If you’re in the market to buy new running shoes, choosing the right pair might seem like a daunting task. You may not be familiar with your foot type and running form or the brands available.
Picking the wrong pair of running shoes has consequences. An ill-fitting shoe may effect your running performance. More importantly, a poor choice could lead to short- and long-term injuries.
To avoid these problems, consider the following when purchasing a new pair of running shoes: pronation, arch type, gender/body type, and terrain/mileage.
This is the way the foot rolls from heel-to-toe when striking the ground. Understanding how your foot pronates is a key factor in choosing the right running shoe. Not sure of how you pronate? The pattern of wear on the bottom of your current running shoes should provide a clue to your pronation type:
Neutral Pronation – occurs when shock is evenly absorbed throughout the foot. Neutral pronators wear-down the bottom of their running shoes more evenly.
Overpronation – results when the foot and ankle roll inward too far. Severe overpronation inhibits the foot and ankle to properly stabilize the body. Overpronators wear-down the bottom inside edge of their running shoes.
Underpronation (supination) – happens when the ankle rolls slightly outward causing the outside of the foot to take most of the shock. Underpronators wear-down the bottom outside edge of their running shoes.
The height of the arch is based on the degree of curve along the inside of the foot. The arch height can be determined by a wet test. To take the test, stand normally on a paper bag for about ten seconds after wetting each foot. The resulting imprint will show one of three arch types:
- Normal Arch – Typically those with a normal arch have a slight curve to their foot and have neutral pronation. The imprint taken in a wet test may show parts of the toe, middle and heel of foot.
- Low Arch – Feet that are relatively flat have a low arch and tend to overpronate. The imprint taken in a wet test may show nearly the entire foot.
- High Arch – A sharp upward curve on the inside of the foot is an indicator of a high arch. The imprint taken in a wet test oftentimes shows only a very thin band connecting the heel and toe.
If you’re not sure of your foot type, stores like RoadRunner Sports have in-store foot and running analysis technology which take computerized maps of your feet and determine the best fitting running shoe model. RoadRunner Sports also offers the “Shoe Dog” – an on online tool that allows the colorfully spotted dog to “fetch” the right pair of running shoes based on gender, terrain, arch type, mechanics, and injuries.
Not surprisingly, running shoes are designed differently for men and women. Regardless of gender, heavier set body types need a more supportive shoe than smaller-framed runners.
Running location and miles clocked plays a significant role in running shoe selection. Running shoes worn for indoor or on pavement will differ from those made for off road and/or trail running. The same goes for distance running as opposed to shorter sprint running. Longer distance shoes provide more cushioning for extended use.
Three Running Shoe Types
Based on the three common arch and pronation styles, running shoes fall into one of three types:
- Stability running shoes work best for normal arches and pronators by providing a good balance of cushioning, support and durability.
- Motion-Control running shoes are the most rigid shoe type and the best choice for overpronators. These supportive shoes keep the foot and ankle from rolling in too far, lessening the risk of injury.
- Cushioned running shoes allow the foot to roll inward. Underpronators typically have high arches and should choose this type of running shoe.
For more information on what shoes to buy, refer to Runner’s World Fall Shoe Guide and Running Shoe Finder.
Where to Buy Running Shoes
When buying running shoes, the best place to start is at a specialty running store. You can find these stores by asking other runners or by checking online for locations in your area. Specialists at these stores are typically runners themselves and are professionally trained on the shoes and gear they sell. Oftentimes, these specialty stores offer a 30-day money-back guarantee even if you have worn the running shoes. But, be sure to keep your receipt just in case you need to return the pair.
If you only have a sporting goods store available in your area that works too. If you’re on your own, follow these few, easy steps to help you in your decision:
- Try on at least four different pairs of shoes. Get a range of sizes and brands, as your running shoes should be about a half size bigger than your normal shoes to allow for movement and swelling of your feet.
- Check to make sure you have enough room in the toe area and that it’s flexible as well.
- Put on the right shoe of one pair and the left of another. Repeat this with all the shoes you’re trying to compare the fit and comfort of each model.
- Don’t be afraid to run around the store. You’re using these shoes for running, so you want to make sure they feel right.
While it may be tempting to shop online for its ease and bargain prices, this is NOT the route to take when purchasing your initial pair of running shoes. Everyone is different so the newest name brand may not fit well. Try to resist purchasing based on price or shoes that are aesthetically pleasing. Your running shoe decision should be based on substance, not necessarily style.
and RunningShoes stock a wide variety of models. If you can live with last year’s colors, you just might even save a few dollars!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.