Women's Running shoes
No, it is not just that women are more prolific at shoe buying. When it comes to running shoes women have different needs to men. Simon Bartold has spent more than his fair share of time worrying about women and their running shoes. Simon works as an international research consultant for ASICS.
For a start Simon is able to quote a dazzling array of statistics on women, their feet and their injuries. One of the seminal pieces of work in this field was published by Jack Taunton in 2002. The paper was written at the end of a 25 year long study during which he studied more than 20,000 people. He looked at who got injured and why they got injured and found women have significantly different injury patterns to men. Women suffer the same rate of injury as men but they suffer different types of injuries. For example, women runners are two times more likely to get anterior knee pain, and that figure may be as high as nine times! They are at least two times more likely to develop lateral knee pain, three times more likely to get gluteus medius injury and ten times more likely to get sacroiliac pain than men.
Simon said: "It has been proposed that known differences in structure can make a difference." Most of us know that women and men are built differently, but when it comes to running shoes it is the differences that affect the biomechanics of running that matter. Simon said it was a myth that women's pelvises are different to men's but that the truth is that their thigh bone length is different relative to hip size - and that changes the biomechanics fundamentally. Women's feet hit the ground differently, the angle of the pelvis when running is different and women are more likely to be 'knock kneed'. The shape of women's feet is also different as they have, relatively speaking, a broader forefoot and narrower heel. That means the fit has to be different; the running shoes have to be built on a different last. Simon said: "We need to look at the shape of the last. Women are more likely to get slipping around the heel. The midsole and outsole are important with regards to touchdown."
That is not where the differences end. Why is it that women are eight times more likely to suffer anterior cruciate ligament injury? Simon had to ask, "That is not an over use injury, so why is this happening?"
The answer his research has come up with is to do with female hormone levels. He said: "Oestrogen acts as a relaxant on soft tissue. It allows women to give birth and allows ligament to become more distensible." The levels of oestrogen change throughout the monthly cycle. Simon found that in the third week of the cycle oestrogen level increases can reduce 'motor skills' and also lead to a flattening of the foot due to the effects of oestrogen on soft tissue. That made a difference to the fit of the running shoe as well as how the foot functioned. Carrying out research comparing women who were pill users and non-pill users underlined the findings. This led to ASICS building shoes with a different midfoot support structure to allow the arch space to drop in this period. These shoes include the Cumulus, Nimbus, 3000, 2130 and Kayano.
Getting what you want
But it is not just ASICS who have realised the importance of women specific running shoes. Brands are very aware of the fact there are more and more women who run. And that means the brands are doing more and more to cater for women runners. Making women's running shoes is not just about making a men's shoe in pretty colours. As Simon said the lasts are now different, and the design of the midsole takes into account the differences in typical mechanics. But the measures being brought out to give women a more comfortable run go beyond this. For example the Nike Air Zoom Vomero+2 has a stretchable panel in the upper that lies on the outside of the forefoot give better fit and comfort if you suffer with bunions! As with men's shoes women's running shoes are now designed to cater for a wide variety of shapes, sizes, speeds and surfaces. One area that is lagging behind would have to be racing shoes where many brands still only have unisex models of shoe - largely due to the limited numbers of these shoes that are being sold to either men or women. But given the success of Western female distance runners at a world level with the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Deena Kastor leading the charge it shouldn't be too long before this is put right too. To find out which shoes are best suited to you head for our Shoe Wizard.
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