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New | Classification system | For running shoesBrooks’ Bradley Fisher.
May 2016

A whole new system of

classifying running shoes

Rather offer runners a shoe that suits their unique running pattern best, instead of a shoe that will correct their gait. This new system of recommending running shoes is the result of the biggest running research project ever undertaken. Even though it is supported by Brooks, it can be applied to shoes from all brands

Designing and recommending shoes that will reduce the injuries to runners has been like searching for the holy grail for running shoe manufacturers. Over the years anti-pronation, anti-supernation, minimalist and many other types of shoes have been developed to try and remedy the foot, ankle, knee and hip problems experienced by runners covering hundreds of kilometres pounding pavements and trails.

Two of the world’s leading biomechanists, Prof. Dr. Gert-Peter Brüggemann and Prof. Dr. Joseph Hamill, decided to go to the source in order to find an answer. They began examining the footstrike and gait of thousands of runners at events across the world and came to the conclusion that not even the top elite runners run the same. One shoe fits all was obviously not a solution, they concluded.

Instead, a revolutionary new approach to classifying running shoes, Run Signature, was born four years ago when Brooks partnered with the biomechanists — who are not Brooks employees, stresses Bradley Fisher, Brooks’ Senior Footwear Merchandising Manager EMEA.

The scientists said from the start that they don’t want to join the project just so that Brooks can take the research and just manipulate it to sell more shoes — they want it to be ongoing and to use the research to help reduce running injuries by involving all footwear brands, Fisher explained during a recent visit to South Africa. “By the end of this, it would have been the largest biomechanical study in history,” he says.

“Our goal is no longer to fit shoes to runners; we now want to fit runners to the shoes,” Fisher explains. “We want to focus on each runner as an individual and not just place him into a box by telling him how he should run.” They therefore no longer want to recommend a shoe that will rectify a natural running gait, but rather recommend a shoe that will best suit a runner’s own preferences and running style.

What is Run Signature?

Run Signature is both how your body wants to run and how you want to run. Runners are individuals, and shouldn’t be fitted into a box, he continues. “Everyone’s muscles are different: how strong they are impacts how they move. The shape of your bones and joints are 100% unique to you.”

There is no right or wrong way to run, there’s only your way to run, Fisher explains the Run Signature philosophy. In other sports, there are specific ways to participate in the sport, e.g. a certain way to swing the bat or to hold a ball, but runners all have different footfalls.

The biomechanists found that a runner's rearfoot eversion and rotation affects the knee’s motion (ad- or abduction, tibial rotation) — or, in plain language, the way the foot lands affects the knee, which can move in six different directions.

They measured the baseline of thousands of participants by putting sensors on the person and asking him to do five knee bends and to run on a treadmill to see what the knee does while in motion.

They found that with some people, the knee does the same when performing both actions. With others, it’ll be completely different. In the study they are looking at people from all walks of life, ranging from 18-55 years of age — beginner runners, elite runners, even people who don’t run.

Implementing Run Signature

“We want to empower runners by giving them the choice when it comes to choosing running footwear, says Fisher.

“We ask what would you like? instead of telling runners what they should be wearing. We’re telling them it’s OK to run your way — that is so powerful, telling people there’s nothing wrong with them. As a running brand, it’s not our job to fix you — that’s a podiatrist’s job.”

Based on the study, they have organised footwear into three pillars:

  • Biomechanics: neutral vs support
  • Ride (the experience that the runner wants): float vs feel.
  • “Footwear designers are just frustrated car designers,” says Fisher. “It all goes back to ride — the application is just different. They use it for cars, we use it for footwear.”
  • Cushion: responsive (direct feedback under foot) vs plush (absorbing cushioning takes impact away from body)
  • It’s all about the experience that the runner wants, explains Fisher.
    When dealing with your running customers, you need to listen to what they want from their shoe, Fisher recommends. “A term such as support isn’t always as helpful as it sounds, because people mean different things when they say they want support.” A trail runner, for example, will have a completely different kind of support in mind than a road runner.

The running experience a runner wants

Brooks have taken the Ride and Cushion pillars and broken them down even more, into quadrants that represent experiences the runner can expect when wearing footwear within certain pillars:

  • Float and responsive — Bouncy: the shoe will absorb shock and be more bouncy compared to the Soft quadrant. It is all about energising the runner: the shoes in this quadrant are responsive and springy, to add lift to the stride.
  • Float and plush — Soft: these shoes are soft underfoot and it is all about cushioning: they are soft and protective to cushion every step.
  • Feel and responsive — Fast: this quadrant is all about speed: the shoes are built to go fast and propel you through your run.
  • Feel and plush — Flexible: a dynamic, flexible shoe. The shoes in this quadrant are all about connecting: they are lightweight and flexible to get a better feel of your run.

Using Run Signature in-store

1 Choose the biomechanics: does your customer want a shoe with support or a neutral one?

2 Choose the Ride: does your customer want to feel like he’s floating, or does he want to feel the ground under his feet?

3 Choose the experience he wants: Energize me, Protect me, Better me, Be me.

4 Choose the shoe that will offer the experience.

Brooks’ shoes are already sectioned into the different experience areas to make it easy to find the styles that fit into his final decisions. These same steps, however, can also be used to select footwear from other brands, by taking the outcome that the runner wants to experience and looking at what the shoe is meant to offer.

To help retailers, Brooks has created a Run Signature wheel, which can easily be used in-store to facilitate the above steps.

The runner’s mindset

Again, based on the Ride and Cushion pillars, Brooks has broken down runners’ mindsets in terms of the footwear they want into four quadrants, which line up with the experiences quadrants:

  • Float and responsive — Energize: these shoes push the runner forward and inspire him to run. This is currently the fastest growing quadrant in terms of models from footwear brands.
  • Float and plush — Cushion: the runner wants to be protected from the surface.
  • Feel and responsive — Speed: they are starting to see a lot of triathletes migrating to this quadrant, says Fisher. These runners want the latest, the greatest and the fastest — something that will give them the competitive advantage that will shave a few seconds off their time.
  • Feel and plushConnect: the runner wants as little as possible between him and the surface. I’m the engine, not the shoe, says the runner.”

Four sections in four quadrants

Each of these quadrants is in turn divided into four sections, to show if the footwear in that quadrant falls into support or neutral, as well as the type of experience it gives: amplified or balanced. Those that fall into the amplified experience section have more cushioning than those in the balanced experience section of the same quadrant.


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