Maximalist Shoes & Rocker Soles

Author: By Steve “The Footman” Manning Founder of intrain  

The maximalist running shoe (AKA super cushioned shoes that have you running on clouds!) have been the type with the greatest growth in popularity in the last few years. This shoe is mainly characterised by its increased stack height (the thickness of the midsole cushion between the foot and ground. This makes for a very soft impact which dampens the feel for the ground.

Popularised by HOKA the maximalist shoes took over from the minimalist fad although they appear to have much more staying power. Other models that could be included in this category are the Brooks Transcend, Asics Glideride and Evoride, New Balance 1080, Mizuno Sky and about to arrive Saucony Endorphin Shift. The carbon plated super shoes almost all fall within this new category of “maximalist shoes".

However, the increased midsole thickness, especially in the forefoot, has a significant impact on foot function and running technique.

Four features you need to know about Maximalist shoes

1. Cushion, thickness and design

Maximalist shoes put you higher off the ground resulting in less stability (caused by an increase in the pronation/supination moment arm). These shoes make up for this problem by the midsole being moulded up around the sides cradling the whole foot. This tends to give them greater stability without the need for dual density midsoles or stability bars. This is also why these shoes have almost exclusively neutral midsoles.

2. The rocker sole

The other impact of thicker midsoles is the resistance to flexing at the forefoot. In a standard shoe this flexion is required to have a smooth toe off and propulsion. As the midsoles get thicker this flexion is hard to do and in many of these shoes is almost impossible. If the midsoles get softer so that flexion can occur, then the easy compression of a soft thick midsole makes the instability too great for most runners.

This problem is addressed by incorporating a ROCKER SOLE in maximalist shoes. Rocker soles have a curved rather than flat shape from the heel to the toe. The back of the heel is bevelled so that you are landing on a flat surface rather than an edge if you are heel striking. This can make for a smoother transition from heel strike to forefoot loading. This feature is critical to reduce slapping in runners with anterior shin and knee pain.

3. Toe spring

In the forefoot there is increased TOE SPRING where the midsole tapers down from its thickest point under the metatarsal heads where your foot normally bends right down to nothing at the tips of the toes. This gives you a very unusual feeling of falling off the front of the shoe. (See the above image).

1.A smooth forward roll

Together the heel bevel and the toe spring that creates the rocker sole makes for a smooth action during the contact phase of gait. The result is a quieter technique with little resistance rolling from heel strike through to toe off. If you have not run in one of these shoes before then you will feel a dramatic change compared to a standard shoe.

What research suggests:

Research published by Sobhani et al in 2017, (Biomechanics of running with Rocker Shoes), concluded that “although running with rocker shoes might lower mechanical load on the Achilles tendon, it could increase risk of overuse injuries of the knee.”This was mainly because these shoes seemed to shift the work from the ankle to the knee.

Another study by Pollard et al in 2018 looked at the Influence on biomechanics when wearing HOKA shoes before and after a 5km run. They found increased impact forces and loading rates when wearing maximalist shoes. Interestingly this is the opposite effect to what people perceive is happening when wearing these shoes.

While it feels like these shoes are super cushioned, they may actually increase the shock your body needs to absorb. There is a tenuous link between impact force and injury and recent studies on knee osteoarthritis have shown running impacts may be beneficial to reducing MRI signs of cartilage damage. This may be why so many runners describe reduced knee pain while running in maximalist shoes. Despite the research, it is not clear why these shoes appear to work.

Super Shoes:

The carbon plated super shoes seem to universally have rocker soles built into their design. The main biomechanical efficiency benefit from these shoes comes from the increased length of the foot lever by not flexing at the forefoot. You lose less energy and increase power with the forefoot stiffness but it can also compromise normal propulsion. Most of these shoes make up for this with an increased midsole stack height and toe spring.

A rocker sole and a thicker stiffer sole creates a change in most runners technique. There is a shift from using your calves to using your glutes in propulsion. This may be one reason why there are responders and non-responders with maximalist and super shoes.

Conclusion: You should try them out next time you’re in our store!

It can be difficult to know if you are someone who would benefit from a maximalist shoe with a rocker sole. However, I think everyone should try on one of these shoes to see how very different they feel when running at various speeds.

Watch Steve "The Footman's" review on the New balance 1080 RUNTALK #6

The intraining Running Centre has a large range of maximalist shoes and a 25-metre runway to try them out

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