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Are cheap running shoes as good as expensive ones

May 24, 2018

Don’t buy cheap running shoes – get the best shoes you can afford. This is one of the most often heard pieces of advice, the idea being that expensive shoes will be better engineered, better fitting, better manufactured and more effective at preventing injury. A recent study compared cheap running shoes with some of the best available for the same brand. The study focused on plantar pressure cushioning and comfort of the shoes.

The plantar fascia is thick connective tissue along the sole of the foot which been estimated to carry 14 percent of the total load of the foot. Running shoes should cushion the foot from the pressure exerted on this area with every footfall, although even effective cushioning won’t prevent Plantar fasciitis if it’s the result of overpronation. Effective cushioning is vital to protect the runner from the cumulative effects of the impact forces encountered during running, as these can lead to overuse injury.

Shoe comfort was also measured using a questionnaire since it has been suggested that shoe comfort could be related to fatigue and injury. Impact forces have been shown to increase with fatigue and it’s certainly important to buy comfortable shoes if you’re going to enjoy running!

The study was performed in the UK and compared three pairs of running shoes from three different manufacturers at three different price ranges: low (£40 – 45 approx $80), medium (£60 – 65 approx $120) and high (£70 – 75 approx $140). The brands and models aren’t revealed although all shoes were “neutral” since the subjects were screened for abnormal gait. The researchers hid logos in case it affected the outcome although I suspect many enthusiastic runners could still recognize their favorite shoe. The subjects were asked to estimate the cost of the shoes as low, medium or high based purely on their perception of comfort.

Plantar pressure measurements under eight of the main load bearing areas of the foot were made. Measurements were included from under the heel, across the forefoot and under the big toe. Pilot and follow on studies were performed and subjects were required to both walk and run on a treadmill while measurements were taken and their perception of comfort noted.

Surprisingly it was found that low and medium cost running shoes in each of the three brands tested provided the same, if not better, cushioning of plantar pressure as high-cost running shoes. The study also revealed that comfort was not related to either the distribution of plantar pressure or the cost of the running shoes.

Although they admit their study was small and further research was needed it would seem that you can buy cheap shoes from a recognized brand and still have comfort and effective cushioning. It’s also worth noting that another study found injury rates were 123 percent greater in runners wearing expensive shoes. It’s believed that deceptive advertising claiming superior impact absorption and protection led to a false sense of security and a riskier, higher impact running style.

So the old advice about buying the best running shoes you can afford may not hold true. Remember though, this study compared models from well known brands of specialist running shoes. Buying or using cheap, unsuitable shoes is a recipe for disaster. There are different types of running shoe for different types of feet and different types of running shoe to suit different running activities.

To be sure your buying the correct shoe visit a specialist running shoe shop and get fitted properly. Tell them your price range and they should be able to provide something suitable. If they insist you need the most expensive shoe in the shop then go elsewhere. Once you’ve been running for a while and you know the type and size you need then you can shop online for the best deal.

The following is a link to a PDF file of the original article Do you get value for money when you buy an expensive pair of running shoes?

10 responses to “Are cheap running shoes as good as expensive ones”

  1. andersen64 says:

    Perhaps you should mention that overpronators require motion control shoes which are more expensive than other types of running shoe

  2. beginrunning says:

    @andersen64 Good point, flat footed overpronators ( I am one) require motion control shoes to limit pronation or foot rolling. These types of running shoes tend to be more expensive and feature stronger midsoles and are heavier. They are also known as high stability shoes.

    I’ll write a post on the different running shoe and foot types soon

  3. Shoe geek says:

    The research is interesting but I note that there is more to come from the researchers as these are early findings.

    It is worth remembering a few things:
    – as already stated by other posters the way a shoe guides your foot (for better or worse) is a big issue. As well as stability, flexibility is a big issue.
    – peak force is not the biggest issue facing a runner. For example high forces at toe off are believed to be far less harmful than high forces on initial impact when your body has not yet had a chance to adjust to what is coming!
    – the figures may change over the course of a run as the runner tires. This is why brands carry out tests over the duration of long runs not just in a few strides over a force plate.
    – the durability of the cushioning is a massive issue. The right density of EVA foam might give very good results initially (from the box) but if the foam quickly compresses the shoes will quickly wear out
    – different weights of runner require different types of shoe. Think about how the shock absorbers on a small car are far different to those on a lorry! A shoe needs matching to the appropriate user.

    It is important however much you pay that you need to make sure you are in an appropriate shoe to your biomechanics and weight. A very expensive pair of shoes will be no good if it is not the right type of shoe for you.

    It will be interesting to see the full findings of the researchers!!!

  4. beginrunning says:

    @Shoe Geek – you’ve raised some really interesting points here. Your recommendation of being fitted with the appropriate shoe for biomechanics and weight is particularly important for novice runners who may not be aware of all the issues. Great website you have too by the way!

  5. When it comes to choosing the right pair of running shoes, I’m the in-between type of person with regards to cost. I don’t want a dirt cheap pair of running shoes that will just fall apart. But I’m also not that into running where I’ll spend $100+ dollars on a pair of shoes, that’s just too much for me. Anywhere in between is a safe bet when it comes to choosing the right pair of running shoes for me 🙂

  6. Perry says:

    I just bought a pair of $129 CDN Nikes. A $90 pair from the big box stores would have been as good, but the fitting and talking to someone that knows what they are talking about was worth the premium (I bought them at the Running Room).

    Here is my first run – old and slow but working n it:

  7. Even if shoes you like are expensive there are ways to get your favourite pair without paying the high end retail price. Take my running shoes for example. My brand is Nike- especially the Nike+ shoes. In a Nike retail store those shoes run about $100-$150! However, Nike (as do other stores) has what is called an outlet store. These stores sell the same shoes only at 1/2 to 1/3 the cost. Sure they may not be that seasons shoe- but they are brand spanking new and just as comfy. I got 2 pairs ($50 each) for the price of 1 in the retail store!

  8. john engineered says:

    Just because you pay more for a shoe does not mean its always that much better. Seems so often you just need to pay for the name these days. Purchase the right shoe for the right type of use and dont always just go buy the name

  9. Barefoot Matt says:

    Just go Barefoot, running shoes are such a Destructive force on human feet. My most expensive pair of “running shoes” I’ve purchased in the last 5 years only cost $40.

    Regular training miles are at 60-70 a week….with 25-30 for my long runs on sundays.

    I race Mud/adventure races and Ultras.

  10. Ron says:

    Very interesting and useful info. Thank you!