Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, you’ll know that maximal cushioned running shoes are all the rage.
Thick, high and soft, cushioned maximalist running shoes are essentially the opposite of minimalist running shoes (which often aim to replicate the feeling of barefoot running) and tend to feature a super thick, plush foam midsole – offering a larger buffer between your feet and the ground.
As a result, they tend to be a touch more forgiving than typical every day running shoes and can help to reduce the overall stress placed on the body, lending themselves to longer runs and slow and steady recovery runs.
What are the best cushioned running shoes?
Ready to shop? Here are our favourite cushioned running shoes, at a glance. Or, keep scrolling to read our tried and tested reviews.
The rise of max-cushioned running shoes
‘Shoes with maximal cushioning feature a high-volume foam midsole which can be up to 2.5 times the volume of a traditional running shoe,’ explains Ben Mounsey, SportsShoes.com ambassador. ‘By using ultra-lightweight foam, these high-stack shoes can deliver an energising ride, with greater rebound and at least 50% more cushioning than a standard running shoe.’
Back in 2010, minimalist running shoes represented a third of the overall market. But by 2013, the market share had fallen to 15%. Why? Some runners simply didn’t enjoy the shoes’ skimpy feel, while other runners who’d bought into the minimalist trend started becoming injured, and so began gravitating not just back to traditional shoes but towards the other extreme – shoes with plenty of cushioning.
‘The concept of maximal cushioning and oversize technology has taken the industry by storm over the last few years, rapidly gaining popularity with runners looking for a more forgiving, cushioned running shoe,’ adds Mounsey.
The main reason for this, he says, can be attributed to the success and popularity of running brand Hoka: ‘First launched in 2010, their models looked nothing like your average running shoe. The initial idea was to create a running shoe equivalent to a downhill mountain bike with big tyres and suspension, a shoe which would help protect against the impact shock of endurance running and “soak up” or float over the terrain, while reducing the stresses and strains associated with it. This unique concept has since become “the norm” within the running industry, with almost every other competitor brand following suit.’
Which running shoes have the most cushioning?
While Hoka is well-known for its ‘bigger-is-better’ thick-soled running shoes, most top running shoe brands have now branched into the maximalist space and offer a highly-cushioned running shoe. So how do you know which is best for you?
‘Just as with natural barefoot and minimalist running shoes, this all comes down to the individual, how you run and how you like to run,’ says Mounsey.
‘Maximal cushioning has been embraced by ultra-runners and longer-distance triathletes, appreciating the soft extra cushioning during long hours of running, and reporting less fatigue and almost no negative sensation with the ground. However, this following has grown beyond endurance running, and runners of all abilities and distances are beginning to advocate the plush feel of maximal cushioning.’
Some running enthusiasts may prefer the low profile, close-to-the-ground feel and the increased energy return of a more stripped-back shoe, but if you like an ultra-plush, soft ride and want to reduce the forces of impact shock and the associated stresses and strains on the body, then a max cushioned shoe is an option worth considering, especially over longer distances.
To help you out, we’ve whittled down our favourite RW-tested cushioned running shoes that promise to help soften the impact as your feet hit the ground.
The best maximalist cushioned shoes in 2023
Arguably one of our favourite shoes that Swiss brand On Running has released, the Cloudmonster is one of the brand’s most max-cushioned running shoe that offers serious bounce on both long runs and harder sessions.
With a 30mm heel height, they’re not quite as chunky as the Hoka Bondi 8 (below), but they’re a hell of a lot lighter – and firmer, meaning they offer pretty great energy return. The firmness comes from the Speedboard – a plastic plate that acts as a stabilising element to the larger midsole and also helps produce a solid platform for push-off, giving the shoe a reassuring sense of propulsion. In fact, they're an ideal beginner's running shoe if you're looking for comfort combined with responsiveness.
Nike Invincible 3
The Invincible 3 is Nike’s most cushioned road running shoe and features Nike ZoomX cushioning and higher foam heights (37mm heel stack). Compared with other highly cushioned shoes, though, which can feel very soft and comfy but lack energy return, there is an abundance of responsiveness that offers runners a feeling of 'pop' when running in the shoe.
These shoes really are at best when used for easy running all the way up to some tempo work. They’d be ideal for marathons too (and beyond), if your aim is to finish rather than race for the line with your heart jumping out of your chest.
Hoka Bondi 8
These marshmallow-like plush running shoes are the epitome of the maximalist trend – and ideal for easy runs and recovery sessions. Featuring humongous cushy foam, they’re not the lightest shoes on the market (although the Hoka Bondi 8’s are lighter than the 7’s) and with a heel stack of 39 mm, there’s no hiding away from the fact that these shoes are incredibly cushioned. They feel springy to run in and offer optimum comfort.
New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080 v13
Previously the second most cushioned shoe in the New Balance line-up, the latest iteration of the Fresh Foam 1080 saw an additional 4mm of foam added to the heel, plus 6mm at the forefoot, surpassing the max-cushioned Fresh Foam More v4 in terms of stack. The midsole also contains the brand’s latest Fresh Foam X foam, which shaves 28g off the total weight and makes the v13 noticeably softer, bouncier and lighter than the v12.
But despite the increased stack, the shoe oddly feels more versatile. This comes from the updated rocker profile, creating a smoother ride. The brand has also increased stiffness in the forefoot to help with toe off. The result is that easy runs feel even easier and more effortless.
That being said, the 1080 is by no means a performance shoe or something you’d run your intervals in. But if you’re after a recovery day shoe you can sink your feet into, a long run shoe that can eat up every mile, or even a shoe to run your first marathon in, it's a safe bet.
Asics Gel-Nimbus 25
Self-proclaimed as the ‘most comfortable running shoes’, Asics’ 25th iteration of the Gel-Nimbus got a serious upgrade (and complete revamp) thanks to the additional 20% foam cushioning and stretchy knit upper.
This is very much a plush max-cushioned shoe. As soon as you step into the Gel-Nimbus 25, the stretchy knit tongue feels snug, secure and almost sock-like. It feels soft underfoot, and has a smooth, rolling transition too.
Great for easy, chatty runs, the Gel-Nimbus 25 provide maximum comfort (not energy return, not performance, but pure comfort).
Saucony Kinvara Pro
Not to be confused with the lightweight and low-profile Kinvara 14, the Kinvara Pro is a brand new running shoe from Saucony, billed as bringing a 'lightweight and breezy feel to your everyday training'. It's got more cushioning than your average sofa – and the enormous stack height of 42mm in the heel is actually over the legal limit for racing, according to World Athletics rules – but it's a genuine all-rounder – something you can run fast or run slow in and get the same lovely pep out of both.
The 3/4 plate and gentle rock towards toe-off that the curved midsole shape brings make them feel good during a track speed session, yet also have a lovely bouncy kind-on-tired-legs feel during the next day's long run.
Brooks Ghost Max
While the name 'Ghost Max' suggests a more cushioned version of the much-loved Ghost 15, it's ultimately a different shoe. The type of foam and quantity used in the shoe strikes a fine balance between cushioning and responsiveness. It's firmer than expected when you first put it on, but once you're moving it really settles into a responsive feeling training shoe that can handle lots of miles. This is thanks to the shoe's entirely new last which features a GlideRoll Rocker, helping to promote smoother heel-toe transitions.
The heel counter is also firm and supportive, giving a feeling of being locked into the shoe, as well as offering slightly more stability to the rear of the foot in the shoe. There's also a moderately plush tongue (it's not gusseted, but it stays in place) and an engineered mesh upper which feels roomy, breathable and – predictably – ticks that all-important comfort box.
All in all, the Ghost Max is a great option for runners looking for a shoe with a decent amount of cushioning that’s reasonably versatile in its use.
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