Rotate Different Running Shoes to Reduce Injury and Improve Performance

Training in a range of shoes give a diversity in the same way that changing running surfaces (road, trail, grass, treadmill) reduces the repetitive part of repetitive stress injury risk from runners that run on the same surface all of the time.

How many pairs of running shoes are you currently training in?

If you are like most runners, you have one pair that you wear for all of your training.

But what if you had more than one pair of shoes in your rotation – would there be any benefit?

It turns out there is.

At a minimum, every runner should consider having at least two pairs of their main running shoes that they are actively using at one time and rotate different running shoes between workouts.

Benefits of Running in Two Pairs of A Shoe

1. Your shoes last longer

Your shoes will last longer as your miles are distributed across more than one pair of shoes. While most shoes last somewhere between 300-350 miles before needing replacement you can often get more miles out of a pair of shoes when rotating in another pair since not just one pair is being exposed to your training and the elements. The other reason they last longer is benefit 2 below.

2. Your shoes provide maximum support for each run

Wearing the same pair of shoes for each run does not allow the foam in your shoes ample time to decompress and return to it’s original state. Each foot strike places forces that are 1.5 to 3 times your body weight on the shoe.

By having more than one pair of shoes to rotate in your training you can then allow for maximum time for the foam to fully decompress over 24-48 hours between runs. If you are a twice a day runner, this is even more important as 12 hours or less is not sufficient for shoe recovery. Lots of running within a short period of time will wear your shoes down faster.

3. There is no increase in cost (and may be a savings!)

Whether you buy two pairs of shoes now or just one, your cost is the same. If you have just one pair of shoes you would end up spending money to replace them once warn out. With the extended amount of time between buying shoes you are just shifting that cost to less often.

This can allow you to take advantage of half yearly sales that are common at many running stores by timing your purchases with the sales rather than buying one pair on sale and later replacing it at full price.

4. Provides time between style changes each year

Every year shoe companies release new models of their shoes. While the purpose of your shoe won’t change from year to year, the fit and support of  the model of your shoe is likely to change. Even subtle changes can dramatically change if a shoe is right for you or not.

As an example, the popular Brooks Adrenaline GTS11 was a very different shoe than the GTS12 and GTS13 that followed it.

When you find a shoe that is working well for you this allows you to have more time between having to make a change thus allowing you to keep running in the same shoes you train with in your goal races.

This is particularly important for runners with fall goal races that may seek new shoes several weeks ahead of their race only to find their shoe model they trained in is now replaced by the new version and the fit is very different.

Benefits of Running in Multiple Styles of Shoes

Having more than one pair of your running shoes is a great start, but you can take it a step further and really maximize this training benefit by incorporating different types of shoes in your training. The benefits of doing this have recently been proven in recent study of this strategy.

In addition to all of the benefits above, training in different types of shoes add the following benefits:

1. Simulate Different Running Surfaces

Training in a range of shoes give a diversity in the same way that changing running surfaces (road, trail, grass, treadmill) reduces the repetitive part of repetitive stress injury risk from runners that run on the same surface all of the time. A stability or light stability shoe is going to ride very differently than a minimal or zero drop shoe.

This difference is enough to stimulate and use different muscles in your legs and feet than simply training in just one type of shoe alone. Different shoes distribute the impact forces of running differently, thereby lessening the strain on any given part of the body.

2. Reduced Injury Risk

It has now been scientifically proven that wearing multiple styles of running shoes can significantly cut your risk of injury. While not an injury prevention strategy itself, it is worth taking every advantage you can and placing all of the research and odds in your favor.

Researchers in a recent study conducted in Luxembourg gathered information on training volume, injury rate, cross-training, shoe usage and other variables from 264 adult recreational runners. During the 5 month study, 87 of 264 runners experienced one or more running injuries that were attributable to their running.

Of the 264 runners, 116 trained in only one style and pair of shoes exclusively and completed 91% of their mileage in the same shoe.

The other 148 were trained in more than one pair and style of running shoe during their training. Runners in this group tended to have a main shoe that they completed 58% of their running in, but they rotated among an average of 3.6 pairs of shoes for their training during the study.

The result was the group that rotated more than one pair of shoes and style of shoes reduced their risk of running related injury by 39%.

3. Build Strength

Having some of your training being conducted in a more minimalist type shoe will engage more of your muscles than a full stability or even light stability shoe. This is a great way to fully maximize the benefits of strength training exercises and shorter hard workouts.

4. Get the Benefits of Minimalist Shoes Without Going “All In”

Too many runners try to fully transition to minimalist running shoes and forgo their trusted daily trainers altogether. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition to get the benefits you desire and we have discussed.

By rotating in different styles of shoes you can better experiment and find what works for you while not risking injury by making an abrupt switch. You can also continue training with this hybrid approach as an acceptable compromise between shoes with more stability should you require them and those with less.

Implementing This Strategy In Your Training

In making any change to your running shoes, it is always best to make very gradual changes. Following the principle of not doing too much too soon will allow your body to be able to adapt.

The first step towards incorporating more shoes into your rotation is to purchase a second pair of your primary trainers that you are comfortable in. This will give you the benefits of the second pair of shoes mentioned above. If it has been some time since your shoes were replaced it is best to buy both pairs new at the same time just as you would with car tires.

The second step is to gradually experiment and introduce other styles of shoes into your training. If you primarily train in stability or motion control shoes start very slowly as your body needs a lot of time to adapt to less supportive shoes.

Begin with running just a few miles once or twice a week on easy or recovery runs and then increase the distance very slowly from there over many weeks. At the same time, incorporating minimalist running and running specific lower leg/foot strength exercises can be very helpful.

Adding minimalist shoes can be a very lengthy process taking up to 6 months or more. In fact, many runners will only reach a certain point in which they can run in these types of shoes whether that be a certain distance or time and not be able to advance further. This is ok and normal.

It will be normal to have increased soreness after runs in a new style of shoe that you are not accustomed to over the first few runs. Don’t mistake this as pain or injury unless the signs of injury are present during your run. Changing your shoes truly does engage different muscles.

Eventually, find the best rotation in your training that works for you. Most runners will likely find that a more supportive shoe will be their main choice for long runs and about half of their efforts, while a more minimalist type shoe will be their choice for easy recovery runs and potentially short harder workouts.

Remember to be brand agnostic when shopping for shoes and find what works best for you!

This article originally appeared on Runner Academy. Republished with permission.

Matt Johnson

Matt is a USATF and RRCA certified running coach, founder and head coach at Runner Academy and host of Runner Academy Podcast. As a runner for more than 15 years he focuses on helping others achieve their own running goals.

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