Q: What's your take on alternating between two pairs of shoes? Why do some people recommend this?
A: Rotating between two (or three) pairs of shoes can be beneficial to our running. This, along with other preventative habits, can extend the use of our shoes and reduce the risk of an overuse injury.
This might sound strange, but running shoes, like our bodies, need time to recover from our miles. Over time, our running shoes lose the ability to absorb shock. As the miles add up, the midsoles become more compressed, which makes the shoe less effective down the road.
Rotating sneakers allows our shoes to "bounce back" and it slows down this compression process. This also helps us get more time (though not necessarily more miles) out of our shoes.
Often, we hear the term "overuse injury." These injuries — such as "Runner's Knee" or "ITB Syndrome" — tend to occur from doing too much of the same thing. And too much of the same thing is not always good. A big benefit of rotating shoes is that using another pair or another brand allows the body to use our muscles in more dynamic ways. Rotating shoes tricks our bodies into "ever-so-slightly" varying our actions and fooling our bodies into using different parts of muscles during a run, which limits over-fatigue to any one specific area. This also allows recovery to other muscle areas which might have been used more with a different pair of shoes from the day before.
Now, if you need a stability shoe, you'll want to purchase multiple pairs that serve your need for stability. The same would apply to a neutral runner; rotate between different neutral shoes, and so on.
We are often told that variety is the spice of life, and there are other ways we can vary our workouts to reduce overuse injuries: Varying our pace, route, terrain and distance of our runs all help. Having multiple pairs of shoes is helpful for these varied runs as well. It gives you more options. You might want to use a lighter shoe for a race, shorter run or track workout, and a more cushioned shoe for longer runs, trail runs etc.
You wouldn't wear the same pair of socks or shorts for every run, so why limit yourself by wearing one pair of running shoes all the time? Imagine having only one pair the day after a run in the soaking rain… putting on that same wet pair for additional miles the next day would not be fun.
One downside to rotating among multiple pairs is that it makes it more difficult to keep track of the number of miles we run on each pair (the general rule is 300-500 miles per pair). To combat this, I recommend keeping a running log to track the use of each pair. Having more than one pair is more expensive, but if it offers you more options while reducing the risk of injury, the benefits outweigh the cost.
Gerard Pescatore is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and ABC Certified Pedorthist trained to fit runners with the proper shoes and manage comprehensive client foot care. A Glenside resident, his approach is "Innovative coaching laced with old school grit." In his spare time, Gerard works for New Balance.