Future of Running Shoes – Andrew Dorn

frontru1Runner's Tips

The past eight years have been host to a ‘running shoe renaissance’ of sorts, where, more than ever before, footwear manufacturers began challenging traditional beliefs of how running shoes should function, and how they should serve the runner. One of the coolest parts of my job is getting to witness the development and evolution of running shoe technology. Over the years, I have seen three major trends of shoes play a huge role in the evolution of the shoes we see today – MINIMALIST, MAXIMALIST, ENERGY RETURN.

To understand the future of running shoes, we must first examine the past.


A few years ago, minimalist and “barefoot” shoe styles were all the rage. Folks were running in anything ranging from racing shoes, to styles that were essentially gloves on the feet, to bizarre-looking rope sandals, and all in the name of achieving a more “natural” running experience. But for most, these “barefoot” styles didn’t cut it, and the pendulum swung to more “maximalist” styles.


Brands like Hoka One One introduced shoes that featured more cushioning material than had ever been used before, but without abandoning the geometric design elements characteristic of most minimalist styles. People flocked toward these styles, which seemed to offer the best of both worlds: the comfort of running on a mattress coupled with the efficiency of running barefoot.


While runners were praising the comfort of ultra-plush shoes, footwear designers observed that running on a super-soft platform is not necessarily ideal. Studies concluded that, while a super-soft material was great for absorbing impact forces, it was severely lacking in “energy return”. In other words, you would land on it, sink in, and not bounce back out of it. This observation inspired companies like Adidas to explore alternative cushioning materials–materials that offered the runner significantly more “bounce” per stride, yet still provided the plush, pillow-soft landing they demanded. The result was a departure from the traditionally-used EVA foam in favor of a plastic-based TPU material. 

This material, according to studies, offers the runner a plush, sink-in feel upon footstrike, but then bounces the runner back off the ground far better than traditional, foam-based cushioning compounds. Ever since Adidas introduced this material (they call it Boost), other companies have been jumping on the “high energy return” bandwagon. Saucony has released a TPU material called Everun, Asics has developed a foam-Kevlar hybrid called Flyte Foam, and Brooks just announced a new shoe slated to launch this fall that features an all-new, ultra-bouncy polyurethane compound.


There’s no doubt that “energy return” is the buzz phrase of today’s technical running footwear, but what will be next? What will the shoe of the future look like? There’s, of course, no way to know for certain, but if the past several years are any indication of what is to come, I expect that we will soon see shoes that are considerably more ADAPTIVE to the individual’s biomechanics; materials that are, perhaps, capable of altering their density, flexibility, and even shape depending on the individual footstrike patterns, cadence, and terrain variation. It’s been an exciting decade for running shoe technology, and I can’t wait to see what breakthroughs and twists the industry brings us in the years to come.

Andrew Dorn, Manager at Front Runner Athletics since 2010, has been an avid runner since as long as he can remember. His experience comes from running track and cross country for Bryan College and racing as an elite athlete in many well known races. Andrew’s passion lies within helping others succeed in their running career now, whether it be fitting our toughest clients at Front Runner or offering private coaching to help runners achieve their goals.


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