Hoka shoes have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among runners and hikers. Known for their thick, cushioned soles, Hokas are often touted as incredibly comfortable. However, while these shoes may feel great on your feet, there are certain situations in which you should consider retiring your Hokas and opting for a different type of shoe.
What Are Hoka Shoes Designed For?
Before we dive into the pros and cons of Hoka shoes, let’s take a closer look at what these shoes are designed for. Hoka shoes were originally created for ultra runners who needed extra cushioning to protect their feet during long-distance runs. Primarily, they were designed for the long, rugged descents that come when doing ultra-trail races in the mountains. The shoes were designed to provide maximum shock absorption while still being lightweight and breathable. (1)
Since the shoe’s inception in France in 2009, Hoka has continued to be an innovator in the running shoe game. Beyond just their ultra-trail shoes, they have shoes designed for long-distance track events and road racing. The designers look at pain points in the sport and make a shoe to address them. For example, their racing spikes for the track have an asymmetrical design to favor the continuous left-hand turns in long-distance track events.
Over time, Hoka shoes have become popular among a wider range of athletes and even casual walkers who appreciate the comfort and support that these shoes provide. Today, many different types of Hoka shoes are available, each with its unique design and features.
The Pros of Wearing Hoka Shoes
As already stated, Hoka’s primary targets are those looking to go on long trail runs with varied terrain. Still, they have developed shoes to suit other needs beyond those of the extreme trail running athlete. There are many reasons why people love wearing Hoka shoes. Here are just a few of the pros:
- Comfort: Hoka shoes are undeniably comfortable to wear. The thick, cushioned soles provide a soft landing with each step, which can be especially beneficial for those with foot pain or other foot-related issues.
- Support: Hoka shoes provide excellent support for the feet and ankles. This is not surprising and was originally designed to support the foot and ankle across jagged and uneven terrain. This extra stability can be helpful for those with weak ankles or other stability issues.
- Versatility: Many different types of Hoka shoes are available, each designed for a specific type of activity. Whether you’re a runner, hiker, or just looking for a comfortable pair of walking shoes, there’s a Hoka shoe for you.
The Cons of Wearing Hoka Shoes
There is no perfect shoe that works for every person and every foot. So much goes into whether or not a shoe is right for you, and that mostly has to do with you and your body, not the shoe itself. The alignment of your skeleton as well as the strength of different muscles, ligaments, and tendons will impact whether or not a shoe is right for you. Of course, the structure of your feet will also have an impact. Some people have wide feet, others narrow, others have a narrow heel and wide toe-box, and some may have other issues such as bunions. This will greatly change not only which brand of shoe is right for you, but also which shoe model within that brand. (2)
While there are certainly many benefits to wearing Hoka shoes, there are also some drawbacks to consider. Here are a few of the cons:
- Cost: Hoka shoes can be quite expensive, especially compared to other athletic shoes. This can be a barrier for some people who are looking for a comfortable and supportive shoe but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
- Dependency: Because Hoka shoes are so comfortable and supportive, some people may become dependent on them. This can lead to a weakening of the feet and ankles over time, as they become less able to support themselves without the help of the shoe.
- Limited Mobility: Hoka shoes are designed to be very supportive, which can be a good thing in some situations. However, this support can also limit your range of motion and make performing certain exercises or activities more difficult.
The Importance of Strengthening Your Feet
One of the main reasons why people may want to consider retiring their Hoka shoes is to focus on strengthening their feet and ankle stabilizers. While it’s true that Hoka shoes provide excellent support, this support can actually be detrimental to the health of your feet and ankles over time. This is primarily for those who are just looking for a good walking shoe or are doing light running, say a 5km jog a handful of times per week. Still, for those doing heavy trail running, Hoka remains one of the top brands in that sport.
When we wear shoes that are too supportive, our feet and ankles become weaker because they don’t have to work as hard to support our weight. This can lead to a variety of foot and ankle issues, including plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and ankle sprains.
By focusing on strengthening your feet and ankle stabilizers, you can reduce your dependence on supportive shoes like Hokas and improve your overall foot health. Some exercises that can help strengthen your feet and ankles include:
- Toe curls: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Place a towel or small cloth under your toes and use your toes to scrunch up the cloth. Hold for a few seconds, then release.
- Ankle circles: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Lift one foot off the ground and rotate your ankle in a circle. Repeat on the other side.
- Calf raises: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Rise up onto the balls of your feet, then slowly lower back down. There are a variety of ways to perform calf raises that change the difficulty level. Performing them two feet at a time flat off the ground is the easiest way. You could then try changing to dipping your heels off of a ledge or step for a greater range of motion. You can also consider performing them one leg at a time, as well as adding weight if it is becoming too easy.
Strengthening Your Body
Strong feet and ankles aren’t the only muscles affecting how much support you need. If you want to walk around with the correct posture and in shoes that help your body, not hurt it, you have to do the work. Training your core, which includes your glutes, hips, hip flexors, all layers of your abdominal muscles, and your back and shoulders, will ensure good posture. You also must strengthen your shins and the small stabilizing muscles in your knees, otherwise, you will eventually have knee problems no matter what shoes you wear.
Plenty of resources on YouTube teach you how to properly train each of these body parts and muscle groups. You can also speak to a physiotherapist or personal trainer to show you what you need to strengthen and how. A strong, healthy body will do a lot more for you than any shoe can.
Finally, if you are really unsure which shoe is right for you, go to a running shoe store. Not a footlocker or a regular shopping mall shoe store, but an actual running store. Even if you aren’t getting into running, they can help you figure out what you need based on the activities you do and perform a gait analysis. This is when then watch you walk and/or run on a treadmill (often with some technology involved) to study how your body, including your feet, moves when you walk. They can then suggest a shoe for you based on that.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, Hoka shoes can be a great option for those looking for comfort and support. They are also one of the top brands for those looking to get into trail running and racing. There are different Hoka shoes to suit different people’s needs. However, there are certain situations in which you may want to consider retiring your Hokas for another, more neutral shoe. Finally, no matter what, you should be focusing on strengthening your feet, ankles, core, and other muscle groups instead. Doing so can improve your overall foot health and reduce your risk of foot and ankle injuries in the future.
Keep Reading: The Benefits of Deep Squats
- “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Hoka Running Shoes.” Outside Online. Brian Metzler. July 27, 2022.
- “Super Cushioned Shoes: Are HOKA Shoes Good for Runners or Not?” The Run Experience. Nate Helming. May 10, 2023.