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Col's Blog: Big toe instability and the impact of plated and rocker type shoes

Love them or hate them, the plated rocker running shoes are here to stay - for the time being at least.

There are lots of pros and cons to these types of shoes and I just want to take this opportunity to explain them from an experienced and well-informed point of view.

I don’t see any milage in quoting too many statistics in this overview as these can be manipulated to suit any argument, but I will try to put it in layman’s terms.

My first point is that they are expensive. A carbon fibre plate in any shoe is going to increase that overall cost. They are also in demand, so prices will be kept high.

They are also fast!

The carbon plate gives the shoe a rigidity and a platform from which to propel the body forward on foot strike through to transition. It also allows the manufacturer to inject more of their special cushioning into the midsole of the running shoe, giving more bounce and energy return.

You only have to look at the start line of any road race and nearly all runners are in these shoes, particularly the market-leading brand! So much so that runners believe and know that to have any chance of competing at the front, these shoes are seen as essential.

Regardless of the ethics of this and whether this as seen as enhancement or cheating, these shoes are legal in the athletics world.

However, they are a tool for our sport, in the same way that Lewis Hamilton has a superfast race car to improve his chances of winning. Without it he wouldn’t stand a chance.

My worry is that where do we go next with running shoes, and do super shoes benefit everyone? And finally, do they have the potential to increase injury and/ or do long-term damage?

It wasn’t that many seasons ago that we were all going towards barefoot running!

So, let's break it down into manageable chunks from my experience, knowledge and training as a runner, sports therapist and running coach...

As mentioned before, these types of shoes are a tool, and a useful one if you want to run fast. I have run in plated shoes, and non-plated rocker type shoes, and personally they are not for me.

Admittedly, I am not an avid road runner and I'm no longer fast enough to warrant such a shoe, but they certainly do increase the toe off and, in essence, project the body forward, increasing your cadence and ultimately your speed. But only if you allow it, have the right running style, right level of fitness and a good degree of stability.

If you watched the Big Half recently, when the athletes wearing the plated shoes ran over the cobbles, they exhibited ’Bambi on ice’ type gaits, and were lucky not to break any ankles or much worse. (Thanks James Ashforth for the nod towards this).

Note, a rocker style shoe is one which is stiff in the forefoot, and rolls rather than bends such as a Hoka Clifton or Topo Phantom.

At Bristol parkrun earlier in the year, many folk were shod in carbon-plated shoes, and not just the front runners. Those carrying water bottles, hydration packs, one pushing a buggy, were not immune from these types of shoes. My question is why? If these shoes are a tool to go faster then surely that’s what they should be reserved for? A buggy etc is going to negate any benefit these shoes provide.

The cost of these shoes is often 100% more expensive than regular shoes. They only have an operational shelf life of two marathons and will need replacing regularly to maintain their benefit!

Moving on to a more injury prevention and podiatrist stance, rocker shoes can and do facilitate some people to continue to stay running and/ or walking when experiencing p