The effects of the sole geometry of the On running shoe

The Swiss running shoe company, On, have developed their novel CloudTex system that is aimed at reducing ground reaction forces and also to potentially improve running economy.
On  Running ShoesThe design of the sole includes deformable open cells that are claimed to absorb “harmful” vertical and horizontal impacts (if you want to believe that these are actually harmful). Many running shoe design features are often based on good ideas and, perhaps, in-house research that never gets published for scrutiny.  If health claims are involved, then there had better be some evidence (ask the toning shoe companies what happens if there is not) and there had better not be claims that there is ample evidence when there was none (ask Vibram what happened when they claimed there was ample evidence). In this context, it was good to see some independent external research done on the effects of the design features of the On running shoe:

The influence of a new sole geometry while running
Claudia Knoepfli-Lenzina, Jennifer Carole Waecha, Turgut Gülayb, Florian Schellenbergb & Silvio Lorenzettib
Journal of Sports Sciences; Published online: 30 Jun 2014
Running shoe construction influences the forces experienced by the human body while running. The aim of this study was to ascertain whether the new sole architecture of the On running shoe reduces ground reaction forces compared with running barefoot or with a conventional running shoe and whether it changes the physiological parameters of running in shoes. Thirty-seven trained male participants were studied while running at submaximal speeds wearing their conventional running shoe, wearing the On running shoe and while barefoot. Additional biomechanical and physiological values were investigated to determine whether the On running shoe induced any changes in these parameters compared with conventional running shoes. The On exhibited similar ground reaction forces as conventional shoes, and these were different from the forces experienced while running barefoot, showing that the On was more similar to typical shoed running. No difference was observed in running economy between the On and a conventional shoe model. However, a slightly lower heart rate (HR) (≈1.3%) and blood lactate concentration (≈5.5%) were observed during submaximal running with the On running shoe compared with a conventional running shoe, as well as a greater lateral deviation of the centre of pressure mid-stance. The ramifications of the reduced HR and blood lactate concentration for competitive performance are unknown.

This was a complex study that looked at a lot of different biomechanical and physiological parameters but was well done (eg participants got the On shoes two weeks prior to the study to have time to adapt to them). The results of the study could be summarized as (leaving out the barefoot condition and just comparing the On shoe to the conventional shoe):

  • no differences in the ground reaction forces
  • no differences in the horizontal and vertical momentum parameters
  • a greater deviation in the lateral deviation of the path of the center of pressure in the On shoe
  • no differences in most of the physiological variables associated with running economy except heart rate and blood lactate were lower for the On shoe condition

It was not disclosed what the conventional comparison shoe was (it was the same weight). This would have been helpful. The results effectively show that there were no mechanical differences between the conventional shoe and the On shoe except for the greater deviation of the center of pressure suggesting that the On shoe is more unstable. For economy issues the shoes were the same, except for a couple of measures that suggest the On shoe may be slightly more economical to run in (perhaps from the energy return of the open cell designs).

One issue I do have is if the study was or was not funded by On. I have absolutely no problem if it was, but it would have been helpful if the journal required a statement to that effect, especially when any commercial product is tested. Knowing if the company funded the study does put the interpretation of the results by authors into a different context. More running shoe companies should fund this type of research.

So can On shoes make the claims that they make for their shoes? The shoes were not substantially different to the conventional shoe, so they probably can’t make the claims that they do. If you look at the results of the On shoes vs the no shoes barefoot condition (that I did not mention above) there was an improvement in the biomechanical parameters with the On shoes compared to the barefoot condition, so they probably can make the claims that they do! I will leave that decision to their marketing department!

HOWEVER, as I often say: Why ‘one size does not fit all’ when it comes to running and have alluded to in a number of the running economy posts …. if you look at one of the graphs in the paper (figure 5 on heart rate) you can see some very individual responses to the economy of running. For some runners, the On shoes were much more economical and for others they were not, so the mean results is no systematic difference….again further evidence that the response to interventions on running economy are subject specific.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise…..and I want a pair of On shoes to run in (they not yet available in Australia), as I am so impressed with this kind of testing and publication of research on running shoe design parameters. Kudos to On if they did fund this study; even though it might not have worked out as well as they would have liked.

Knoepfli-Lenzin, C., Waech, J., Gülay, T., Schellenberg, F., & Lorenzetti, S. (2014). The influence of a new sole geometry while running Journal of Sports Sciences, 1-9 DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2014.915421

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About Craig Payne

University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger, dad. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

7 Responses to The effects of the sole geometry of the On running shoe

  1. Todd Brown July 10, 2014 at 12:16 am #

    Great review craig, I agree no one shoes fits all would love to know what the conventional shoe was and would like to see a similar study comparing ON shoes with something like hoka one one
    Pretty sure ON shoes are available in Rebel stores in Australia

    • Craig Payne July 10, 2014 at 12:19 am #

      I checked their website and the closest store to my location was somewhere in Switzerland!! … OK off to Rebel Sport now …

      • Craig Payne July 10, 2014 at 12:34 am #

        They do have an Australian distributor: L&F Sports Distribution Pty Ltd. … says a lot that I did not know that and had to search so hard to find them!!!!

  2. Todd Brown July 10, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    The guy from L&F is in Melbourne next week I am having a brief chat to him to look more closely at the product as have had a couple of patients come in with them will keep you posted on what I find out.

    • Craig Payne July 13, 2014 at 6:44 am #

      Yep, Rebel Sport do have them!

  3. rick osler July 11, 2014 at 12:55 am #

    Hi Craig, one of the shoes i run in is the Cloud Racer. it is a soft 4mm drop shoe that has very minimal overlays and ‘stuff’ which keeps it simple, light and cushioned for the road. If you are a size 11, you can have them since i dont race so much anymore :)

  4. Cameron Kippen July 20, 2014 at 12:17 am #

    Great read Craig . Have made a link to foot talk (blogroll) @ http://foottalk.blogspot.com.au/

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