Gear Do Women Need Different Running Shoes Than Men?

Do Women Need Different Running Shoes Than Men?

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On March 8 2022, International Women’s Day, Lululemon launched its first running shoe. Though Lululemon sells running performance wear, breaking into the running shoe market, currently dominated by companies like ASICS, Saucony, New Balance, Adidas, who also makes a running shoe designed for women, and Nike, would undoubtedly be challenging. However, Lululemon found a way to exploit a market niche that has long been overlooked by other major shoe brands: women’s specific running shoes. The result: the hype surrounding Lululemon’s Blissfeel running shoe has extended beyond the running community and has ignited curiosity and excitement across mainstream social media. There is no doubt that designing a women’s specific running shoe was clever marketing on Lululemon’s part. But are gender-specific shoes necessary? For many runners, the question remains: do women need different running shoes and, is the Blissfeel worth purchasing?

During the Blissfeel design process, Lululemon conducted “four years of research including over a million volumental foot scans and countless rounds of wear testing,” all of which focused on women. Prior to the release of the Blissfeel, most shoes available to female runners were those that were designed first for men and then modified for women. Therefore, if women have always worn and trusted shoes designed first for men, why now is it necessary to make a women specific running shoe?

In long distance running, men and women are often prescribed similar training plans and work with the same coaches. When men and women are treated equally in training and coaching, it follows that the same should occur when designing running shoes and apparel. However, in my experience, the similarities in training programs and coaching between men and women are often due to insufficient knowledge of the female experience in running. There are physiological and biomechanical differences between men and women that may lead to different responses to training loads, coaching methods and the structure of a running shoe. Women are at greater risk of common running injuries such as plantar fasciitis and iliotibial band syndrome, due to differences in biomechanics. The design and structure of a running shoe can address such risk factors and may lead to reduced injuries in female runners.

It is not surprising that when designing running shoes, most companies focus on the male athlete. As with many sports, running has a history of excluding women. For example, women were not allowed to run the Boston marathon until 1972 and women did not compete in the Olympic marathon until 1984. Though much progress has been made, the female experience in sport continues to be invalidated and overlooked by coaches, athletic institutions and running shoe brands. Numerous female runners were subjected to pay cuts from Nike after their pregnancies, which perpetuates the misogynistic view that women must choose between having a career and having a family. Brands need to do more to support female athletes and that support should not be limited to superficial slogans and ambiguous advertising. Companies, obviously, need to continue to support female athletes when they start their own families and should sell products designed specifically to help female athletes reach their full potential. The launch of a women’s specific running shoe is a stride in the right direction, and Lululemon, a company who’s customer majority is female, is a brand that has credibility to so.

The best way to answer the question of whether or not women need different running shoes is to ask female runners themselves. I asked two of my former teammates on the Dalhousie cross country team, Sarah Kromberg and Bailey Milos, for their thoughts on the launch of the Blissfeel and the need for a women’s specific running shoe. Both said that they were excited. Sarah expressed her appreciation for Lululemon as a Canadian company that sells apparel she uses for both “training and competing.” She expressed that although Lululemon was not “inclusive in terms of their sizing” when the company first became popular, the company has since “shown progress” and has become “more diverse and inclusive.” Based on this progress, she feels that Lululemon is the right company to launch such a shoe. In contrast, though Bailey also expressed her excitement for the shoe, she also remains skeptical of Lululemon’s credibility in the running shoe industry. She stated that she thought it was “strange that a clothing company was coming out with a running shoe.” She felt that if a company like Adidas launched a women’s specific shoe, “it would make sense because they have experience designing running shoes.”

In terms of the need for women’s specific running shoes, both Sarah and Bailey agreed that women would likely benefit from such shoes. Sarah stated that she is “someone who has been through lots of different running shoe brands because she gets injured a lot. After running for over a decade and wearing various brands and models, she still hasn’t found the right shoe, that’s why she was excited about the Blissfeel. [For a review of the Blissfeel, from an independent shoe designer and a Lululemon ambassador, please click here.] Sarah believes that if other female runners feel the same way as she does, this would suggest that women may need different shoes. Bailey suggested that women’s and men’s feet “must be different” and feels as though running shoes: “have been oriented towards men.” She believes that a women’s design would help to address the differences in men’s and women’s feet and that male-oriented shoes do not account for the differences. As to whether or not she would purchase the Blissfeel, Bailey was unsure. She said that if “other runners said it was worth it,” she would consider purchasing a pair. Sarah, on the other hand, has purchased a pair of the Blissfeels and although she has only used them for two runs thus far, says: “they’re comfortable, supportive and a good shoe for easy runs.” [The shoes sell for $198 Canadian.]

In addition to the need for running shoes designed for women, Sarah and Bailey also expressed that women need more support from running shoe brands. Bailey suggested that many brands “do not support women as they say they do.” Sarah stated that she does not think that “any brand is doing enough to support women, but certain brands are blatantly not doing enough.”

Women do need different shoes, just as we require different approaches to training, nutrition and injury prevention. The Blissfeel may not be the shoe for every female runner, but that does not take away the overall value of women’s specific running shoes. Even without scientific evidence, a woman’s experience when choosing and wearing running shoes are enough to suggest that there may be a need for women’s specific running shoes. The sentiments expressed by my former teammates are common amongst female runners. Despite what brands may advertise, I believe most female runners feel unsupported by brands who design and sell products tailored for male performance and altered for the female form.

My hope is that the Blissfeel acts as a catalyst in the industry, prompting brands to finally prioritize the design of a women’s specific shoe. If this is the case, the benefits of the Blissfeel will extend far beyond the experiences of those who wear it. By sparking conversation and drawing attention to the need for a women’s specific shoe, the launch of the Blissfeel will have a positive impact on all female runners, even if its design does not suit them specifically. I am excited to try the Blissfeel, but even more excited at the possibility of more women’s running shoes to come.