If every runner happened upon a fantastical genie who would grant them three running-related wishes, you can bet that probably every single runner would use one of those three wishes never to get injured again.
One of the primary ways in which runners strive to prevent injuries is in their choice of running shoes.
Some runners believe barefoot running, or minimalist running shoes is the way to go. Other runners opt for maximal cushioning shoes with thick soles, such as the type of highly-cushioned shoes the popular brand Hoka One One is known for.
Why do Hoka running shoes cause foot pain or contribute to other running injuries?
If you’ve been running in Hoka One One running shoes or maximal-cushioning running shoes, yet you are still getting injured, keep reading to learn potential answers to if and why maximalist running shoes are bad for your feet.
In this guide, we will cover:
- Why Do Runners Like Hoka One One Running Shoes?
- Many Runners Are Finding “Hoka One One Hurt My Feet.” Here’s Why
- Can Hokas Reduce The Risk Of Injury?
Let’s jump in!
Why Do Runners Like Hoka One One Running Shoes?
Running-related injuries are extremely common. In fact, most surveys and estimates in research literature note that about 30-75% of runners experience an injury over the course of a year of training, with evidence demonstrating that injuries are especially high in rearfoot strikers.
Running injuries sideline you from getting in your training and can force you to rest or cross-train only for days, weeks, or even months, derailing any plans you have for hitting a big PR in your next race.
For this reason, runners will do whatever they can to prevent getting hurt.
One of the main factors runners look to when trying to prevent injuries is in their choice of running shoes.
Therefore, most runners strive to get the best running shoes to prevent injuries.
Interestingly, scientific studies about the “best” type of running shoes to reduce the risk of injuries are inconclusive.
See also: Hoka vs On Cloud Shoes
Some studies have found that minimalist running shoes like the Nike Free allow for a more natural stride and foot biomechanics that reduces the risk of injury.
Other studies have concluded that the shoes you find to be most comfortable are actually the best running shoes to prevent injuries for you personally.
Maximalist shoes with thick cushioning, such as Hoka One One running shoes, are also sometimes reported to protect your feet and legs from injuries.
The thick cushioning of Hoka running shoes looks like it would absolutely act as a built-in shock absorber that would spare your bones and joints from the impact stresses from running.
Essentially, a super thick and plush foam sole might act as a buffer between your feet and the ground, and may act as a first-pass filter and absorb some of the impact forces when you land on your feet. This would reduce the amount of shock or stress your feet, ankles, shins, knees, legs, and hips end up being subjected to.
To this end, many runners do find Hokas to be supremely comfortable with their cloud-like cushioning.
However, many other runners find that “Hoka one one hurt my feet or legs” or otherwise contribute to getting injured despite the thick cushioning. Let’s examine why this may be the case.
Many Runners Are Finding “Hoka One One Hurt My Feet.” Here’s Why
Interestingly, despite the common belief that maximalist running shoes with a thick, cushioned sole will absorb more impact forces of running compared to shoes with a thinner sole or less cushioning, evidence suggests that running in maximal-cushioning trainers actually increases the magnitude of the vertical forces applied to the foot and lower limb during running.
You may be thinking, this may be the reason why Hoka One One hurt my feet.
In a small study, 15 female runners ran a 5k on the treadmill on two different occasions. In one trial, they ran in maximal shoes (Hoka One One Bondi 4); in the other, they ran in regular running shoes (New Balance 880) with a traditional amount of cushioning.
Researchers collected biomechanical data during the treadmill runs, discovering that runners experienced higher vertical loading rates and higher peak impact forces while wearing Hoka One One running shoes compared to when they ran in the New Balance shoes.
Vertical loading rates refer to the speed at which the body is subjected to impact forces, while peak impact forces refer to the maximum instantaneous amount of force the body is subjected to.
Therefore, running in maximalist running shoes places higher stresses on the body and at faster—and thus more risky from an injury standpoint—rates.
The researchers hypothesized that this increase in impact forces while wearing the Hoka One One running shoes was potentially attributable to the fact that runners unconsciously altered their biomechanics while running in the highly-cushioned shoes.
After forming this hypothesis, the researchers wondered if habitual training in maximalist running shoes would enable the runner to adapt their biomechanics to the shoe over time, eliminating the increase in impact forces demonstrated in the study.
A subsequent study carried out by the same research group investigated this very notion.
This time, the purpose of the study was to investigate whether training regularly in maximalist running shoes, rather than just wearing them for a single 5k trial on the treadmill, would cause a natural shift in the runners’ biomechanics such that they would acclimate and their legs would absorb less impact stress over time.
In this follow-up study, researchers looked at the vertical ground-reaction force (impact forces) and ankle kinematics (biomechanics) while running in maximalist shoes (Hoka Bondi 5) versus standard running shoes (New Balance 880v2) with a normal amount of cushioning.
The study group consisted of 28 adult runners who had been running at least 15 miles per week without incurring an injury in the previous six months at the start of the study.
All the runners in the study were rearfoot strikers.
This time, runners did two trials—one wearing each shoe—at baseline.
Then, they trained for six weeks in the maximalist running shoes, gradually increasing the percentage of their total mileage done in the Hokas until all of their training was done wearing the maximalist shoes.
After the six weeks of acclimating to the Hoka One One running shoes, the runners completed the same trials on the treadmill in the maximalist shoes and the traditional trainers.
Interestingly, researchers found that no adaptations were made after training in the Hoka One One Running shoes.
Results indicated that both the loading rate and peak impact forces were again higher in the maximal running shoe. Moreover, the maximal running shoe altered biomechanics, such that runners everted at toe-off and landed with less dorsiflexion in the Hoka One One shoe compared to the New Balance shoe.
Therefore, runners did not adapt their biomechanics to accommodate the increased cushioning in the Hoka, even after training in them for six weeks.
Resultantly, the researchers concluded that running in Hoka One One or other maximalist running shoes may increase the risk of injury due to the fact that running in them subjected the legs to higher and faster forces and altered foot and ankle motion.
Can Hokas Reduce the Risk Of Injury?
None of this is to say you should immediately ditch your Hoka running shoes and start wearing the least cushioned running shoes you can find.
Most podiatrists and shoe experts say that just because the body may absorb more force when you wear maximal cushioning running shoes doesn’t necessarily mean that wearing Hokas will cause an injury.
Rather, some of these experts postulate that maximal running shoes alter the application of forces or stresses on the foot and lower limb compared to traditional running shoes.
As such, depending on your personal “weak” areas or injury risk, running in Hoka One One running shoes may actually decrease the risk of injury.
For example, a small study found that running in Hoka One One maximalist shoes reduces plantar pressure in the feet compared to wearing a minimalist running shoe (New Balance Minimus Hi-Rez).
The magnitude of this reduction was especially significant in the forefoot.
Therefore, runners who struggle with foot injuries, particularly issues such as metatarsalgia, metatarsal stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, Morton’s neuroma, bunions, fat pad atrophy, or other toe and forefoot injuries may really benefit from wearing Hoka running shoes instead of minimalist running shoes.
Additionally, many Hoka One One running shoes have a rocker sole, which can help support the heel-to-toe transition while you run and minimize necessary foot motion.
Although this is thought to weaken your foot muscles over time and may not be advantageous for many healthy runners, it can be an incredibly helpful and pain-reducing feature for runners with arthritis in the feet, tarsal tunnel syndrome, and joint effusions.
Again, it all comes down to your own needs as a runner. There’s truly no one-size-fits-all approach to what are the best running shoes to reduce the risk of injury.
Need some advice on picking running shoes? Check out our guide here.