there aren’t many reviews about super shoe injury rates. And it seems like super shoes with their soft cushioning could provide some comfort to elders.

Bill Salazar, a 77-year-old runner, claims that super shoes help him recover faster. His legs are less tired as he crosses the finish line, and many other top runners support this claim.

So, are super shoes as super as their name?

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