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Best running shoes for heavy runners

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This article has been updated with current models for September 2020. The Mizuno Wave Rider 23, Mizuno Wave Sky 3, Saucony Echelon 7, and the Saucony Triumph 17 have been replaced with their current versions. The Brooks Transcend 7 and Saucony Ride 13 are news additions. The Nike Epic React V2 and Saucony Redeemer ISO 2 have been removed. A similar article for women’s footwear can be found here.

You’re probably reading this guide because you weigh more than 200 lbs/90 kilos. The word ‘heavy’ has many contexts. For instance, you could be a large-framed runner with feet to match. Also, low or flat arches may not necessarily be a part of the package – there are many heavy runners with a regular arch.

When you go searching for suitable running shoes, you’ll likely hear the following shopping advice:

“Buy a running shoe with the softest cushioning. They’re the best for heavy runners.” That, or “You can’t go wrong with a stability shoe for over-pronators.”

Wrong. That’s not good advice at all.

We understand why most people recommend max-soft or motion-control shoes, though. The underlying (and misinformed) logic is that a softer ride equates to better shock absorption. However, that simply isn’t true.

In fact, an overly mushy shoe can do more harm than good when you’re north of 200 lbs. Here’s why:

An uber-soft running shoe is unstable for high bodyweight.

A shoe that feels supportive for a 150 lb runner might end up throwing a heavier runner around. If the midsole isn’t supportive, then that translates into more work for the body.

During each phase of the gait cycle, the body will have to work hard to compensate for the shortcomings of the unstable shoe. This increases the chances of injuries.

Excessive midsole softness can cause the shoe to bottom out.

The Asics Nimbus 17 was a perfect example of this in action. Its midsole was so mushy that it bottomed out even if you were a 150 pounder, and parts of the outsole were felt during runs. That defeats the entire purpose of the midsole, does it not?

An extremely soft shoe will lead to significant variance between the static and dynamic heel gradient.

An often overlooked aspect is that there can be a huge difference between the published heel drop and the dynamic one – especially when it concerns soft running shoes. The heel offset is the difference between the heel height and forefoot midsole height, and brands often advertise this number. For many shoe geeks, this number is an influencing factor when buying running shoes.

But you should take the static heel drop with a huge grain of salt. The heel offset of a shoe when fully loaded can differ a lot from the static drop. To minimize this variance, select a shoe with a firm midsole.

Running in a very soft shoe will result in a lower heel gradient than expected; more so when the footstrike load is in multiples of 200 lbs.

For all you know, a ’10 mm’ drop might turn into a 4 mm offset or less during running. This might strain your Achilles or Calf muscle if you’re not used to running in footwear with a lower offset.

Super-soft cushioning has lower durability.

Except for newer materials such as the adidas Boost, Nike React, Reebok Floatride, and Saucony Pwrrun+, foam-based midsoles tend to lose their cushioning over a few hundred miles. A heavy runner using a shoe made of a soft EVA foam compound is likely to fatigue it sooner than a lighter runner.

So far, we’ve painted super-soft running shoes in a poor light, but there are exceptions to each generalization. Certain shoes made from new-gen foams can be very soft yet durable.

Traditional ‘stability’ shoes can end up achieving the opposite effect

Conventional stability shoes have a firmer inner midsole and a softer outer side. While this design prevents rolling of the foot towards the inner side, it comes at the cost of midsole bias. The body weight will follow the path of least resistance and lean towards the outer side.

Not all ‘stability’ shoes are stable. This is the reason why you won’t see an Asics Gel-Kayano or a New Balance 860 on our guide. The Brooks Addiction 14 is a medially-posted exception because of its high level of inherent support.

If very soft shoes and laterally-leaning stability models are off the menu, then what’s left to buy? Glad you asked.

Softness and cushioning are often used interchangeably, but cushioning – the ability to protect the foot from the impact forces – exist in firmer shoes as well. So it is important to buy a shoe that is cushioned yet supportive; one that is capable of handling 200+ lb body-weight over hundreds of miles.

There many such cushioned (and supportive) running shoes but it is a challenge to sift through the confusing assortment of products.

To help narrow your search, we’ve curated a list of nearly a dozen running shoes suited for heavy runners. This list is far from exhaustive but a good place to start.

Category: Supportive neutrals without a medial post

1) Asics Gel Nimbus 22

The Nimbus did not get a spot on this guide the last time. Because, you know, the Nimbus 21.

The year 2019-20 has been kinder to the Nimbus. With a redesigned upper and midsole, the 22nd edition is a vast improvement over the 21. The midsole is comfortable and yet stable enough for heavier runners.

The upper is plush with a just-right fit. And if you have broad feet, the Nimbus 22 sells in a variety of widths.

2) Brooks Glycerin 18

Contrary to how Brooks markets the Glycerin 18, this shoe isn’t the epitome of cushioning plushness. At best, the cushioning strikes an excellent balance between ride comfort and stability.

In the context of this guide, that’s an ideal trait. The full-length DNA midsole isn’t super cushy so the firm undertone ends up making the ride supportive. The midsole is single-density, so you get the smoothness along with ample traction from the grippy outsole rubber.

In true Brooks style, the sleeved upper is plush as always; no complaints there.

Also see: The Brooks Ghost 13.

3) Saucony Ride 13

Nobody will be surprised to see the Saucony Ride 13 featured on this guide. Saucony Ride loyalists are well acquainted with this model’s firm and supportive ride. This is the kind that is transition-friendly while being cushioned enough for most runs, short and long.

There’s a new Pwrrun foam midsole on the Ride 13, but that does not effect the shoe’s do-it-all versatility and supportive character. The firm-ish foundation is stable enough for weighty runners while providing the required cushioning levels.

The secure upper fit also helps with overall stability. It’s hard to go wrong with this one.

4) Brooks Beast 20

Hold on a moment – why is the Beast part of the ‘supportive neutral’ list? Isn’t the Beast the fairy godmother of all traditional, medial-posted shoes?

Sweet summer child, that was last year. For 2020, the Beast trades the Octo-density midsole for a design with GuideRails. The newest Beast has a wide BioMogo DNA (EVA-based foam) midsole with raised sidewalls.

The inner Guiderail has a firmer density for a higher level of support. With these changes, the ride character takes a decidedly neutral and supportive turn.

In a way, the Beast is now a bulked-up Transcend – if that makes sense. And that makes the Transcend 7 – what, redundant?

The comfortable upper is spacious and is offered in a range of widths for runners with wide feet.

5) Brooks Transcend 7

We just called the Transcend 7 redundant in our Beast 20 write-up. So why is it even here?

To begin with, it’s a better-looking shoe than the staidly Beast. It looks more streamlined and contemporary than the B-20; the latter is very much a dad shoe – and we say this in a Nike Air Monarch sense.

Even performance-wise, the Transcend 7 has a little more spring in its step than the Beast. The rounded and split heel crash pad design makes the transitions less clunky than the Beast. The midsole is also slimmer through the waist. In short, the Transcend is the Beast 20 on diet; the 1-ounce weight difference says it all.

The T-7 is a great shoe for high bodyweight runners who want the stability and cushioning of the Beast but without the visual bulk. The Transcend also has a lower heel to toe offset of 10 mm, versus the Beast’s 12 mm.

The upper fits snugger than the Beast yet packed with plushness.

6) Mizuno Wave Rider 24

Though the new Wave Rider 24 is softer than the 23, it still makes it to this list. That’s because the Wave plate still plays an important role in the heel cushioning and the overall stability.

The snappy TPE plate adds plenty of support to the now-softer midsole. This way, heavier runners benefit from the comfortable ride but do not have to worry about instability.

Owing to this unique construction, the ride quality is very neutral and a safe choice for the demographic that this guide targets.

The said midsole is paired with a comfortable upper constructed in the traditional Mizuno style. By that, we mean a spacious upper made of soft engineered mesh and plush lining.

7) Mizuno Wave Sky WaveKnit 4

Last year’s Wave Sky Waveknit 3 was a new Mizuno. New, not because the model was an annual refresh. New, because the Sky 3 came without the characteristic Wave plate that usually is a part of the midsole scenery.

Instead, what we got was a dual-density stack of foam that was part Polyurethane and part EVA. This combination made the ride cushioned enough for long-distance running but without the stability trade-off. The new top layer added a responsive pop that was otherwise lacking on plate-equipped Mizuno shoes.

For 2020, nothing has changed under the upper, so the Wave Sky 4 has the same ride as the V3. Therefore, the 4 works for heavy runners as well as the V3 did.

The Waveknit 4’s upper is similar to the 3, save for a few updates. Mizuno has made some tweaks to the lacing system and removed the padding from the tongue flap. They’ve added a Urethane logo and a fused heel overlay as well.

But why? The Waveknit 3’s upper design was superior. The plush tongue flap was a good fit for the cushioned ride, and the printed logo blended into the upper scenery better than the fused one.

8) Saucony Echelon 8

There are many reasons why the Echelon 8 features here.

Saucony uses the firm Pwrrun compound for this model, thus imparting the Echelon with high levels of in-built stability. If that wasn’t enough, the outsole has an ultra-broad footprint for increased contact surface.

Together, the material and geometry create a ride that is cushioned but is also solid-footed. And of course, the Echelon 8 weighs more than 12-ounces; what did you expect?

This shoe also comes equipped with a thick insole that can be swapped with an aftermarket orthotic. There’s more upper space available in the optional wide and extra-wide sizes.

The upper is very old school; lots of stitched overlays cover the spacer mesh exterior. The fit is comfortable, a bit snug, and true-to-size.

9) Saucony Triumph 18

Oh. We’re already in September 2020. About time for the Triumph 18 to show up.

It builds on the goodness that was the Triumph 17 by introducing minor tweaks. For example, the collar padding gets toned down a bit, thus creating some room in the front. The fit is still snug, but noticeably less so that the T-17.

The rest of the interior is excellent. The use of high-quality and plush trims are evident throughout the shoe, and the pleasing exterior detailing is a bonus. The treatment befits the Triumph 18’s price premium. Fit-wise, the forefoot and heel have a secure grip, and the toe-box is secure yet accommodating.

There’s the familiar responsive and fluffy ride from the T-17. The expanded Polyurethane midsole is lively and perfect for easygoing daily runs or punishing endurance feats of a high-mileage nature. The ride is soft, but its inherent resilience keeps it from bottoming out when weight-loaded.

10) Nike React Infinity Run

If one finds the Epic React lacking in support, then the Infinity Run is an excellent alternative. The urethane clip and the upper overlays add more structure from the midfoot to the heel.

That doesn’t result in a lack of cushioning. The high-volume React foam midsole has deep cushioning that makes high-mileage runs comfortable while being resistant to material fatigue – thanks to the rubber-blended foam. The outsole is generously grooved and channeled for a smoother ride. As a result, the Infinity is softer than the Epic React.

Though there are no optional widths for the Infinity Run, the knit upper has an accommodating character. Because of the relaxed fit and heel grip, it is best to limit the cushioned Infinity Run to low-intensity workouts.

Category: Stability shoes with medial posts

1) Brooks Addiction 14

The Brooks Beast may have ditched the medial post, but the Addiction 14 sure hasn’t gotten the memo.

An ultra-wide midsole joins forces with a reassuringly large medial-post to create a cushioned ride that delivers stability without a noticeable bias.

The upper has plenty of room in its stock form, so you can substitute the insole with an aftermarket kind. And of course, the Brooks upper plushness comes standard.

This is a shoe that weighs nearly 13-ounces, so it’s best to restrict it to easy-paced runs.

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