The future of running shoes?

One day in the foreseeable future, you will walk into a running store and the staff will ask to see your stride signature.

Based on that, the footwear staff will fit you with the ideal running shoe for the very individual way in which you run.

That’s how Brooks sees it.

The running shoe company has just released a white paper on the subject. “The goal of the Stride Signature is to create a new holistic approach to designing and fitting running shoes that starts with the runner to optimize efficiency, reduce injury and enhance comfort,” Brooks writes in the introduction to its paper.

The company has invested in and studied a lot of research to arrive at this point. Iain Hunter, a professor of biomechanics at Utah’s Brigham Young University, used a high-speed video camera at the side of the track during the 2012 Olympic trials for the 10,000 metres finals.

The camera caught the individual foot-strikes of the 32 elite athletes in the race. Those foot-strikes ranged from the expected fore-foot and mid-foot strikers to more than half the runners heel striking.

Some of the runners landed on the outer edge of their feet, while others rotated their feet inward.

Brooks said it was struck with how dissimilar the foot-strikes were, and how each carried its own signature that didn’t just stop at the foot’s connection with the ground. Each runner then displayed different nuances at the ankle joint, the knee joint, the hip joint and so on.

“It is this principle of individuality – and not some elusive ‘perfect form’ – that we believe will shift our sport’s thinking about training and coaching, and set us on a new trajectory for how we build running shoes,” Brooks contends.

Whoa. That’s a pretty loaded statement.

In Brooks’ paradigm, it’s the shoe, not the form, that makes the runner.

The company has been following the same questions as everyone else. “What is the right way to run? Should everyone run barefoot, or in shoes? How should your foot strike the ground… Should we all run like the Kenyans? Do the Kenyans themselves all run the same….Is “overpronation” really a bad word…Is cushioning evil?”

Based on its research, Brooks proposes a shift away from trying to come up with a single right way to run to better understanding your unique way to run; from matching the runner to the shoe, but rather matching the shoe to the runner.

Brooks argues a runner’s stride signature will become the baseline to defining a runner’s form and alignment. “Our research leads us to believe that the answer to reducing injuries, enhancing comfort and improving performance is not to change or fix a runner’s ‘flaws,’ but to work with the natural and highly individual motion paths of the joints.”

Running shoe technologies such as shoe geometry, midsole firmness or excessive posting can disrupt runners’ preferred motion path, Brooks contends. Instead, the company proposes a shoe technology called Guiderails that would help maintain habitual motion patterns.

Brooks says Guiderails will help runners optimize muscle activity and joint motion, reducing the onset of fatigue and form breakdown.

Brooks uses the theory of Natural Habitual Joint Motion as the basis for its research. Simply put, this is the idea that everyone has their own, unique way of running that is natural and subconcious.

To put the theory to the test, Brooks enlisted the help of two specialists in biomechanics, who between them have authored more than 300 studies on the subject. For Brooks, they’ve been researching such things as how people run, and how the body adapts to its environment as it runs.

The full white paper and its research may be read here:

The end result is Brooks hopes its Stride Signature will take the guess-work out of buying shoes; rather, you will walk into a store and purchase a pair of runners based on your natural habitual joint motion pattern and the dozens of parametres that make up your stride signature.

The company acknowledges it’s not at the point where this is reality yet, but certainly this marks the direction Brooks intends to take its shoes. It will be interesting to see if any other shoe manufacturers, as well as retailers, physios, coaches, athletes, runners and others will follow them.


About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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11 Responses to The future of running shoes?

  1. Hmm. Running technology seems to have moved on a tad since my schooldays when rainy games days meant we were sent on punishing cross country runs in oversized rugby boots.

    • subthree says:

      Wait until you see the Adidas Springblades. Shoe technology is huge these days. Any run with you is punishing, with or without oversized rugby boots.

  2. Geb says:

    I’ll be intrigued to see Brooks’ follow through on this idea over the next few years. Along with 3D printing this could really lead to a “perfect” shoe for every runner.

  3. bke161 says:

    What an interesting and logical concept. I hope it gains some traction.

    • subthree says:

      I think to some extent we’re already seeing this with the wide range of shoes being produced now. The choices are much larger than in previous years. Thanks for commenting and reading.

  4. sjpc14 says:

    Great write up and very interesting stuff!!! Looks like the trainer brands are now really thinking person, no more one size fits all business. Great to hear and I look forward to this development.

    Thanks for brings it to our attention.

  5. liverunloveyoga says:

    I love this! Thank you so much for sharing. I can’t wait for this to be the new normal!

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