adidas-springblade-running-shoeConsumers in sporting goods stores today are faced with seemingly countless choices of footwear. But are any of those innovations really helping you run longer or jump higher? And are those expensive sneakers any better?

At the Portland, Oregon, headquarters of sportswear maker Adidas, footwear developers are using motion capture technology to design their latest shoes.

It’s called ARAMIS — technology that NASA has used to analyze stresses on the outer hulls of space shuttles. Here, they look at how materials stretch on the foot while it’s in motion.

“We are using it to map the body from head to toe,” Adidas Global Category Director Andy Barr told correspondent Anna Werner. “We’ve used it in the latest running products to show the way that the skin stretches and moved. By knowing more about the body, you can make better products.”

They’ve used it while developing shoe lines like the Ultra Boost and Alpha Bounce, with new materials in the soles that the company claims give wearers an extra “boost” when running or walking.

They’re ideas Adidas hopes will give it an edge in the competitive athletic shoe sector — a market worth an estimated $99.5 billion last year.  Manufacturers tout their latest innovations, with prices to match; some shoes sell for upwards of $300.

But are they worth it?

University of Nevada biomechanics professor John Mercer, who studies athletic shoes, said, “The way your shoe performs is probably not related to the price of the shoe.”

“So if I spend $150, that shoe may not be any better than a $50 shoe?” asked Werner.

“Well, it depends. The problem with the shoe industry is that everyone needs a little different shoe.”

At Mercer’s lab in Las Vegas, he’s analyzed dozens of shoe brands and styles — everything from the original Nikes, to unusual underwater running shoes with gills.

His latest study examines new, ultra-cushioned shoes called Hoka One One.  Did they reduce impact for runners? Mercer found it depended on the person wearing them, which (he says) is what he’s generally found for athletic shoes on the whole.

“If we take one pair of shoes and put it on 10 different people, everyone could run a little bit differently in those shoes,” said Mercer.

“So it might work for one person, that shoe, and wouldn’t work for somebody else?” Werner asked.

“That’s right.”

Some shoe companies have gotten into trouble by making generalized claims. The Federal Trade Commission sued shoe companies Reebok and Skechers over their Easy Tone and Shape Up shoe lines. The government found advertising claims that the rounded shoe could help firm your backside and promote weight loss to be false and unsubstantiated.

Both companies settled for millions of dollars but with no admission of liability.

So what are Mercer’s recommendations?

“Don’t be brand loyal and don’t be model loyal,” he told Werner. “You’ve got to be open to different types of shoes to figure out what is going to work for you.”

He recommends taking shoes for a test run — and if you’re a serious athlete, maybe have an expert analyze your running style.

Andy Barr at Adidas hints there are changes coming in the field. “I think the future is going to be a more personalized experience, trying to personalize product to your specific running style,” he said.

And how do you do that?  “Well, that’s under wraps for the moment,” Barr smiled.

Hoka had no comment on Mercer’s study, but as we said, research suggests the best shoe for you is going to be an individual choice.

But Mercer does say, if you’re among the 90 percent of people who strikes the pavement with their heel first, he recommends a shoe with more cushion and support in the heel. If you tend to run on the front of your feet (“forefront strikers”), he says you should look for a flatter sole.