In the last ten years the concept of outdoor training has grown leaps and bounds to not only include new ways of enjoying the sport but also events that take the concept of adventure to new heights. As new technologies develop to meet the demands of the weekend warriors and professionals alike we’re uncovering new facts and figures to support our feet in a number of environments—from the road to the trail. We spoke to Dr. Geoffrey Gray, founder of Heeluxe Inc. and a proponent of finding solutions for healthier feet, about his help in designing the TevaSphere and what it’s meant to do.
What kinds of variables are taken into consideration when testing a shoe like this? Care to share any shocking revelations about our habits?
The goal of the Luxe Lab is to test people in environments that they would experience in a particular shoe. Since the TevaSphere is meant to hike, run, and work out, we had to compare this shoe to the top performers in those 3 categories as well as going completely barefoot. One thing of interest was we created the first hill that we can study people’s biomechanics on. We found that most hiking shoes actually limit the force your body is generating to propel you forward when going uphill—similar to driving with your parking brake still on. We also discovered that walking downhill increases ‘braking’ force with each step by 30% when compared to walking on flat ground. The braking force is why people get leg and back pain walking downhill. The TevaSphere is the only shoe we have ever tested that decreases the braking force walking downhill compared to other shoes.
There are a lot of exciting things happening in the world of fitness and a workout is no longer confined to the gym. Are you noticing this as well? What trends have you seen that have led to this outdoor fitness movement?
[I’ve noticed a] trend of progressing workouts to be more ‘functional’. The goal is to have people replicating natural movements in their natural environment. CrossFit has been a leader here, but there are so many other types of training that are getting people outdoors, doing movements they may have never done before, and pushing them to their physical limits. With this we are seeing the need for shoes that are meant [not just] to go in one direction, like someone on a treadmill or elliptical trainer. The shoes need to be able to go front and back, side to side, and jump with comfort, light weight, and support.
Is it safe to assume that more people are running away from the gym and taking their workouts outside?
We have seen a big surge in the number of people running [outside] lately. More people are doing longer distance races with training groups that fund raise, like Team in Training. Also, group fitness classes are including running to vary the types of workout they are doing.
What are your thoughts on going au naturale versus using minimalist footwear?
The focus on doing athletics barefoot or in minimal shoes has been a huge topic lately. I love the issue because people are looking to science to figure out which is better: barefoot or shoes? Unfortunately, the early research on this topic was very misleading. We are seeing now that going barefoot doesn’t necessarily change your running stride automatically. Also, barefoot running has been linked to higher rates of certain injuries, such as stress fractures.
Aside from any health benefits, I also like to look at performance. We have seen that on uphill and downhill settings, walking and running barefoot can actually decrease performance. This is not to say that all shoes are better than barefoot. I think there is a great opportunity to develop light weight shoes that offer support when your foot gets tired, help get traction, protect your feet from hot/cold and sharp objects, and improve comfort. Scientific testing makes designing these shoes much easier.
Can you tell us about some common injuries you see as a result of poorly designed trainers?
The top two injuries we see due to poorly designed footwear are plantar fasciitis (heel pain) and stress fractures. In the clinics, we are seeing both of these increase due to minimal footwear that are increasingly unstable. Other injuries that are commonly associated with poorly designed or worn out sneakers are Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and knee pain.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to find the perfect shoe to fit their stride?
Having a well designed shoe that is intended for the activity you are doing and replacing it BEFORE it is totally worn out are key. Science has also shown that changing your shoes alone doesn’t change your running stride mechanics, so make sure your are training your body for the activity you do and let the shoe accentuate your internal skills.
After how many miles should we be replacing our shoes and does use on a trail versus road really matter?
Truth be told, there has never been any science telling us when shoes need to be replaced. Ironically, we are going to start a study for Deckers looking at that topic this summer.
About Dr. Geoff Gray
Dr. Geoff Gray is the president and founder of Heeluxe, Inc. a company that designs, produces and researches innovative biomechanic foot solutions to help promote healthy feet. As president of Heeluxe, Geoff oversees product development and research for the company. A board certified specialist in orthopedic and sports physical therapy, he is also the brains and lead designer for Heeluxe’s innovative products. Geoff currently holds three patented foot biomechanic solution products to his name to date.
In addition to running Heeluxe, Geoff works with Teva and New Balance to conduct research and study the effectiveness of footwear at preventing and treating injury, optimizing foot function and increasing performance. He also focuses on the changes that occur in barefoot running and walking versus wearing shoes. Geoff conducts this specialized research in a custom footwear lab—the Luxe Lab in Santa Barbara, CA—with more than $1 million in high tech testing equipment, including some pieces that do not exist anywhere else in the world.