If you weigh more than 200 lbs (90 kilos) and happen to go hunting for a pair of running shoes, you might receive the following piece of shopping advice:
“Buy a running shoe which has the softest cushioning. They’re the best for heavy runners.”
Wrong. Nope. Nada. That’s not great advice at all.
We do understand why many recommend max-soft shoes, though. The underlying logic is that a softer ride equates to better shock absorption, but 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 which feels perfectly 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 constantly work hard to compensate for the shortcomings of the unstable shoe. This increases the probability of injuries.
Too much midsole softness can cause the shoe to bottom out.
The Asics Nimbus 17 was a great 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 purpose of the midsole, doesn’t it?
An extremely soft shoe will lead to a 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 in the case of soft running shoes. The heel offset is the difference between the heel height and forefoot midsole height, and brands often advertise this number.
But you should take the static heel drop with a huge grain of salt. The heel offset of a shoe when fully loaded (with bodyweight) can differ a lot from the static drop. To make this variance as tiny as possible, choose a shoe with a firm midsole.
Otherwise, running in a very soft shoe will result in a lower heel gradient than expected, and 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 footwear with a lower offset.
Super-soft cushioning has lower durability.
Except for newer materials such as the adidas Boost or Saucony Everun, 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 flatten it faster than, say, a runner who is south of 150 lbs.
So far, we’ve painted super-soft running shoes in a poor light, but there are exceptions to each generalization. Certain shoes from Hoka or some of the adidas Boost models can be very soft but not mushy.
If very soft shoes are off the menu for heavier runners, then what should you get? Good question.
Softness and cushioning are often used interchangeably, but cushioning – the ability to protect the foot from impact forces – exist in firmer shoes too. So it is imperative that you buy a shoe which is cushioned yet supportive, and capable of handling a 200+ lb bodyweight over hundreds of miles.
There are a variety of such cushioned (and supportive) shoes in the wild, but it can be a challenge to trawl through the thick and confusing assortment of products.
To help narrow your search, we’ve curated a list of top eight running shoes suited for heavy runners. This list is from far from exhaustive, but is a good place to start:
1) Asics Gel Fortitude 7
The Fortitude is purpose-built for heavy runners. It features a firm and stable midsole with a near-full contact outsole, and the engineered mesh upper accommodates bigger feet and custom orthoses.
Given all that extra material, the Fortitude isn’t the lightest of running shoes.
Weight: 346 grams/ 12.2 ounces, 10 mm offset, available in multiple widths.
2) Brooks Ghost 9
Brooks swapped its Gel-like midsole insert for pure foam a few years ago, but the Ghost stays a supportive shoe.
The dual-density stack of foam makes the ride cushioned and stable. It helps that the outsole has a full ground contact design which grips well.
Weight: 334 grams/ 12 ounces, 11.8 mm offset, available in multiple widths.
3) Brooks Glycerin 14
The Glycerin is a basically a Ghost upgrade. You should get this instead of the Ghost if you crave a plusher ride experience. The midsole is supportive, and the sleeved upper has soft interiors.
Weight: 300 grams/ 11.6 ounces, 10 mm offset, available in multiple widths.
4) Brooks Transcend 4
Need more support than the Glycerin or Ghost, but without the medial-post business? The Transcend 4 is Brooks’ unique shoe which blends plenty of cushioning with a wide midsole and outsole.
You need to watch out for the snug upper fit and the lack of widths, though.
Weight: 306 grams/ 10.8 ounces, 8 mm offset, available in only a single width.
5) Mizuno Wave Enigma 6
Mizuno calls this a ‘highly cushioned shoe which softens the road,’ but pay no heed. The full-length plastic Wave plate gives the midsole a firm and supportive tinge, while the thick stack of foam keeps the ride adequately padded.
The upper is archetypal Mizuno, using materials like spacer mesh and lots of molded detailing. Fancy stuff.
Weight: 317 grams/ 11.2 ounces, 12 mm offset, available in only a single width.
6) Mizuno Wave Rider 20
See that ’20’ suffix attached to the shoe’s name? That means that the Rider has been around for two decades.
And for as long as we can remember, the Rider has always been about a firm and stable ride, a result of the Mizuno Wave plate under the heel and midfoot.
There’s plenty of room inside the upper, and the shoe is lightweight for its built.
Weight: 272 grams/ 9.6 ounces, 12 mm offset, available in multiple widths.
7) Saucony Echelon 5
The Echelon 5 is a neutral shoe but has a broad outsole glued to a supportive midsole. There’s a sheet of the legacy ‘Powergrid’ technology just below the insole, which makes the upper midsole cushioned to run in.
The upper fits narrow, so look for the wide version if you need to.
Weight: 332 grams/ 11.7 ounces, 8 mm offset, available in multiple widths.
8) Saucony Triumph ISO 3
This year’s Triumph moves the bouncy Everun foam inside the midsole (versus the ISO 2’s exposed crash pad), making the cushioning quality more balanced than last year.
The outsole is a combination of hard rubber under the heel and a softer compound under the forefoot. Transitions feel smooth, and the engineered mesh upper is comfortable.
Weight: 297 grams/ 10.5 ounces, 12 mm offset, available in multiple widths.