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New study says high cushioned shoes improve exercise performance

Results indicate that a high cushioned shoe may not only improve your recovery but also benefit your performance in the absence of muscle damage

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%

Some brands revolutionized the shoe market in the past 10 years by designing shoes with a higher stack height to improve recovery. There have always been polarizing opinions on whether high-cushioned shoes have any benefits for performance. New research out of the University of Exeter in the U.K. and Nike Global Sport Research Laboratory measured the running economy and overall performance between two different prototype shoes–a mid-cushioned model (273 grams) vs. a highly cushioned model (232 grams) during an incremental running test–and found some performance benefits to the more highly-cushioned shoe.

The Nike Alphafly, released in 2019.

The study was conducted on 32 runners (22 male and 10 female) while wearing each shoe type. Each participant completed an incremental treadmill test in a high cushioned shoe and a mid-cushioned shoe. Their oxygen cost and maximal performance were measured before and after a 30-minute downhill run in each model. Forty-eight hours after the downhill run, the runners were again required to perform the test, to measure long-term muscle damage.

Study figure 1: An illustration of the study

Researchers found that the running economy was 5.7 per cent better in the highly cushioned shoe than in the mid-cushioned model, which equated to approximately one minute and 15 seconds over a 30-minute run. As the runners dealt with higher speeds, the higher cushioned model was able to handle each increment of speed at a lower VO2 level in comparison to the mid-cushioned model.

Effect of each footwear (Mid: grey; High: white) on the oxygen control while running. (n=) represents the mean of the sample size

They also found that the oxygen cost in the presence of muscle damage was significantly lower in a higher cushioned shoe, and that there was 4.6 per cent less muscle damage from the downhill run in the higher-cushioned shoes.

These results indicate that a high cushioned shoe may not only improve your recovery but also your performance in the absence of muscle damage.

The shoes that were tested were from Nike, but the precise models were not named in the study.