You’re not imagining things—there are a lot more running shoes with plates these days. Until recently, plates were found almost entirely in modern racing shoes, a.k.a. “super shoes,” the high-stack, next-gen midsole, rockered models that are now ubiquitous in marathons and half marathons. But plates are increasingly core elements of shorter-distance racers, lightweight models, trail shoes, and even everyday trainers. And the put-a-plate-in-it trend is likely to accelerate.

Is this a good trend for the average runner? Here’s what experts have to say about why it’s happening and whether you should do more of your running in plated shoes.

The why and what of plates in running shoes

Running shoes with plates aren’t new. Sprint spikes have long contained a plate, and Adidas and Fila offered road-racing shoes with plates more than 15 years ago. As with contemporary versions, the plates in these shoes were designed to act as stiff levers that propel runners more quickly through the gait cycle. (Trail shoes often contain rock plates, which are designed to provide protection from ouch-inducing footsteps rather than speed you along the scree.)

The current plate popularity began in 2016, when select Nike runners started competing in prototypes of what would become the Vaporfly 4%. That model set the standard for what would come to be called super shoes, which nearly all brands now offer—a high-stack midsole of light, soft, energy-returning foam; a plate to provide stability and propulsion; and a rockered rather than flat geometry to help you more quickly roll through all that foam. Those shoes’ popularity has led to the current trend of plates appearing in models designed for something other than marathoning.

Before we look at recent developments, it’s important to remember two key things about modern plated running shoes. First, just as there’s great variety in shoe midsoles, there’s no universal plate. As Runner’s World deputy test editor Jeff Dengate wrote recently, “Some have full-length plates that make the shoe exceptionally stiff. Others use partial plates, carbon-fiber rods, or even plates that allow the shoe to flex in certain directions.” Our recent article on plates provides more details on the variations offered by one of the carbon-fiber plate suppliers. Some new models incorporate plates made of something other than carbon fiber.

Second, plates are just one of three core elements in the modern shoes that contain them. The next-gen midsoles that envelop plates vary greatly in softness and height. There’s also great variance in plated shoe geometry. Some have a severe toe spring—a large upward curve at the front of the shoe—that starts past the ball of the foot to encourage quick toe-off at faster paces. Others have a slighter slope that starts closer to the midfoot for a smoother, more gradual transition through the gait cycle. All of these variables can make finding a plated shoe that meshes with your running form and goals more difficult than selecting a traditional trainer or racer.

Plate proliferation

2022 boston marathon
The elite women at the 2022 Boston Marathon and their plated shoes.
Derek Call

If the prototypical super shoe is one made for marathon racing, then one main variation brands offer is a plated training companion. For example, Saucony’s Endorphin includes the Pro and the Speed. The Pro is the carbon-fiber-plated racer, while the Speed is a somewhat similar-looking lightweight trainer with a slightly lower stack height and a nylon plate. This year there have also been more trail shoes with a carbon-fiber plate, such as the Hoka Tecton X, and plated lower-stack racing shoes intended for 5K/10K outings, such as the New Balance SuperComp Pacer and the Nike Streakfly.

preview for Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 | The Cut Up

But to see what’s really coming in terms of plates, consider Skechers’s current line-up. There are, of course, plated racing shoes, most notably the Speed Freek, a high-stack marathon model that has a carbon-fiber plate along with free-form spelling. But there are also three training shoes with plates. The Max Road 5 is the brand’s mega-cushioned model. In its evolution from version 4 to 5, it picked up a carbon-infused H-shaped plate, which is designed to add stability at slower paces and a little help with toe-off at faster paces. The Razor Excess 2 also has a carbon-infused plate; the original version of this lightweight trainer didn’t have a plate. There’s also the Persistence, a new, daily mileage model that, you guessed it, has a carbon-infused plate. Perhaps most significantly, it costs $115, or about half of a typical super shoe.

Expect more offerings like these from all brands, especially starting in 2023, says Joe Rubio, CEO of the online store Running Warehouse.

“China has a ton of shoes with supercritical foams and plates at ridiculously low prices,” Rubio says. “Some stink, but some are very good and inexpensive. My guess is the next wave provides all the benefits of super foams and plates and rockers coming to regular old running shoes at affordable prices. When you can get a super foam, rocker, and plate in a $140 shoe from one of the big seven brands, you’ll have the next big thing. Once people experience it, it’ll become the norm for nearly all running shoes.”

In other words, the line between “super shoe” and “normal running shoe” will continue to blur, if not altogether disappear. Rubio says the plates in this coming generation of shoes will be made of something other than carbon, to help keep weight and cost down, but without detracting from performance.

Should you step up to the plate?

When pondering whether to add one or more plated shoes to your collection, remember that running shoes are tools. Ideally, any running shoe you own is designed for a specific task (even if that job is a general one like daily use). To date, one of the main uses of plated shoes has been to help you run faster. But as plates spread to models beyond racing shoes, their potential usage grows.

“Stiff rocker bottom shoes have been shown to help improve the gait of many types of feet,” says Geoffrey Gray, a doctor of physical therapy and president of Heeluxe, which works with many companies on designing and testing shoes. “People with stiff feet, bunions, turf toe, or plantar fasciitis may have a better experience in plated shoes with a well-designed rocker than a ‘standard’ running shoe.”

Andrea Myers, a doctor of physical therapy and contributor to Doctors of Running, says, “Runners with reduced mobility at their first MTP joint [at the base of the big toe] may benefit from training in super shoes due to the stiffness of the plate and rocker sole, but it depends on the specific geometry of a given shoe. Shoes with a severe forefoot rocker, where the front of the shoe points severely upwards, will not work for those with reduced first MTP extension because the design of the shoe holds the first MTP in extension.

“Similarly, runners with reduced ankle dorsiflexion range of motion [i.e., pointing your toes toward your shin] may benefit from shoes that have a plate and heel bevel, which may both reduce the amount of dorsiflexion required during stance phase and help the runner transition from heel to forefoot more quickly,” Myers says.

plated shoes
New Balance’s fuelcell pacer features a carbon plate.
Trevor Raab

Sounds great! But remember, Myers cautions, that “plated shoes may reduce the workload at the foot and ankle, but forces don’t disappear—they are just shifted elsewhere. Due to the interaction of the plate, foam, and rockered geometry, plated shoes may cause a runner to move into hip extension more rapidly than they would in a shoe without those features. This could place greater stress on the glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors.”

Gray recommends rotating among multiple models—some plated, some not—to provide different stimuli and reduce your injury risk. A now-famous 2013 study found that runners who wore three or more models had a 39 percent lower incidence of injury during the 22-week study than runners who did almost all of their running in one model. Consider plated shoes a potentially useful addition to your toolbox rather than a reason to cast aside designs and principles that have served runners well for many years.

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