What You Should Know About HOKA Shoes

Despite the huge array of wearable tech and other fitness accessories available to runners these days, shoes continue to be the major focus. Which makes sense. After all, shoes are a runner’s primary tool and best friend.

But runners–and other athletes–have tons of decisions to make when selecting the best footwear for them. A recent entry in this competitive market, HOKA shoes, makes all sorts of claims regarding their potential injury-preventing and performance-enhancing benefits. But, do these theories hold up to scientific scrutiny? What should you know if you’re considering using HOKA shoes in your training?

The Cushiony Difference

In general, running shoes tend to fall under three larger categories depending on the level of cushioning and support that they provide. Ranging from most cushioned to least, these categories include maximalist, standard, and minimalist.

Stuffed with specially-designed padding, HOKA shoes land firmly on the maximal end of things. Proponents for this type of shoe claim that the extra cushioning and support that they provide can improve your running form, enhance your energy efficiency, and prevent injury by reducing impact applied to your joints.

Also, they’re real comfy.

Looking At The Results

These claims, though, regardless of the exact brand being used, have not fared well in the lab. Generally, research has actually found that cushioned footwear tends to trick people into thinking that it’s safe to run with a heavier stride–increasing the impact forces experienced by their joints. Previous research has also shown no improvement when it comes to exercise performance or efficiency.

Plus, more cushioning also means more weight, which will make your legs work harder to cover the same distance.

So, it doesn’t look great for maximalist shoes thus far. The makers of HOKA shoes, however, claim that their shoes are more balanced than their competitors’ and do not suffer from these problems. Two studies, sponsored by the American Council on Exercise set out to clarify the situation.

The first study focused on impact forces, while the second one was designed to measure changes to energy use when runners switched to HOKA shoes. What did they find?

Not much, actually. Running in HOKA shoes did cause a fairly significant increase peak impact forces, which could lead to a greater risk of injury. The authors of the study, however, did speculate that the unique design of HOKA shoes would mitigate this stress.

And there was no difference in energy use or running performance. Which, according to the researchers, is actually a good thing.

What To Do?

Looking at this research, then, can seem a little discouraging at first. Does this mean that you shouldn’t bother with HOKA or similar shoes? No, not necessarily.

While HOKA shoes did lead to higher impact forces, they did not cause significant changes in running form. They also didn’t reduce running performance.

But they are seriously comfortable shoes. So if comfort is a concern for you and you enjoy HOKA’s specialized design, there is nothing wrong with these quality shoes.