"THE HEART OF THE MATTER"
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)


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Transcripts: 486.3 to 486.5

Week: 486.3 Guest: Spencer White Topic: Choosing Sports Shoes - Part One Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is a three part series on choosing the best athletic shoes for performance and safety. My guest is Spencer White, director of research engineering from Reebok International.

NEMA: Mr. White, how different is the athletic shoe in 1995 from the sneakers of the 1950s or '60s?

White: It's dramatically different. I think the biggest difference that people will notice is the amount of cushioning. In the 1950s, there was a rubber bottom and that was it. That was all that was between your foot and the ground and about in the early '70s, manufacturers started adding in foams that would absorb the energy of the impact so by adding cushioning we obviously improved comfort but we also improved the ability of the shoe to reduce forces, particularly when you're running which meant that more people could run.

NEMA: What effect have new materials had on modern sports shoe design?

White: A huge effect. I'd have to say that the advances in sports shoes have come from two areas. One is advances in materials and the other is the advances in our knowledge of how the body works, the advances in the science of sports. The materials that are used now are generally lighter weight, more durable and more effective for their intended use.

NEMA: How long does it take for you to design a new shoe from initial idea to finished product and what are the factors that you consider when you're doing so?

White: It can take anywhere from three or four years to only a few months. Depends on what we're trying to accomplish. If what we're trying to do is get a new shoe out that has a different style, different colors, maybe a slightly different material, then we can do that fairly quickly. If we're trying to come up with a new functional feature, something that improves the cushioning or improves the stability of the shoe, then that takes years of research both on materials and of wear-testing and testing in our biomechanics lab so we think about the function, what is the shoe really going to be used for, what sort of activity, we have to understand what the stresses are associated with that activity, what kind of injuries happen in that particular activity. Then we also have to understand the market. How much are people willing to pay for a particular shoe, what is the competition doing, what is the size of that market? All that helps determine the kinds of materials we can use and the kinds of constructions we can use.

NEMA: Approximately how many pairs of shoes does Reebok manufacture every year?

White: We're up to almost a hundred million pairs of shoes a year.

NEMA: Amazing. How important is it that people who play many different sports have multiple pairs of shoes that are specialized for some of those sports?

White: The important thing is how often you play those sports and how intensely you participate. If you're somebody who goes out and likes to hit a tennis ball around occasionally and shoot some hoops and go for a two-mile run now and then, then a cross-training shoe is really the ideal shoe for you. If you're somebody who's a serious runner meaning anybody who runs over three or four miles at a time more than two times a week, you really do need a specific running shoe. If you are somebody who plays tennis at a competitive level, then a tennis shoe will allow you to perform at a higher level than a basketball shoe would or a cross-training shoe because it's designed to support your foot, to help stabilize the foot and provide just the right amount of cushioning for that particular activity.

NEMA: Join me for part two on sports shoes with Spencer White.

Week: 486.4 Guest: Spencer White Topic: Choosing Sports Shoes - Part Two Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is part two in a three part series on choosing the best sports shoes for your needs with Spencer White, director of research engineering from Reebok International.

White: If you're a runner, the motion is very straight forward and the biggest feature of the shoe, the most important feature of the shoe after the fit of course is the cushioning. Does the shoe have enough cushioning to protect you from that impact with the ground? If you're a tennis player, you're more concerned with the lateral movement. Is the shoe going to help stabilize your foot so you're not slipping or spraining your ankle? So the activities can be significantly different and therefore the shoes need to be able to withstand the stresses and help allow the athlete to perform at their highest level.

NEMA: What are some of the most common physical problems that active people can develop as the result of either inappropriate or poorly manufactured athletic shoes?

White: Probably the most common complaint we get from somebody whose shoes are either poorly made or equally important is that they have a good fit is the complaints about pains in their knees or the hips or even in the bottom of their foot. The most common foot injury is something called plantar fascitis which just means an irritation of the tendon that runs along the bottom of your foot or the connective tissue there and that can be caused by your foot moving around too much inside the shoe. It can also be caused by not enough impact protection.

NEMA: Would a person who spends a good deal of time specializing in say two different sports - maybe they were runners but they also were tennis players, now as you mentioned one involves forward motion, the other one involves a lot more lateral motion - would they be better off purchasing two inexpensive pairs of shoes, one for tennis and one for running or would they be better off with an expensive but high quality pair of shoes to do both or is neither one of those going to cover their needs?

White: That's a tough question. I guess I'd have to say you have to look at the individual, what sort of injury history do they have, what's their age, how often are they playing? The older we all get, the more susceptible to injuries we are and the more it's worth spending money on a shoe that's going to help reduce the risk of an injury. So if you're really somebody who runs more than a few times a week, more than a few miles, you absolutely need a good running shoe and I would expect a good running shoe to be on the order of $60-$70 and up. Now if you a have particular history of injuries caused by over-pronation which is an inward rolling of the foot as the heel hits the ground, then you want to pay even more because you need something to protect you. If you get an injury, then you can't play. You can't play tennis, you can't go for a run so it's worth spending the money to protect yourself.

NEMA: As an engineer who designs athletic shoes, how difficult a challenge is that to you knowing that the same pair of shoes may be sold to someone who is 65 years old who wants to take up a jogging program versus a 30 year old athlete who can run a marathon?

White: I think you've hit on the biggest dilemma in footwear manufacturing - how is it that we can make a shoe that's going to work for the huge variety of humans that are going to wear it - not just the fact that everybody does different activities, but that we all have different-shaped feet and the way our bodies are built is different.

NEMA: Join me for part three on sports shoes with Spencer White.

Week: 486.5 Guest: Spencer White Topic: Choosing Sports Shoes - Part Three Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is part three in a three part series on selecting the best sports shoes with Spencer White, director of research engineering from Reebok International. I asked Mr. White how he designs shoes to accommodate so many different people.

White: We spend a lot of time trying to understand what that variation is out there, trying to measure it and understand what are the varieties of foot shape, what are the varieties of activities that people do, how hard does a 65 year old person hit the ground compared to a 30 year old person but then when we look at the materials that we need to use, we have to figure out how they can work for all those different people. One of the ways we've tried to address this is develop technologies that allow the athlete to adjust the shoe once they've purchased it. Now obviously things like a shoelace allow you to adjust some of the features of the shoe. You can adjust the fit around the mid-foot with the shoelace but we've developed the insta-pump technology which uses inflatable chambers to allow the athlete to adjust other features of the shoe as well and I think in the future you'll see even more of that. I think the trends coming are going to be increased stability of the athlete to adjust the shoe to do exactly what they need.

NEMA: How important is sports shoe design when you're purchasing shoes for a child?

White: That's a great question. The truth is that the advances in footwear manufacturing and our ability to make a shoe that supports the foot, that reduces the risk of injury have probably more benefit for kids than for anybody else because a child's foot is developing. It needs to be allowed to develop. Ten years ago or more like 20 years ago, the medical community probably would stick a kid with a low arch in a real stiff rigid shoe and say well, we need to build an arch. Now we know that really what we need to do is let the foot work. We need to let the muscles of the foot develop so that they can help hold the bones of the foot in position so understanding the foot and the science of materials that go into footwear manufacturing really, to me have made quite a difference in footwear for children for daily use, never mind for athletic use.

NEMA: No doubt there are many people listening to us right now who are just about ready to pick up their car keys and go out and buy a pair of athletic shoes and just based on the number you sell every year, I'm sure many right now, would you give us your basic list of dos and don'ts to sort of give them some guidance as they head out to the mall.

White: First decide what you're going to use the shoes for. Obviously, if it's a running shoe you need or a tennis shoe or a basketball shoe, or an aerobic shoe - you should start with looking at those categories. But try on shoes from a couple different manufacturers as well because every manufacturer uses a slightly different shape when they're building a shoe and it's worth finding one that fits you best. So fit is first. Then it's general comfort beyond that. Do you feel any pressure points from the laces or from the shoe as it flexes in the forefoot? And third after that is cushioning. If you're using it for running, cushioning is really the most important thing and of course some stability as well. If you're going to be playing tennis, then you need to try and assess how much support it's going to give you during a lateral movement. You shouldn't be afraid to run in place or to try and move around a bit in the store. That's what you're buying the shoes to do and you can't really tell how they're going to work unless you actually do the movements so some stores actually even have treadmills that you can run in the shoes or they'll let you go out in the middle of the mall and run around a little bit and I would definitely recommend taking them up on that offer.

 

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Last modified: December 02, 2021