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Running shoes have evolved over the years to give optimum speed and comfort to marathoners. From spikes, sponge midsoles, EVA Foam, waffle sole design, and energy capsules, new technologies are applied in production for better performance in the field. In recent years, the use of carbon fiber as plating for running shoes were popularized.
Experts and runners claim that wearing carbon-plated running shoes improves running economy and performance by leveraging the “lever effect” which allows the runner to roll through the gait cycle more efficiently, therefore, decreasing energy expenditure.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the role of carbon plates in running shoes, their benefits, and drawbacks, as well as whether or not they are good for you.
How Carbon-Plated Shoes Became a Trend
Carbon fiber-based shoes have been in the industry since the 1990s. However, it was not until Eliud Kipchoge’s historic performance in 2019 that it was popularized and revered as “magic shoes”.
During the marathon in Vienna, he broke the sub-2-hour barrier and logged a time of 1:59:40. Kipchoge’s absurd skills were complemented by a Nike Vaporfly Prototype, a modern carbon-plated running shoe.
Since then, a boom in the use of this technology happened which resulted in the overflow of different brands and models available in the market.
What Carbon Fiber Shoes Does For Running
Carbon fiber shoes are shoes that have carbon fiber embedded within their midsole. Its role in shoes is to act as a lever allowing runners to roll through the gait cycle more efficiently.
Due to their lightweight and energy-returning properties, shoe designers were quick in applying them as a core component of modern running equipment.
The application of carbon plates in shoes is focused on two purposes: energy return and form regulation. When combined, these provide great benefits to the user in terms of running time and recovery.
Energy return refers to how the sole of your shoe responds to the force of step applied to it. As an extra layer, the carbon plating helps promote quicker expansion and compression of the underlying foam. This enables the shoe to “spring back” more energy to the user compared to regular shoes.
Carbon-plated shoes also greatly help in terms of form regulation. As stated earlier, the rigid form is beneficial in providing a stable position for the ball of the foot as well as the ankles.
The strain on the legs particularly on the calve muscles is reduced. Furthermore, the toe is straightened safely to avoid running risks, especially in long-distance events. Carbon-plated running shoes with good midsole cushioning are a good choice for improving running economy.
The 4% Improvement
The gains you get from good carbon-plated running shoes are not just based on speculation. Various kinds of research related to running efficiency at slow and fast speeds using such shoes were conducted over the years to prove the claims.
According to Hoogkamer, a 4% increase in running economy was found when a marathoner used the Nike Vaporfly. While this might seem like a small amount, the average marathon time of around 4 hours can be cut down significantly just by using these shoes.
If you’re wondering how much faster carbon-plated running shoes are, I created an entire article that explains its effects on speed in more detail.
Pros of Using Carbon-Plated Shoes
By reducing movements in the ankle as well as underlying joint and muscle groups, carbon-plated shoes promote better momentum. This means that runners find it easier to “move forward” during the run.
Think of it as a lever mechanism that pushes you forward involuntarily. Thanks to the expansion and compression brought by the carbon plate and foam, your feet will roll naturally and propel you in the direction you want to go.
The shape of a carbon-plated shoe’s midsole is integral to this advantage. Take the Saucony Men’s Endorphin Pro 2 for example. It has a curved shape that helps users run faster and more efficiently by leveraging the “roll” in their stride.
Less Muscle Involvement
An important joint for any runner is the MTP or the metatarsophalangeal joint (your toes). As one of the main contributors to propelling you forward during the run, more energy is consumed when you rely on it more heavily.
The rigidity and stiffness of carbon-plated shoes help so that the MTP does not have to generate as much force to propel you forward. According to a study, wearing such equipment reduces negative work in the joint, acting as a lever to improve energy distribution in the lower limbs.
Increased Efficiency and Speed
The combination of the decrease in muscle involvement, energy return, and rolling mechanism of carbon plated shoes results in an increase in running efficiency allowing you to run further and faster.
Cons of Carbon-plated Shoes
Carbon-plated shoes could cost as much as 1.5 times or double the price of regular rubber shoes. Expect around $200 in each purchase, with more advanced models at the $250 point. They also wear off faster requiring you to replace them sooner.
Not for Short Duration Events
The increase and energy efficiency are less likely to be felt during short-lived running events. Furthermore, researchers found that the benefits are less felt at slower speeds.
May Be Regulated in Some Sporting Events
Some sporting events ban or regulate the use of carbon-plated running shoes. Thus, it’s important to check in with the organizer of the race you intend to compete in.
How Long Do Carbon-Plated Running Shoes Last?
The condition of your carbon shoes will depend on how much you use them as well as the terrain you are running on. However, many users claim that they have shorter lifespans compared to regular shoes.
The standard running shoes last around 500 miles (800 kilometers) miles. Carbon-plated shoes, however, can break or wear down as soon as 300 miles (480 kilometers) depending on the brand that you choose as well as the underlying model.
The reason why they last shorter has nothing to do with the carbon plate inserted in them but because carbon-plated shoes are designed to be light and fast. Therefore, shoe manufacturers use less cushioning, fewer outsoles, and lighter materials to keep the weight down.
Who Should Wear Carbon-Plated Shoes?
Carbon-plated shoes are good for long-distance runners. This is because the energy efficiency of 4% can be more felt during a longer duration of running. Not only that, but the improvements in form have positive effects on long-term habits.
I wouldn’t recommend it smuch for beginners, as the stiff and rigid structure needs some time to get used to. Also, there is a benefit to strengthening the small foot muscles involved in running. Using advanced running shoes such as carbon-plated ones decreases muscle involvement, therefore, reducing the opportunity to strengthen your foot.
Runners who are competing at a high level or are intermediate runners who want to improve their marathon time may benefit from using a carbon-plated running shoe. Just remember to train with a different set of daily trainers to avoid wearing out your carbon-plated shoe early.
By the way, if you’re wondering how to choose the right running shoes for a marathon check out this article I made.
Science backs the energy efficiency claims of carbon-plated shoes. Not only that, but they also improve recovery times, correct running form, reduce injuries, and maintain joint health.
For these reasons, I suggest getting carbon-plated shoes especially if you are looking to improve your times at long-distance events. Just take note of the higher costs as well as possible issues in enforcement and you are good to go.