Are we still in the carbon age?

  • The market is experiencing a reversal in the popularity of carbon plate shoes.
  • Conflicting studies question the effect of shoes with this solution on performance and injury risk.


In the last few years we have become accustomed to seeing a race within a race, that of shoe brands that have attempted-successfully, in many cases-to produce shoes with carbon plate (or similar solutions) winking at what is a need for many runners: run faster and better.

Research in this field has brought incredible results, even contributing significantly to the improvement of several world records. The most glaring example, and one that we all know about, is Eliud Kipchoge’s world record in the marathon, achieved in the same shoes in which he ran the queen distance in less than two hours for the first time in human history-and only so far.

While there was fierce criticism of this technological gimmick at first, which could provide greater support in terms of efficiency and performance, its widespread use and the production of at least one model with the plate by almost every running shoe manufacturer has made the presence of carbon almost a given, and there is no longer anyone who points at those who use these shoes as “someone who wants to cheat.”

There has been a huge reduction, as is normal when something starts to spread, in the cost of this type of shoe, and the carbon plate has been included-with its many variations-even in everyday or near-daily training shoes, breaking away from the elitist label it had for the first few years. It has become so widespread that to some it has seemed like overkill, and now there almost seems to be a reversal from the past, with sales increases for more “traditional” shoes and the appearance of many updates to well-established models that have not made the leap to carbon.

Two plus two does not always equal four

Several factors seem to contribute to this reversal. There is to consider what is the aspect that has been debated for a long time-and will certainly continue to be debated-about the beneficial or non-beneficial aspects of using this type of shoe. There are now hundreds of independent studies comparing shoes with carbon plate and traditional shoes, to evaluate not only the difference in performance (established and now a given for models offered by all manufacturers) but also the possibility of incur fewer injuries. This, in fact, is a side of the carbon that is far from clear, and studies agree only that athletes who run with optimal running technique actually reduce their chances of injury, while the injury rates of those with improvable running techniques would seem to remain the same.

The higher cost of increased performance, therefore, is not also reflected-at least for the ordinary amateur-in increased safety from this point of view. Added to these considerations is the fact that the development of new midsole compounds has brought about a great performance improvement in traditional shoes, with the so-called super trainer which have taken over the market and-especially for the average amateur-have also become race shoes.

Where are we going to end up?

It is perhaps still too early to be clear about something as variable as the running shoe market can be, about which even the most accurate market research cannot make accurate predictions. In addition to the cost factor and the usability factor, in fact, the age-old stylistic issues enter in, because-let’s face it-if the shoes are beautiful as well as comfortable we like them more and are willing to spend a little more. Besides, one should not forget that the first rule of marketing is “as long as it is talked about.” And about carbon in shoe midsoles, in all its variations, we are sure to hear more about it-and write about it.

Bibliografia parziale:

Adding carbon fiber to shoe soles may not improve running economy: A muscle-level explanation, di Beck et al., 2020
Effects of running shoe construction on performance in long distance running, di Nigg et al., 2020
A Pragmatic Approach to Resolving Technological Unfairness: the Case of Nike’s Vaporfly and Alphafly Running Footwear, di Dyer, 2020
Effects of footwear with different longitudinal bending stiffness on biomechanical characteristics and muscular mechanics of lower limbs in adolescent runners, di Chen et al., 2022
Longitudinal bending stiffness does not affect running economy in Nike Vaporfly Shoes, di Healey & Hoogkamer, 2022


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