Super Shoes first rocketed onto the running scene in 2016. Their impact was immediate with a string of World records, World and Olympic medals and the infamous breaking 2 project.
However, they don’t just benefit the elite. Research suggests most runners can expect to run around 1-2% faster in Super Shoes. And (despite their hefty price tag!) they’re now a staple of race day for runners of all levels.
Although designed and marketed for race day personal bests, many runners wear them for faster paced training sessions. And some even wear them for everyday training and longer runs.
While some wear them for extra speed in their training runs. Many runners have noticed improved post run recovery.
Training in Super Shoes may allow runners to achieve a greater volume of more intense training. This has led some to suggest that the real benefits of Super Shoes may come from training in them.
Is training in Super Shoes a good idea?
In this article, we’ll examine the pros and cons of wearing Super Shoes for training. We’ll then look at the best approaches to using them within your own training.
Before leaping in…
What is a Super Shoe?
So, when does a trainer become a Super Trainer?
To be considered a Super Shoe, they must have two key elements:
1) A full-length rigid carbon plate — helps to guide the foot through the most efficient plane of movement.
2) A high stack layer of light highly responsive foam — this provides great energy return and shock absorption properties.
These combine to provide the following benefits:
Benefits of Super Shoes
1) Improved running economy/efficiency — the primary reason for the performance benefits of Super Shoes.
2) Greater fatigue resistance — this can be beneficial during longer distance races.
3) Improved recovery — an additional benefit appears to be reduced muscle damage and faster recovery.
Not surprisingly, Super Shoes have become popular for faster training — like long intervals or threshold training.
Some runners even wear them during their easy runs!
Pros and Cons of Training in Super Shoes
So, what are the pros and cons of training in Super Shoes?
Improved Recovery = Increased Training Volume
As mentioned, the main benefit is faster recovery.
If you’ve used Super Shoes while racing or training, then you’ve likely noticed this yourself!
Your legs will feel much less achy, after racing or training hard in these!
So how might Super Shoes enhance recovery?
A key feature is the super-responsive foam.
When you run, this compresses under the weight of your stride, then rapidly expands to propel you forward.
This dampens the impact forces that your muscles experience when running. And may reduce muscle fatigue and cause less micro-trauma.
How might this happen?
While running at the same overall workout intensity, Super Shoes lessen the impact your muscles experience with each stride. The reduced impact forces may lead to less micro-trauma.
Micro-traumas are small scale injuries at the cellular level. These can lead to muscle soreness and slower recovery times.
By blunting these, Super Shoes may reduce post-run muscle fatigue/soreness and speed up the recovery process.
How faster recovery might benefit training?
Faster recovery might allow for larger training volumes. It may also allow for more high-intensity training.
Over time, this could lead to greater training adaptations and faster race times.
A recent research article supports this theory.
Research looking at the benefits of training in Super Shoes
In a recent study published in the European Journal of Sports Science, researchers looked at the benefits of wearing Nike Zoom x Vaporfly Next % 2 during long intervals.
About the study:
- Runners completed 2 interval sessions of 5 x 1000m. Each separated by 7 days.
- In the first session, researchers randomly assigned athletes to wear either Nike Vaporfly or regular trainers. They switched trainers for the second session.
- Nike Vaporfly’s improved long interval performance (~2%).
- The improvements occurred despite similar running power, heart rate and neuromuscular fatigue.
- Researchers observed reduced subjective muscle pain with the Vaporfly (assessed 24hr post workout).
In short, Super Shoes improved high-intensity training and reduced post-run fatigue.
Ok, so all good so far.
A word of caution: don’t wear Super Shoes for all your training sessions! They’re likely beneficial for key sessions, but you shouldn’t wear them too frequently.
In the next section, we’ll look at how they might affect training adaptation and why it’s wise to restrict these to key sessions.
Super Shoes and Training Adaptation
Training adaptation is fundamental for success in endurance sport. This is the process where our bodies adapt to training stress.
When running, we expose our cardiovascular system, muscles, tendons and bones to a level of stress.
Overtime they adapt to this.
It’s through these adaptations that we become stronger, faster, and more efficient runners.
Let’s take a look at how Super Shoes might affect training adaptations.
Likely beneficial for cardiovascular adaptations
As discussed, there appears to be an obvious benefit for increasing training volume and high-intensity training. So, from this perspective, there could be positives to wearing super shoes for improved cardiovascular (CV) fitness.
A few points to consider here:
- Most well-trained runners are already close to peak cardiovascular fitness. So, wearing Super Shoes for high end intervals, like V02max intervals, may not be productive. Especially, given the main benefits of these sessions tend to come from improvements to running economy.
- One area where they may prove beneficial is tempo and threshold training. These intensities are beneficial for improving metabolic efficiency and muscular endurance. It’s also one of the best ways to improve your ability to sustain faster running speeds for longer.
- Wearing super shoes for these sessions may allow for larger volumes of tempo and threshold training. This may lead to greater improvements in the lactate threshold and long-distance running performance.
While Super Shoes allow you to complete more quality training. One concern is whether wearing them too frequently may interfere with training adaptations of your muscles and tendons.
May limit adaptations to key muscles and tendons
So why is that?
This goes back to the unique properties of these shoes. In particular, how they improve energy return and minimise impact.
While they boost performance, they likely dampen the stress placed on your feet and lower legs when running.
If worn too frequently, then overtime, this reduction in stress could limit adaptation.
For example, your lower leg muscles and tendons — like the soleus muscle and Achilles tendon — may experience less stress compared with running in regular trainers.
This may seem beneficial in the short run. However, over time, this could lead to gradual reductions in strength and resilience. It may lead to weaknesses in certain muscles. And create vulnerabilities when not running in Super Shoes.
Concerns about Injury Risk
There’s two very opposing views here:
- Some believe they reduce injury risk
- For others, they present an increased injury risk
So why are there two opposing views?
First, there’s currently no published data that can support either argument. There’s anecdotal evidence of injuries on one side and a theoretical benefit on the other side.
Second, we’re all different and while they may reduce injury risk for some runners, for others they may increase the risk.
Increased injury risk
Several runners and coaches have reported injuries after racing and training in Super Shoes. Mostly these involve ankles sprains, plantar fascitis, Achilles tendonitis.
Less frequently, there have been reports of hip and lower back injuries.
Of these, plantar fascitis seems to crop up more frequently.
One reason may be the stiffness of the shoes. The carbon plate reduces some of the work that muscles of the foot (plantar and dorsal groups) would normally do. Running too often in these could lead to weakness in those muscles.
You can think of these as the opposite of minimalist shoes…
While minimalist shoes force the muscles of the foot to do more work, Super Shoes do the opposite reducing the workload of those muscles.
While researching this, I found one published paper with reports of bone stress injuries with carbon plate running shoes.
Reduced injury risk
Alternatively, some suggest that Super Shoes may actually reduce injury risk by absorbing some of the shock. In theory, this might reduce injury risk by dampening the strain your joints, tendons, and muscles experience.
My thoughts are that running with Super Shoes is like running with an additional level of support. While that can be beneficial for certain key workouts, relying on support too often may not be beneficial and could lead to weakness.
Cost is clearly a factor. Super Shoes come with a super price tag and a limited lifespan — typically 200-250miles. That said, my Meta Speed Sky are still going strong at 250+miles. My approach is to train in my Super Shoes when they’ve come near to the end of their racing life.
Bringing this to a conclusion: Should you train in Super Shoes?
Most experts believe that using Super Shoes for 1-2 key training sessions per week may be beneficial. In fact, they likely enhance recovery following more intense training sessions.
It’s good practice to wear them for some race pace training before important races.
Training in these too often, and especially during slower pace runs, may not be the best approach. This may reduce training adaptation, possibly increase injury rates, and might weaken key intrinsic muscle groups.
While many of the reports of increased injury rates are anecdotal, a cautious approach appears to be sensible at this point.
Super Shoes Training Suggestions:
- Limit wearing Super Shoes to a maximum of 2 weekly training sessions.
- Reserve them for key sessions: tempo, threshold, race pace, or specific high-intensity training.
- Most experts suggest “avoiding” wearing them for easy pace runs, or longer runs. One exception could be longer runs at Marathon pace, or when including Marathon pace intervals.
- Limit Super Shoes to 1 (occasionally 2) sessions per week.
- I prefer to wear these when training at 10k to Half Marathon pace. Or sometimes 5k pace if preparing for a road 5k.
- I run faster intervals (including strides) in spikes or racing flats (without carbon plates). For me, this seems to provide a better training stimulus (especially when targeting improvements in running economy). It also works those key muscle groups that get an easy ride with Super Shoes.
- Before an important race, I run 1-2 interval session at race pace in my race day Super Shoes.
- Wearing them for the occasional session where you need a mental boost is also ok.
So, there you have it. Super Shoes can be a useful addition to your training shoes rotation. Just don’t overuse them – stick to a max of 1 or 2 weekly training sessions – and reserve use for specific sessions like threshold, or race pace intervals.
Castellanos-Salamanca M, Rodrigo-Carranza V, Rodríguez-Barbero S, González-Ravé JM, Santos-Concejero J, González-Mohíno F. Effects of the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2 shoe on long-interval training performance, kinematics, neuromuscular parameters, running power and fatigue. Eur J Sport Sci. 2023 Jul;23(7):1315-1323. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2023.2171907. Epub 2023 Feb 23. PMID: 36680410.
Joubert, Dustin P. and Jones, Garrett P., “A Comparison of Running Economy Across Seven Carbon-Plated Racing Shoes” (2021). Faculty Publications. 33.
Senefeld JW, Haischer MH, Jones AM, Wiggins CC, Beilfuss R, Joyner MJ, Hunter SK. Technological advances in elite marathon performance. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2021 Jun 1;130(6):2002-2008. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00002.2021. Epub 2021 May 13. PMID: 33982594.
Tenforde A, Hoenig T, Saxena A, Hollander K. Bone Stress Injuries in Runners Using Carbon Fiber Plate Footwear. Sports Med. 2023 Aug;53(8):1499-1505. doi: 10.1007/s40279-023-01818-z. Epub 2023 Feb 13. PMID: 36780101; PMCID: PMC10356879.