Are Carbon Plate Running Shoes Worth it?


Carbon shoes have become ubiquitous in the world of running. It seems like every running shoe brand has their take on them, and if you’re a runner, chances are you have a pair specifically reserved for race day.

But here’s the real question: do you really know what’s going on with your carbon plate running shoes, and is the hefty price tag justified?

When carbon shoes burst onto the scene, they created a seismic shift in the running world. Some purists saw them as a threat to the very essence of running – a departure from the sport’s pure and uncomplicated nature.

However, for many others, these shoes represented a long-overdue evolution and a leap forward in shoe technology. Now, let’s get real about the buzz surrounding carbon shoes.

Are they a game-changer or just a pricey trend? Lace up your metaphorical running shoes because we’re about to explore the truth behind the hype.


Are Carbon Plate Running Shoes Worth It?

Absolutely, technology has a way of enhancing various facets of our lives, and running shoes are no exception. Why should the running community resist the allure of new shoes that promise to propel us further and faster? 

It’s worth noting that the shoes we were accustomed to before the carbon era were already enabling us to achieve distances and speeds that would have been unthinkable in the 70s or 80s.

The argument against embracing this technological leap often boils down to the fear of sacrificing the purity of running. Some might argue that to maintain the essence of the sport, we should all be sprinting barefoot.

However, this reasoning faces a significant challenge when confronted with the undeniable seismic shift caused by the introduction of carbon shoes into the running world. It’s a conundrum that many find difficult to reconcile.

The impact of carbon shoes on the running scene was nothing short of revolutionary. Long-standing records, some dating back ages, were being shattered nearly every week, with a time that had lingered for years quickly becoming a mere benchmark, easily surpassed by the new standard.


More significantly, the running landscape became a tale of two halves, divided by knots of controversy. Regardless of your innate talent, competing with runners equipped with carbon shoes became a near-impossible feat if you weren’t donning a pair yourself.

In those early days, shockwaves reverberated through the running world, creating aftershocks that jolted the very foundations of the sport.

However, as time marched on, these seismic tremors began to subside. A significant challenge arose from the glaring gap between Nike and other brands, leaving many runners with little choice but to opt for Nike if they harbored any aspirations of staying competitive in the ever-evolving running arena. The field had, in a sense, become dominated by the Swoosh.

Fast forward to today, and the playing field has leveled considerably. The gap that once separated Nike from the rest of the pack has now closed, with most major brands boasting their own iteration of the coveted carbon shoe.

Adidas has successfully reclaimed some of those world records from the clutches of Nike, and Asics has stepped up to the plate as well.

In a recent triumph, ON, the Swiss running shoe brand, clinched a new run course record in an Ironman World Championship, showcasing the prowess of their carbon-infused running shoes.

It’s a testament to the evolving landscape of competitive running, where innovation and competition among brands have brought about a more balanced and exciting era.

No longer is the dominance of a single brand an absolute; instead, runners now have a range of options, each vying for a spot at the forefront of the carbon shoe revolution. The race for excellence has never been more diverse and thrilling.

  • Has the carbon run shoe debate reached its finish line, pun intended?
  • Can you simply grab any carbon shoes off the shelf and expect a game-changing performance?
  • And what about those eye-watering $300 price tags – are they justified?

Let’s dig into some essential truths you need to know about carbon plate shoes.


Not all carbon shoes are created equal

Here’s a reality check: not all carbon shoes are cut from the same cloth. Recent research from Austin State University unveils a truth that challenges the hefty price tags and grandiose marketing claims of some carbon shoes. Brace yourself – despite the hype, some of these shoes may offer little to no improvement over their non-carbon counterparts.


In this eye-opening study, 12 runners took on the challenge of testing seven different carbon shoes, all of which were touted as the cream of the crop in marketing circles.

The results, however, were far from uniform. While a few of the shoes showcased an impressive 2.5% or more improvement in running economy, at least two out of the seven carbon shoes demonstrated zilch – zero improvement compared to a standard race shoe without the coveted carbon feature.

I get it – the suspense is real. If you’re itching to know which of these shoes are which, here’s the link to the study and you can read up, but don’t go read it yet because, trust me, there’s more valuable information ahead that you won’t want to miss.

This seems obvious when you think about it. The simplicity ends where the complexity of designing carbon shoes begins. It’s not a matter of just slapping a carbon plate into the midsole and calling it a day.

Oh no, it’s a delicate dance of precision. That carbon plate has to be the Goldilocks of shapes – not too much, not too little, but just right. It’s got to play nice with the foam surrounding it and choreograph a flawless interaction with your foot strike.

Achieving that perfect synergy is the secret sauce to gaining a real advantage over your trusty, old running shoe. It’s like crafting a symphony where every note, every beat, and every instrument has to harmonize seamlessly.

And let’s face it, not every brand gets it right.

Wise words from the source itself. Jordan Donnelly from ON’s running innovation team couldn’t have put it better. “Although all carbon shoes might have the same three ingredients of a higher stack height, a super foam, and a carbon plate, that does not mean that they’re all made equally.

The stack heights can be different, the composition of the foams can be different, the shape, the length, and the thickness of the plates can also be different as well. So, although the three key ingredients which make a super shoe are pretty consistent, the makeup and the kind of the way you bake the cake can be very different and give very different results depending on the mixture of those ingredients.”

Which brings us to the next point…

Jordan Donnelly added: “Although most of these super shoes are called carbon shoes, it’s actually the foam which is the biggest difference maker. By having a higher stack height with a super foam, that’s what’s really reducing the impact on your body. So, although we call it a carbon shoe, it’s actually the foam which is giving you the biggest benefits.”

Dustin P. Joubert, the brains behind the Austin study, dropped a truth bomb that’s worth pondering. Now, here’s the scoop: the study didn’t delve into the nitty-gritty of the foam in the shoes under scrutiny. But Dustin didn’t mince words when he pointed out, “It is evident from our data that simply including a carbon plate or increasing the stack height in a racing shoe does not confer equal improvements in economy.” In simpler terms, not all carbon shoes are created equal.

Now, let’s zero in on what Dustin is getting at. He’s shining a spotlight on the unsung hero – the foam. It seems like the real secret sauce lies in the foam and how it plays with the carbon plate. It’s the chemistry between these elements that’s crucial for reaping the economy benefits. While the study didn’t go down the foam-testing rabbit hole, Dustin throws down the gauntlet, hinting that if you dissect this lineup of shoes, the key difference lies not just in the carbon plates or the stack height, but in the unique character of the foam each shoe brings to the table. It’s like saying, “Hey, it’s not just about the flashy features; it’s the hidden magic inside the foam that’s pulling the strings.”

Let’s cut to the chase: you snag the top-tier carbon shoe with the crème de la crème foam, and you’re set to blaze through the track, right? Well, it’s not quite that straightforward. Here’s the reality check – not everyone gets the same advantage.

In a lab test over at the University of Colorado, 18 runners stepped up to the plate to have their running economy put under the microscope. Running economy is basically how much juice your body needs to keep a steady pace. Now, when they laced up the Nike Vaporfly, complete with its carbon magic, and pitted it against the non-carbon Nike Zoom Streak 6 or the Adidas Adios Boost 2, things got interesting. The average improvement ranged from a modest 1.59% to a whopping 6.26% for the same shoes – which, incidentally, aligns with Nike’s bold 4% claim. Translation: not all runners cash in the same chips when sporting the same shoes.


It’s like a running lottery – some folks walk away with less than a 2% advantage, while others hit the jackpot with over a 6% boost, all from strapping on the exact same pair of kicks.

So, next time you’re eyeing those sleek carbon shoes, know that your mileage may vary – literally. It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario; it’s a personalized performance lottery where your ticket might just hold the golden advantage.

Welcome to the world of carbon shoes – where there are responders and non-responders. It’s like splitting the crowd into those who get a nod from the performance gurus and those who might not feel the magic at all.

Here’s the lowdown: carbon shoes flex their muscle by cranking up the energy return and dialing down that pesky braking effect. But, and it’s a big but, thanks to the quirky biomechanics of some runners, there’s a group that might shrug and say, “No thanks, no advantage for me,” regardless of how top-notch the construction or materials of the carbon shoe are.

It’s a bit like having a high-tech gadget that works wonders for some, while leaving others scratching their heads. The response to carbon shoes is as unique as a fingerprint.

Jordan Donnelly says: “We look at running economy, which is how efficient the product is making for your running when it comes to how much oxygen you need to use to run at a certain speed and the shoe can definitely help with this but to the extent at which it helps can differ depending on your running technique.”

Here’s a curveball for you: it has been shown that these carbon shoes have the greatest effect on the least economical runners. If you have a low-ground contact time, a low vertical oscillation and a higher cadence, which all positives for running an economy, you will see less advantage than if you have a higher-ground contact time, high vertical oscillation, and increased ground-contact time.

Jordan Donnelly: “What we found out through different studies is that runners who can compress the foam more and load it up, get more back. This is what we call a high responder.”

There was a buzz about banning carbon shoes, and here’s the scoop: they stirred the pot by offering a leg up to those who used to be trailing at the back or just hanging on to the front pack. It caused a bit of a ruckus because, let’s face it, if you were already leading the charge, these shoes didn’t throw you any extra bones.

But here’s the reality check – that ship has sailed. Carbon shoes are here to stay, like it or not. If you’re eyeing the podium and want to keep up with the big dogs rocking those high-tech kicks, you might just need to bite the bullet and snag a pair for yourself.

It’s a bit like joining the party – you want to be in sync with the crowd, and in the running world, that means strapping on some carbon-soled companions.

Hold up, before you sprint into the carbon shoe craze, here’s a heads-up: they come with a caution sign…

Do Carbon Plate Shoes Cause Injury?

Yes, those high-tech wonders that promise speed and efficiency might not be all sunshine and rainbows. Brace yourself because, truth be told, running in carbon shoes might just come with a side of injury risk.

It’s like stepping onto a double-edged sword – sure, you’re chasing those PRs, but you’ve got to be mindful of the potential toll on your body.

These shoes, with all their magic, may not be everyone’s perfect fit. So, while you’re eyeing the finish line, keep in mind that your journey there might have a few bumps if you’re not careful.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to rain on the carbon shoe parade, but a little caution goes a long way. Run smart, listen to your body, and make sure those flashy shoes don’t turn your running joyride into an injury rollercoaster.

Absolutely, when it comes to anything new – whether it’s a shiny pair of carbon shoes or a different workout routine – the golden rule is to take it slow. Your body is like a finely tuned machine, and abrupt changes can throw it for a loop.

Implementing anything new gradually is like giving your body a friendly heads-up: “Hey, change is coming, but we’re taking it one step at a time.”

Jordan Donnelly: “When you take a new product which is quite different to what you’re used to, there’s definitely an adaptation phase. The human body is great at adapting, but this takes a little bit of time with the carbon plate which is really kind of replacing the work at which your Achilles does. This can maybe cause some irritation with the adaptation. So, we advise not to use the carbon shoe all of the time and phase it in to let your body really adapt to the use to get the biggest benefits.”

Spot on! You’ve hit another running truth square on the nose. These new-gen shoes with their fancy carbon plates and rocker shapes are like a high-tech leap from the old guard. It’s easy to underestimate just how much adaptation your body needs to cozy up to these futuristic kicks. We’re not talking about a minor adjustment; it’s a whole new ballgame.

Jordan Donnelly: “There’s definitely a risk of wearing carbon shoes all of the time. The carbon plate acts to create stiffness in the forefoot so you do not lose any energy when you flex the forefoot. However, this has an impact on the Achilles area. The Achilles is really stabilizing your foot. However, placing the carbon plate from heel to toe can kind of do the work of the Achilles and almost weaken your foot over time. So, it’s very important that you do not wear carbon shoes all of the time. We advise maybe you use them for big workouts and save them for race day, but for easy runs and general everyday running, we would steer away from carbon shoes and use a product without a plate, which allows your foot to gain strength and train itself.”

And now, brace yourself for the grand reveal – the truth bomb that might just rock your running world: you won’t pick your best carbon shoe. Yep, you heard it right.

Not everyone Picks Their Best Carbon Shoes

Jordan Donnelly says: “There was a study done by Stephen F. Austin University. The study was around choosing the best product depending on the runner. Most of the athletes actually chose the product which was not giving them the best performance benefits.”

As Jordan says, in that study, out of the 12 respondents in the study, only two were able to choose the fastest shoe for their 5K time. And brace yourself – just three out of the 12 managed to pick the most economical shoe for their marathon journey.

It’s like a shoe-selection mystery where even the most seasoned runners might end up scratching their heads.

Here’s a curveball for your shoe-shopping strategy: it turns out that most respondents in the study made their decisions based on two key factors – the mass and how heavy the shoe is. But, because in the era of carbon plates and responsive foam, your lighter shoe may not actually be your fastest anymore.

Jordan Donnelly says: “Historically, before the era of super shoes, it was weight which was king. So the lightest shoe was the shoe which everybody wanted to have to feel light and fast. However, with the birth of carbon-plated super shoes, weight is not everything. Although you do not want to be too heavy, there’s definitely an advantage of having more material which you can compress, load up, and really give you that energy return.”

Research has laid down the law: if you’re an elite athlete on the hunt for the holy grail of racing shoes, you’re going to have to do some personalized laboratory-based running economy testing. That’s right – the game has changed.

Gone are the days when you could stroll into a running shoe shop, try on a few pairs, and trust your gut feeling to lead you to the perfect match.

With the rise of carbon shoes and their game-changing impact, it’s a whole new ball game. Now, finding the best shoe for your racing endeavors demands a more scientific approach.

So, finding your perfect pair might involve a bit of a shoe marathon. Testing multiple shoes is the name of the game, and let’s be honest, with those hefty price tags, it’s not the most thrilling prospect.

But hey, carbon shoes have staked their claim, and now that you’re armed with the truth, the ball is in your court. So, here’s the real talk: are you a responder, or did you hit a few bumps in the road before finding your running soulmate? Did you navigate through a sea of marketing hype, or did you trust the feel-good vibes from a certain pair?

It’s confession time, so spill the beans in the comment section down below. Share your carbon shoe chronicles – the struggles, the victories, and the shoe that finally stole your running heart.

Your fellow runners are all ears, and who knows, your experience might just be the guiding light for someone on the quest for that perfect carbon companion. So, are carbon plate running shoes worth it? Let the shoe tales unfold!

About Eric Barber

Eric Barber is a happy father of two little angels, a husband, and a runner. He eats, sleeps, and dreams anything foot related: running shoes, walking shoes, sneakers, you name it. It all started when Eric was a shoe store specialist watching and fitting people's feet day in and day out.

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