Is a HOKA the shoe for you?
Author: By Steve “The Footman” Manning
Founder of intraining Running Centre, Podiatrist & Level 4 Coach
HOKA has been the number one growth running shoe brand in the world over the last few years. Once a fringe curiosity, it seemed to be born from a reaction to the failure of the minimalist shoe trend.
Big bulky midsoles and garish styling made them stand out in a crowd of runners. Many runners saw them as the next fad which would disappear just as quickly.
The reality has been very different.
The minimalist and barefoot fad which appears every 15 years like clockwork has given way to what is now called maximalist shoes. Not only have HOKAs become an accepted part of running shoe options but they have also influenced footwear design across the industry. Almost every brand now has its maximalist shoe in the line-up.
HOKA themselves have done a great job of evolving. They have created shoes with more commercial styling at the same time as the maximalist look. They have expanded their offering with hybrid “sub-maximal” shoes. Initially an ultra-distance trail shoe company HOKA now have more shoes for road running and racing. Many more runners are now willing to give HOKA a try.
You might be wondering if HOKA can be the shoe for you. This article will help you identify the factors to make the right decision.
What makes a HOKA different?
In order to determine if HOKA’s will work you first need to know what it is about HOKA’s that are different from traditional shoes.
1.HOKA has a thicker stack height
The stack height of a shoe is the thickness of the shoe between the bottom of your foot and the ground. When you look at a HOKA it looks like they have a massive midsole. While it is slightly thicker than a normal shoe the look is very deceiving. That is because HOKA adds stability in the shoe by wrapping the midsole up around the sides of the foot. So you sit down into the midsole. In
fact, the stack height at the rearfoot of a HOKA is not much different to a normal shoe. The real difference is in the forefoot where it is almost twice as thick as a normal shoe.
This extra thickness contributes to the second difference.
2. HOKA have a minimal heel drop
If the forefoot is thicker and the rearfoot is not then the difference in height between the forefoot and heel must be less. This feature is traditionally considered to be for minimalist shoe design. While a good feature for people with adequate ankle range of motion this could increase the loading on the Achilles and calf muscle for those with reduced ankle motion unless they are midfoot strikers.
The thicker forefoot midsole leads to our third feature
3. HOKA are stiffer
The thicker forefoot midsole then leads to our third feature which is resistance to flexion at the forefoot. The original HOKA had almost zero ability to bend at the forefoot which most people do when in propulsion and toe-off. Some of the newer lighter HOKA like the Clifton now are able to flex a bit at the forefoot while the more solid models like the Bondi and Stinson still resist any flexion. They do make up for the lack of flexion by having a rocker sole where the midsole tapers off towards the end of the toes. However, some runners who are calf dominant or who already have problems with the function of their big toe joint might find the stiffer HOKA’s inappropriate.
What’s not different about HOKA?
Some features about HOKA will surprise you by just looking at them.
HOKA are much lighter than you think.
They may look big and bulky but when you pick up a pair and compare them to a traditional shoe you will find them to be quite light. This is another appropriation from the minimalist fad. Lightness can mean more efficiency as long as they do not sacrifice cushioning which the HOKA midsole material certainly achieves.
The cushioning lasts well.
Lightness is linked to a reduced life span for shoes. However, the HOKA midsole seems to maintain its resistance to the compression of running very well over time. In fact, it is one of the few shoes that you may wear out the outsole before the midsole. This may be because the main part of the midsole that usually dies first is the forefoot and because HOKA’s are thicker in the midsole they just last longer.
The shoe cradles your foot for more support.
With few HOKA models with any dual density midsoles, you might think that they are not very supportive for rolling in and out. However, because they are stiffer, have a wider based midsole, and wrap up around the foot, they actually give significant support to the planted foot. Where they might not work so well is if you are landing in a rolled out position or if you step on a rock that rolls you out. You might find an increased risk of an ankle sprain because they do not conform to the ground as much as a traditional shoe.
What’s the future of HOKA?
HOKA are innovators! They have not been sitting on their success but instead, have used it to continue to innovate and revolutionise your running experience. The new CarbonX Hoka will arrive soon as a much more durable version of Nike’s Vaporfly 4%. They have addressed their cosmetic design but also their structural design to expand the type of shoes they offer and the type of runners who can use them.
The key for you as a runner is to be able to identify what type of foot structure you have and match that with the right type of HOKA.
Next time you are ready to buy new shoes, try on a HOKA.
Come and see our running team at intraining Running Centre. Ask them to include a pair of HOKAs in your mix to run outside and try so you can feel what it’s like to run in the shoe.