If you're into current running trends, you can't get around them: maximum cushioning running shoes, also called maximum shoes. While many ultra runners swear by these "mattress shoes," ordinary runners are often still skeptical and confused. There are a lot of half-truths circulating about the supposed cushioning wonders. We shed light on the subject and answer the most important questions about maximal shoes.
#1 What are maximal shoes?
Maximal shoes are characterized by particularly generous, comfortable cushioning in combination with a comparatively low drop, which is supposed to guarantee a natural rolling motion. The French brand Hoka One One is considered a pioneer of the Maximize movement: its founders Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud, two former Salomon employees and enthusiastic ultra runners, set themselves the goal of designing running shoes with maximum, long-lasting cushioning, optimal rolling characteristics and maximum running comfort. The hallmark of Hoka One One running shoes is their large-volume oversize and ultrasize midsoles.
#2 Maximum cushioning - the "Next Big Thing" or just a short-lived trend?
This is a question that every runner would probably answer quite differently. While the once niche shoes have hit the mainstream market, that doesn't mean they're ideal for every type of runner and every type of workout - just as Natural Running shoes aren't for a wide range of runners. Maximum cushioned running shoes don't perform miracles, but they do offer a whole new approach. And more importantly, do they meet your individual running needs - trend or not?
#3 Are maximal shoes only for ultra runners?
No! Maximum cushioning running shoes are particularly suitable for long distances of 10 kilometers or more and runs on hard surfaces. It is true, of course, that maximal shoes have so far been used primarily in ultra and trail running and are particularly popular with marathon runners and triathletes (at the 2017 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, about one in five finishers wore a Hoka One One brand shoe). But untrained novice runners, returners, runners with high weight or pronounced heel running style can also benefit from the cushioning comfort of a maximal shoe.
#4 How does cushioning work in maximal shoes?
As with all other running shoes, there are different concepts and technologies from different manufacturers. In most cases, a lightweight EVA plastic is used in the midsole, which is foamed up like a sponge - in the case of market leader Hoka One One, it is about twice the amount of EVA as in conventional running shoes. The manufacturer promises up to 2.5 times more cushioning without adding weight. The result: optimal shock absorption and reduced fatigue in the feet, legs and core.
#5 Are maximal shoes the opposite of natural running shoes?
No. At first glance, the "high out" principle of voluminous maximal shoes appears to be the perfect counter-trend to Natural Running shoes designed close to the ground. "A lot helps a lot" - however, this motto does not apply to maximal shoes in every respect. In fact, they share many of the characteristics of modern, minimalist running shoes: only lightweight materials are used and only as much material as absolutely necessary to save weight. Not to forget: the low drop (between 0 and 8mm). It ensures a natural movement, just as in natural running shoes.
#6 Are maximal shoes more unstable than conventional running shoes because of the high soles?
Surprisingly, most are not. That's because the soles of maximal shoes are on average 20-30% wider than traditional running shoes, and this extra ground contact provides more stability.
#7 Are maximal shoes heavier than regular running shoes?
Not necessarily. Maximal shoes usually look heavier than they actually are due to their large volume soles. By using ultra-light materials, the weight is kept relatively low. The Hoka One One Clayton 2 for men, for example, weighs just 235g, hardly heavier than comparable competition shoes without maximum cushioning.
#8 Do maximal shoes reduce proprioceptive feedback? And does that affect running performance?
Yes, it is well known that highly cushioned running shoes reduce the sensory feedback (proprioceptive feedback) of the feet and thus limit the feeling for the ground. It is reasonable to assume that maximum cushioning could thus have an unfavorable effect on running performance, although the relatively light weight partly compensates for the negative effect. For long-distance runners in particular, this compromise can nevertheless be worthwhile: minor sacrifices in running performance are compensated for by the long-lasting comfort and the associated lower muscle fatigue over many kilometers.
#9 What do I need to consider when switching to maximal shoes?
The first place to go is ideally a specialty store with an appropriate range of maximal shoes - there you can test at your leisure how the running shoes feel and whether this type of shoe is suitable for your training. If you buy a maximal shoe, you should take a little more time to get used to it and not wear it for every training session at the beginning.
#10 What brands offer maximal shoes and what models are available?
Hoka One One is the largest manufacturer of maximal shoes and has a wide range of products, including training and competition shoes, road running shoes and trail running shoes. In addition, almost all major running shoe brands now offer one or more maximal cushioned running shoes, such as New Balance, Altra or Asics. Among the most popular models are the Hoka One One Clifton, Clayton and Vanquish, as well as the Altra Olympus and Paradigm.