The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

The Nike Vaporfly Running Shoe Can Reduce Your Energy Use By 4%

Posted by on Friday, February 2nd, 2018

The marathon world record held by Dennis Kimetto in 2014 stood firm at two hours, two minutes, and 57 seconds—that is, until Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge stunned audiences in May 2017 with a chilling two hour and 25-second completion. To put things into perspective, that’s about a 4.5-minute mile pace… for 28.2 miles straight. His secret weapon was Nike’s new Vaporfly 4% running shoe, specifically designed to break the two-hour marathon barrier. Prior to Kipchoge’s record, Oklahoma runner Camille Herron beat the 100-mile record with an astonishing time of 12:42:39—shaving more than an hour (8%) off the previous time. She, too, wore the Nike Vaporfly running shoe.

High Snob Society called the release of Nike’s Vaporfly one of the “12 Biggest Sneaker Moments of 2017,” while a writer for NBC News wondered if this was “the shoe that will rewrite marathon history.” As NYC sports medicine doctors, we were keenly interested to learn more about these highly-acclaimed running shoes. Here’s a rundown of the Nike Vaporfly’s innovative design and how it might affect your run.

The Nike Vaporfly is a revolutionary running shoe.
The Nike Vaporfly is a revolutionary shoe that could change the way you run. Image Source: Pixabay user skeeze.

What’s Special About the Nike Vaporfly 4% Running Shoe?

The Vaporfly 4% has an ultra-lightweight Flyknit upper, ZoomX midsole with high-tech foam cushioning that “stores and returns twice as much energy” as competing shoes, and a heel-mounted carbon fiber spring plate designed to give you an extra push. It may look a bit clunky, but the spongy sole actually weighs in at 7 ounces—2 ounces less than Nike’s Olympic sprinting shoe. Nike’s claim is that the Vaporfly can reduce your energy usage by 4% when you’re running—and they have numbers to back up their claim.

Research About the Nike Vaporfly Running Shoe

In a study paid for by Nike, researchers at the Locomotion Lab at CU Boulder recruited 18 male runners in their twenties with previous experience running 10Ks in less than 31 minutes. Over the course of three days, they ran on a treadmill wearing the Vaporfly, the Nike Zoom Streak, and the Adidas Adios Boost 2. Every single runner had better economies when wearing the Vaporfly compared to the other top marathon shoes on the market. Surprisingly, the results were consistent across the board, whether the runner was a forefoot, midfoot, or heel striker.

In mechanical tests, the Vaporfly prototype returned 87% of the energy, compared to 65.5% of Nike’s previous state-of-the-art model, Zoom Streak 6. The Adidas Adios Boost 2, used by Dennis Kimetto to set the previous world marathon record, returned 75.9% energy. In terms of compliance, the Vaporfly squished down almost twice as much as the other running shoes, deforming by 11.9 mm, compared to the Streak’s 6.1 mm and 5.9 mm for the Boost.

Scientists concluded that the shoes reduce a runner’s energy consumption/oxygen needs by 2-6% (or an average of 4%, hence the shoe’s name). By their estimates, runners have the technology necessary to break the two-hour marathon barrier. The results of their study were published in the peer-reviewed research journal Sports Medicine. 

Other Research About the Nike Vaporfly

Nike’s not the only one putting the Vaporfly to the test. Not long after, independent researchers took a look and reached similar conclusions:

  •  Runner’s World’s Shoe Lab tested the Vaporfly and found it delivered 80% energy return in the heel and 77% in the forefoot—the highest values they’d ever recorded.
  • WIRED looked at NYC Marathon runner times and, though observational in nature, they noted: “The average Vaporfly runner ran the second half of the marathon a minute and forty seconds slower than the first. But the average non-Vaporfly runner ran the second half five and a half minutes slower.”

Although these studies may not have been quite as thorough as Nike’s, it is important to note that objective third-parties are also finding the Vaporfly does what it is supposed to.

Finding the Vaporfly 4% Running Shoe

If you’re keen on snagging a pair of these competitive kicks, prepare to wait. The $600 running shoes are selling out everywhere. “We wished we had more stock to fulfill demand,” says Wil Cramer, general manager and buyer for Brooklyn Running Co. Only “high-profile” stores have a chance at getting the shoes in stock at all. Shoe collectors are snapping them up for the sheer hype, with no intention of ever running in them. (Maddening, right?!) In the meantime, you might want to try the Air Zoom, which is a similar, more affordable, and widely available release.

Shoes can have a big effect on running, so it’s important that you snag the right pair in the right size to support your running. Should you want an individual suggestion for marathon training and running footwear customized to your biomechanics, we are happy to provide one at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine’s Gait Analysis Center. For more information, contact us today.

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.