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If you really think about the action of running, you're essentially pounding your feet on the ground consistently for a prolonged period of time. Unfortunately, your feet and joints (or bad knees if you've got them) won't love that if you don't have cushioned running shoes to soften the blows. The right kicks on your feet can result in improved running performance and reduced muscle damage, according to a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
What are the benefits of cushioned running shoes?
"Cushioned shoes can help a runner use less precious energy to run at the same pace/intensity level," says Laura Norris, running coach in Boulder, Colorado. "While heavily cushioned shoes do not necessarily protect against all running-related injuries (see this 2018 study in Scientific Reports), a plush cushion can reduce impact forces while running."
This is because cushioned running shoes are designed to help absorb shock, making the impact easier on your feet and joints. They also provide extra comfort and protect your feet from getting injured from consistent pounding on the ground, says podiatrist Elizabeth Bass Daughtry, MD.
How can I find the best cushioned running shoes for me?
Since everyone has different feet, you'll also want to make sure you get a proper fitting, says Mark Mendeszoon, DPM, a board-certified podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon. "Cushioned shoes absorb a great amount of stress." But if they don't fit properly, you can exacerbate injuries instead.
See some of the best cushioned running shoes below:
From Hoka and Saucony to Asics, there are luckily a lot of shoe brands on the market with their own cushioning systems and technology, Dr. Mendeszoon says. That means there's a sneaker just for your feet, running style, and comfort. Here are the 12 best cushioned running shoes, as recommended by running coaches and podiatrists.
Are cushioned running shoes good for running?
Yes, cushioned shoes are good for running as long as they are comfortable for the individual runner. In a 2021 meta-analysis in the European Journal of Sports Science, the most economical and protective shoes are found to be the ones runners feel most comfortable in. Your personal biomechanics, weight/height, type of paths you run on, and total volume of running all impact what will feel best for you. "Some runners may feel more comfortable in highly cushioned shoes; others may feel best in smaller amounts of cushioning," says Norris.
What kind of cushioning is best for running?
There are two types of cushioning that experts recommend looking for. Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) and supercritical nitrogen foam are top picks from Dr. Bui. "EVA is the most basic foam material. However, it is inexpensive and has lower durability," she says. "Supercritical nitrogen foam uses nitrogen to create pores within the foam to create a lightweight, firm, and resilient midsole. However, it is more expensive." On the other hand, leather or suede should be avoided since they can lead to blisters and other foot injuries.
No matter what type of cushioning you opt for, where the cushioning matters most is the midsole, according to Dr. Mendeszoon. "Higher levels of cushioning can get higher mileage, ranging from 350-550 miles."
What level of cushioning should I look for in cushioned running shoes?
There are five levels of shoe cushioning. Five has the most cushioning and one has the least. To decide which level is best for you, consider your:
- foot structure
- desired mileage
- environment or terrain
If you're new to running or planning on running a major race, Daughtry suggests opting for something with more cushioning. A one or two-level cushion can be beneficial for strengthening the foot, while the average person might prefer a level three for a more natural feel.
"Too much cushioning in a shoe can throw off the alignment of your spine, hips, and knees. It can also affect your proprioception," says Daughtry. "The opposite extreme, or a shoe with too little cushioning, can have similar results, except it can cause other areas of pain or overuse injuries such as stress fractures." While shoe shopping, try walking around or lightly jogging to determine what feels best for you.
Does the weight of the shoe play a role in comfortability?
The weight of your running shoe is key to your overall comfort. A heavy shoe is considered anything over 10.5 ounces. Unfortunately, with most shoes, it's a catch-22.
You can get a shoe that's designed for increased speed, but it won't have as much cushioning to protect your feet. Meanwhile, you can get a cushioned shoe for long-distance purposes, but you'll have to deal with a heavier shoe. So it's best to weigh the pros and cons before making a purchase.
“The biomechanical needs of your foot structure along with your running style should dictate the weight of the shoe," says Daughtry. "Shoe weight is important for avid, competitive runners to assist with aerodynamics and running form to avoid injury."
What's the best cushioned running shoe?
It's on this list, but the best one for you depends on your foot and running style. If you can get evaluated by a professional and undergo a proper biomechanical exam, it can really help determine what type of shoe is best for you, says Dr. Mendeszoon.
Your fave route also matters for shoe selection. "The surface you run on will impact which type of cushioning is best," says Norris. "If you plan on running on the roads, a plush cushion can be favorable.” However, if you run often on dirt trails, you may want to opt for a firmer cushion. “Trails are softer and thus have less energy return, which a firmer cushion offers. A firm cushion also gives more stability on technical trails,” adds Norris.
Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelancer writer specializing in health, weight loss, and fitness. She is currently based in Pennsylvania and loves all things antiques, cilantro, and American history.
Sabrina is an editorial assistant for Women’s Health. When she’s not writing, you can find her running, training in mixed martial arts, or reading.
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