As many avid runners can tell you, nothing feels worse than slapping on brand-new shoes and being paid back with everything from arch aches to blisters to Achilles tendinitis and an increased risk of ankle sprains. Athletes can expect a lot out of their shoes. Going faster. Traveling further. Getting Stronger as Design Technology Progresses. And presumably, doing it while uninjured. You’d think injury-free shoes are a given, but surprisingly, it’s more commonplace than you think.
Each year running shoe companies grapple with injury prevention issues, and when addressing those issues, each company takes on a different philosophy. One company specializing in minimalist footwear for runners is Xero Shoes. When it comes to its shoes, Xero proudly relies on design principles revolving around more likely familiar to ancient sandal wearers of the past than today’s modern runners, thin and flexible soles. There are also some shoe companies that are pushing the boundaries in shoe design.
The React Infinity, one of Nike’s most popular shoes, claims to reduce the overall risk of sustaining injury through advanced features. The React Infinity is a more stable base (to keep your feet on the ground), an engineered rocker (to help your feet make fluid motions), and a cushioned running shoe designed to help with shock absorption, touts more react foam cushioning (getting your foot more surrounded by foam). Another of its popular shoes is the Nike Structure 22, a motion-controlled shoe that, as the name says, keeps feet motion in check through a more rigid structure.
In an independent study performed by the British Columbia Sports Medicine Research Foundation (BCSMRF), runners were tasked with recording injuries suffered during a 12-week training program — logging in at over 60,000 miles. Nike says, they achieved results by doing less than their best-selling motion-controlled shoes, the Nike Structure 22 and the React Infinity shoes reduced injury rates in runners. But the reality is a bit different than the numbers. So how well do either motion-controlled shoes or cushioned shoes do when it comes to injury prevention? Simply look at the data.
In a world where advancements in cushioned, padded, arch-supporting, and motion-controlled shoes reign supreme, then why do running injuries seem to persist? BCSMRF’s study indicated that 33 runners wearing Nike Zoom Structure 22 and 17 runners wearing Nike Infinity React got injured, out of 226 runners during the study. So, 50 of the 226 runners sustained some form of knee, foot, shin, or calf injury. Suppose half the runners wore Nike Zoom Structure 22 and a half wore Nike React Infinity? Then 1 of 3 runners wearing Infinity React and 1 of 7 runners wearing Zoom Structure 22 would be injured while running. Now does that figure inspire confidence in running enthusiasts? And that’s not even considering injuries that could worsen over time, or if you’re trying to do a marathon.
Steven Sashen, CEO, and Lena Phoenix, CFO of Xero Shoes believe this is another case of how adding more to a product can actually make it worse.“It seems ironic, but it’s the truth,” says Steven Sashen. “We started Xero Shoes to give people — whether they ran or not — the comfort and benefits of that natural movement experience.” And with nearly 27,000 five-star reviews on their website, customers seem to think that Xero is on the right path too. Modern running shoes as we know them came around in the 60s. But, according to Sashen, the number, type, and severity of injuries we know now were not around back then either.
Human feet are made to bend, flex, move and feel the world. One-quarter of the bones and joints in your entire body are in your feet and ankles; you have more nerve endings in your soles than anywhere but your fingertips and lips. Humanity, for nearly 10,000 years, seemed to do just fine with their bare feet and simple sandals. Natural movement design is premised on the idea that “simpler is better.” And Xero believes the same when it comes to its own shoes, even basing its designs on actual 10,000-year-old sagebrush sandals. Xero’s flexible soles are designed to give wearers the right combination of traction, ground-feedback, and protection all while being so lightweight that some customers have even gone to bed forgetting they’re wearing them.
With a growing line of casual and performance shoes, boots, and sandals, Xero Shoes have helped people in 97 countries do everything from take a more relaxed stroll on the beach to climbing Kilimanjaro and even to running a 256k seven-day race across Madagascar. Xero Shoes believes the quality of its natural movement shoes is so good, that they back each purchase with a 5,000-mile sole warranty — a warranty that exceeds those offered by other similar companies.
Designed by focusing on Natural Fit, Natural Motion, and Natural Feel, Xero’s focus on simplicity is never a compromise to your running performance. Comfort and performance come from using your feet naturally, and that’s what Xero Shoes let you do.
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