Three Key Benefits of Shoe Rotation on Runners’ Health and Performance

Mar 7, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

By Sarah Correa

For many runners and walkers, shoes are considered “done” when the outsoles are visibly thrashed – rubber peeling off and/or rubbed smooth, the material falling to pieces. They head to their local running store, put on a new pair, and immediately say “wow, these feel incredible, what a difference!” It is always surprising how much better the new pair feels, because the old pair broke down gradually and they adjusted to the feeling.

However, the body’s adjustment to a very old pair of shoes isn’t necessarily a good thing. Often a pair of shoes are “done” (meaning the structural integrity and support offered is significantly compromised), well before the outsole appears heavily eroded/damaged.

When you run a pair of shoes into the ground – literally – you may feel you’re squeezing every cent of value from them. And with good quality running and walking shoes costing $130 to sometimes over $200, it can be hard to justify getting another pair when your old ones still “appear” to have some life left in them.

But the reality is this – running in the same pair of sneakers until they literally break down may be detrimental to not just your short-term running performance, but also to your long-term health.

There are several indicators that your shoe may be ready for retirement from running or walking, including:

  • The midsole is compressed or flattened.
  • The outsole has visible wear patterns.
  • The heel counter is no longer firm.
  • The upper is damaged.
  • Changes in appearance.
  • The shoe bends easily.
  • The heel cushion has started to feel soft or spongy.
  • You feel any new or worsening foot pain or discomfort when running.

Retiring your pair of running/walking shoes at the right time will help keep your body healthy and out there enjoying the miles. Generally, 300-400 miles is the recommended lifetime of a running shoe, but you may be able to transition it to walking for a bit more time after that. Tracking miles is also recommended (so you are aware of how used your shoes are becoming). You can keep a log on paper, create a note in your phone, or even add your each of your shoes to Strava and let the app keep track for you!

In addition replacing your shoes when necessary, there are also important benefits to owning more than one pair of shoes at a time, and varying the pairs you use day-to-day. Here are some of the key benefits to having a few pairs of shoes in your running or walking arsenal. Note that while the benefits below are outlined in terms of running, very similar principles can be applied to walking, and having footwear in good repair and owning multiple pairs is just as important for walkers as it is for runners!

Key Benefit 1:

Running in more than one model of shoes promotes foot, joint, and muscle health by making the highly repetitive motion of running a bit more varied. B

A key metric of good running form is cadence, or steps per minute. A cadence of 180+ steps per minute is generally considered very good, the general idea being that taking more frequent smaller steps, rather than less frequent larger strides, makes each footfall less impactful and discourages overstriding/heel striking. Even at slower paces, maintaining 180 steps per minute is vital to health and longevity in the sport.

Now, doing the math, if you head out for a 6-mile run averaging 10 minutes per mile, your step count at a good cadence of 180 would be (6miles x 10minutes x 180steps/minute) = 10,800 steps. That’s a ton of times to repeat the same motion, and it’s easy to see why overuse injuries are among the most common ailments in running.

We always hear the term “keep the body guessing,” and for good reason. If there is one thing the body is too good at, it’s muscle memory and trying to become too efficient at a task for its own good. The buildup of fascia around muscle layers is an example of this. The body will begin to get locked into specific ranges of motion and as a result, lose its ability to move in other ways. This remembrance of familiar patterns of motion is so pronounced that it even changes neuropathways/connections in the brain. We “forget” how to perform other tasks and motions, even if we are otherwise physically capable. Loss of coordination as we age is an example of this, but a preventable one.

What I am getting at is this: When you run in a specific pair of shoes, the cushion level, heel to toe drop, footbed, and fit of the shoe do not change over the course of the run. Your body takes a repetitive motion and begins to make it even more repetitive by “learning” the shoe and adapting to run “more efficiently” in it. If you are logging hundreds of miles in a shoe, and then replace that shoe with the same one and log hundreds of miles more, your body is learning and remembering that highly specific kind of motion. When the day comes that your favorite shoe stops being made or updates in a significant way (oh, and it will), you may suddenly find your body cannot readily adapt to the change.

Running in a variety of shoes, with different levels of cushion depending on the kind of running you are doing (speedwork, long run, easy run, short run, etc), differing heel to toe drops, and different kinds of foam (firmer/denser vs softer), will keep your body guessing just a little bit, in a sport that is probably the most predictable of any there is. Just one foot in front of the other, right? But, with a few shoes in your rotation, you can make each step a little different.

Key Benefit 2:

When you run in multiple shoes, as one shoe ages you can mix in runs with a newer, fresher shoe, so that you are not pounding the pavement every day in the old pair.

It’s clear that a shoe advanced in usage does not offer the same level of cushion and support that a new shoe does. As a result, your body absorbs more of the impact from the road and recovery time can be extended. If you run every day in your old shoes, the cumulative effect on your body is even more pronounced.

Now, however, imagine that when your shoes reach about the halfway point in their lifespan (for running this is around 200 miles) you introduce a second, new shoe to your rotation. This new shoe becomes your go-to daily trainer and you supplement it with your older shoe. You now do most of your mileage in your new shoes, including your long runs, but still use your older shoes, just less frequently and maybe for runs that are shorter in distance.

With these two shoes, you are still getting use out of your older pair, but also giving your body a break from the cushioning that is breaking down, by also running in your fresh pair. As each pair reaches about the halfway point in it’s lifespan, you introduce new shoes to your rotation. In this way, you can safely utilize each of your shoes into the “well-worn” phase by not using them on every run.

Key Benefit 3:

You may get more miles from each shoe before retiring them.

This key benefit is closely related to the last. By having multiple shoes in your rotation, each at differing stages in their usage lifespans, you switch up running in fresh shoes with running in shoes that are more advanced in wear. You are also, as we noted in key benefit 1, running in a variety of cushion levels, foam densities, and perhaps heel to toe offsets. All these factors make it so that the effects of one pair of shoes are less magnified on your body and your recovery.

This means that if you have an older shoe, but only need to run in it 1-2 times a week because you have a second newer pair, you may end up getting more usage out of it in the long run (pun maybe intended…). Because you get a “break” from the shoe, the not-so-great effects of the older cushioning/support are not as magnified and you may feel more able to run in it for a longer period of time. For example, I have a pair of Cliftons with 350 miles on them, so approaching the end of their recommended running lifespan of about 400 miles. I use them for easy runs of about an hour or less and no longer do speed work in them, and only wear them a couple times a week. Do I feel the difference between them and my newer pair? Definitely. But because I have the newer pair, which is now my primary trainer, I can keep using my Cliftons safely as a supplement shoe. If I was still using the Cliftons every run, however, my body probably wouldn’t feel as happy and I may actually end up buying a new pair of shoes sooner.

To wrap it up:

Running is a physically demanding and highly repetitive motion that can take a toll on the body if you are not wearing proper footwear, and also regularly replacing that footwear when needed.
While buying two or three pairs of shoes may not seem economical, in the long run it can pay dividends when you aren’t sidelined with injuries and also when you are able to safely use each shoe into their “well-worn” eras!

A few quick notes:

Footwear is only one element in the complex story of running health and longevity. If you are experiencing pain when running, it is always best to consult a doctor or PT to determine the next best steps for you. We understand that new shoes are not a cure-all. However, proper shoe rotation, along with responsible training practices and cross-training activities, can greatly reduce your risk of injury and increase your longevity in this great sport.

Another aspect of fit are insoles. Insoles may benefit runners and walkers by customizing the fit of their shoes to their individual arch profiles – working to alleviate pressure points in the heels and toes as well as improve hip, knee, and ankle alignment. Insoles can help extend the life of your shoes as well, by adding structure to them. It’s always best to try on each new pair of shoes with insoles to test how they feel, just because an insole feels great in one shoe, does not mean it will work with your foot in a different pair!

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and got some good information from it. At Gold Country Run and Sport, we strive to match each person with the best pair of shoes for their individual needs and goals. Come see us and find your perfect fit! Happy running!


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