Ever heard of “shrink ’em and pink ’em” ?
That’s how shoe companies jokingly brief their designers on how to create a women’s version of a shoe — or at least this was the standard until a few years ago.
Last year, women represented 58% of all the runners in 5k races in the USA, 61% of half-marathons, and 43% of all marathons.
Finally, shoe companies are realizing that women are a large part of the running population and that women bodies are different from men’s.
Wider quadriceps angles (Q-angles), lower body mass, and different feet shape are just some physiological differences that grant women different needs when talking about the ideal running shoe.
While the need for women’s specific running shoes isn’t immediately obvious, there are several factors about a typical woman’s biomechanics that require consideration during the design phase of running shoes.
Wider Hips Mean Extra Stress
The first factor is that women have larger hips than men, making it more common for women to pronate outside of the normal range. If you overpronate, it is important to find shoes that support your feet and help reduce the chance of injuries.
Some of the more common overpronation injuries include:
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Shin splints
- Heel pain
- Iliotibial Band Syndrome
- Lower back pain
According to a report by Runner’s World, runner’s knee tends to strike women nearly twice as frequently because of the added stress. To remedy this issue, a little extra support through slightly different midsoles or outsoles can go a long way. Furthermore, strengthening your hip muscles can also work to help prevent this injury.
If you still experience pain around your knee when you run, consider getting orthotics. Orthotics can help stabilize your feet and reduce the impact on them as you run. Custom orthotics can be made to your specific feet, needs, and weight.
Lower Body Mass
In general, women have about 15% lower body mass – for the same height – than men, though this can vary among individuals.
This lower body mass means that shoe designers must consider how much foam is necessary in the midsole (women will likely need a little less), meaning that women’s shoes tend to be slighter lower, softer, and lighter than the men’s version.
In addition, groves in women’s shoes tend to be slightly deeper, making it easier to flex the midsole on toe-off and accounting for the lower body mass.
Women have lower muscle mass than men because women produce less testosterone. This means men tend to bulk up more than women. For example, a woman’s leg has about 60 percent muscle where a man’s leg has about 80 percent muscle.
Another hormonal that differs between the genders is the amount of estrogen in the body. Women have more estrogen, so they tend to have a higher body fat percentage. The good news is that body fat percentage does not affect your performance aerobically because it does not have a direct impact on peak oxygen uptake levels.
However, the downside is lower estrogen levels can increase the chance of stress fractures, which happen when too much stress is applied to a bone. A common site for this to happen in women is on the medial posterior portion of the tibia bone (the inside back portion of one of the lower leg bone).
Engineers also should consider the fact that men’s feet tend to be broader and longer on average.
Women’s feet, on the other hand, have different shape characteristics, especially in the arch, toe, and ball of the foot. For example, women’s feet are normally wider in the forefoot, higher in the arch, and more narrow in the heel.
To ensure that the sole unit is responsive and fits the foot properly, these factors should be considered when trying on shoes. This also means you may have to try several brands and different types of shoes (neutral, stability, cushioning, etc.) until you find what is right for your feet.
Many women runners have narrow heels, which may cause issues when trying to find the right fit for shoes. If you fall into this category, lacing the shoes differently can help create a snug fit.
Try this alternative lacing method for narrow heels:
- Lace shoes as you normally would
- At next to last eyelet, put each lace through top eyelet (creating small loop)
- Thread lace ends through opposite loops
- Finish tying shoes
This helps keep your heels snug and creates a tighter fit at the top of your shoes.
How Women’s Shoes Differ
Women’s running shoes are built wider than men’s in the forefoot area and narrower in the heel because of the shape of women’s feet. However, women’s shoes are sized smaller than men’s — the latter which are normally wider and sized larger than women’s running shoes.
Depending on the brand, you may experience different midsole, heel support, or weight of the shoe. Normally women’s shoes weigh less than men, but the midsole and heel may or may not be made of the same materials because women tend to overpronate more than men.
Can You Run in a Men’s Shoe?
Some women find running in a men’s shoe more comfortable and fitting rather than running in a women’s shoe. Why is that? It is just the individual shape of the foot.
Remember that every foot is different and if you find women’s shoes aren’t fitting right, give men’s running shoes a try. If you wear a size 9 in women’s shoes, this doesn’t mean you will wear a size 9 in men’s shoes, usually a size 7 compares. You will have to try on a variety of men’s shoes to find the right size.
Men and women’s running shoes differ in a variety of ways, including the way our bodies react in them. Make sure you have the right running shoes for your body type, foot shape, and running needs for a more comfortable run.
These are the running shoes we recommend for women. Which ones do you run in? Let us know in the comments!
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