Fact or Myth: Are Lightweight Running Shoes Better for Speed?

Lightweight running shoes are soaring in popularity as they provide runners with a sense of ease and effortlessness as they take to the roads. The shoes make runners feel faster – but are they actually better for speed?

Studies regarding lightweight race shoes can be traced back to the 1980s but a study from 2016 proved that for every 100g added to the race shoe, a runner’s speed is made 1% slower. However, although this statistic seems to point to an overwhelming yes, the answer is more complicated than that. 

Running is not just about speed, and every runner has a unique set of challenges and requirements when it comes to their performance. So, lightweight running shoes may make you faster, there is also evidence to suggest that they may also slow particular runners down. 

The answer to this question isn’t black and white and in this article, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of lightweight running shoes and their impact on running speed and performance.

The Science of Lightweight Running Shoes and Speed Enhancement

As stated previously, the science suggests that lightweight running shoes make you run faster. The study we mentioned above states that for every 3.5 ounces added to a shoe, a runner will burn 1% more energy due to the added exertion required. The long held theory is that this equates to more speed because the more energy a runner exerts, the slower the runtime. But, does a better running economy make for greater runtime? 

In 2016, Rodger Kram’s Locomotion Laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder, tested the theory. The study was led by Wouter Hoogkamer and the team used Nike Zoom Streak 5 racing flats to test the theory. 

All of the test subjects were given the same shoes, and the team systematically increased the weight of each shoe by adding lead beads to the shoe itself. It’s important to note that studies like this usually don’t account for the fact that different shoes are better for different runners – based on runner style, weaknesses and strengths. For example: cushioning is better for some runners while other runners require greater shoe structure rather than cushioning. Think about it like this, some runners struggle with foot posture issues such as underpronation and overpronation, and these kinds of runners will require race shoes with additional support. And with this in mind, lightweight shoes aren’t ideal for runners who are dealing with pain while running. 

Essentially, lightweight shoes reduce energy spent by runners, resulting in faster times however, this won’t be the case for all runners. Speed aside – there are many other benefits that come with lightweight running shoes.

The Benefits of Lightweight Running Shoes

Lightweight running shoes are gaining popularity due to the feeling of effortless running they provide. The number one benefit of lightweight running shoes is the reduction of energy they offer, and this lower rate of fatigue makes for faster runtime.

Another benefit of these race shoes is that they are known to improve running form. In fact, this claim has driven the barefoot running movement and has helped the minimalist running shoe trend. Many believe that the lightweight running shoes create a more natural running gait due to their low heel-to-toe slope.

Lightweight running shoes also create more comfort for runners as shoe designers are creating new materials to offer cushioning and support with less weight than traditional running shoes. 

The benefits that come with lightweight running shoes are vast – so is there a downside?

As with all things in life, there are some downsides to lightweight running shoes. As the material is less dense than regular race shoes, durability can become an issue. With this in mind, some runners will experience quicker deterioration of lightweight running shoes. All runners know that they should replace their shoes every 300 – 400 miles but lightweight running shoes may need to be replaced after 200 miles. 

It’s also important to note that some lightweight shoes don’t offer the same cushioning as their heavier counterparts (although there have been massive advancements in this design element). With this in mind, you may experience a less comfortable run and if you struggle with shin splints, then lightweight shoes are probably not the best bet for you. 

Now that we have a greater understanding of the science behind lightweight running shoes and the pros and cons of lightweight running shoes, it’s time to get back to the real question – are lightweight running shoes better for speed?

Are Lightweight Running Shoes Better for Speed?

The answer is simple: It all comes down to the runner. 

There are a variety of benefits that come with lightweight running shoes but there are also a lot of benefits that come with heavier running shoes. A firmer midsole may add weight to a shoe but will provide an injured runner with greater shock absorption and support – leading to greater running time, So once again, it all comes down to the runner and their particular weaknesses and strengths. And it’s up to you to figure out what works best for you. 

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