Most running shoes feel comfortable when you’re standing in a shoe store, but the true test comes several days into your run. You’ll soon realize that the ideal shoe has more to do with your running style and the shape of your foot than it does with the logo stitched on the side.
When you walk into a shoe store, you’ll see hundreds of pairs to choose from. From sneaker shoes to a 60,000 pair of Nike’s. The fact of the matter is, the “perfect” running shoe doesn’t exist. Everyone needs a different type of shoe, and when it boils down to it, getting the right shoe is more about what’s durable and comfortable, what’s not going to wear out easily and what will save you from ever developing plantar fascitis. It has nothing to do with the price, although it has to show value for money after 500 miles.
Choosing the running shoes that will fit you best is easy:
If you are unsure about the design of your foot, try this – if you have an old, well worn pair of socks, observe where they have worn out.
1. Pronation (Neutral Pronation) shows a wear pattern centralized to the ball of the foot and a small portion of the heel. It is the foot’s natural inward roll following the heel striking the ground.
Basic (neutral) pronation helps absorb impact, relieving pressure on knees and joints. It is a normal trait of neutral, biomechanically efficient runners.
2. Overpronation is identified by wear patterns along the inside edge of your shoe, and is an exaggerated form of the foot’s natural inward roll.
Overpronation is a common trait that affects most runners, leaving them at risk of knee pain and injury. Overpronators need stability or motion control shoes.
3. Supination (also called under-pronation) is marked by wear along the outer edge of your shoe. It is an outward rolling of the foot resulting in insufficient impact reduction at landing.
Relatively few runners supinate, but those who do need shoes with plenty of cushioning and flexibility.
4. Barefoot/minimalist running: In traditional running shoes, feet tend to hit the ground heel first. This is because a shoe heel has an elevated cushion. With barefoot runners, it is the mid-foot or forefoot that strikes the ground first.
Read more about Barefoot/Minimalist Running Basics.
Types of Running Shoes
1. Neutral/Cushioned shoes: The neutral running shoes are ideal for people with a natural or neutral gait; or even for people who tend to supinate (step on the outer side of their feet). They offer minimal cushioning and are light in weight. They are generally designed for faster movement and a soft underfoot feel.
These shoes provide some shock absorption and some medial (arch-side) support.
Some super-cushioned shoes exist. These provide as much as 50% more cushioning than traditional shoes for even greater shock absorption.
2. Stability shoes: Stability shoes are recommended for people who pronate (they have a low foot arch). This means your foot tends to roll inward slightly when you’re running.
The arch of these shoes is firm and provides excellent support to the foot, encouraging a natural step. They have a fair weight and offer good cushioning.
3. Motion control shoes: These shoes are typically the most rigid and heavy shoes available. They have stiffer heels, more support and more cushion then other running shoes. They’re typically recommended for who exhibit moderate to severe overpronation. These people have a flatfoot. It is also recommended for heavy runners.
4. Barefoot shoes: Soles provide the bare minimum in protection from potential hazards on the ground. Many have no cushion in the heel pad and a very thin layer—as little as 3–4mm—of shoe between your skin and the ground.
All barefoot shoes feature a “zero drop” from heel to toe. (“Drop” is the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe.) This encourages a mid-foot or forefoot strike. Traditional running shoes, by contrast, feature a 10–12mm drop from the heel to the toe and offer more heel cushioning.
5. Minimalist shoes: These feature extremely lightweight construction, little to no arch support and a heel drop of about 4–8mm to encourage a natural running motion and a midfoot strike, yet still offer cushioning and flex.
Some minimalist styles may offer stability posting to help the overpronating runner transition to a barefoot running motion.
Minimalist shoes should last you roughly 300 to 400 miles.
Finding the Best Running Shoe
The following characteristics are important to look for in every pair:
1. Water-Resistant Synthetic Leather
The majority of reliable running shoes are crafted out of synthetic leather. This offers a high level of durability that is essential to the demands of the sport. Good pairs will feature textiles that are water resistant to prevent puddles and rain from getting inside the shoe and causing discomfort. Check these ones out.
Breathability is important for two reasons: it allows the foot to stay cool and allows sweat to escape, reducing the risk of blisters. Running shoes typically feature some configuration of nylon mesh to allow for breathability.
3. Tough Tread
The type of tread you should look for will depend on the type of surfaces you’ll be running on. If you’re a city or suburban runner, choose a road running shoe that is ideal for paved surfaces. If you’re running on trails or rough terrain, look for an off-roading shoe.
Running shoes for men contain an ideal level of EVA foam cushioning to help absorb shock and prevent strain on the body.
5. Try on shoes at the end of the day. Your feet normally swell a bit during the day’s activities and will be at their largest in the evenings. For that reason, FitFam Labs recommends that you try running shoes on later in the day when your feet present a more accurate representation of what they’ll be like on the trail. This helps you avoid buying shoes that are too small.
6. Use Your Thumb to Gauge Toe Space
When shopping for footwear, it isn’t a good idea to refer to your other shoe measurements as size can vary between brands and styles. To make sure you have the right length, you should look at the space between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe—it should be about the width of your thumb. This space in the toe box should allow you to move your toes around.
7. If you wear foot braces, bring them along. They also affect how a shoe fits.
Consider aftermarket insoles (a.k.a. footbeds). Insoles come in models that can enhance comfort, support or fit—or all 3. See our Expert Advice article, Insoles: How to Choose.
Avoid the shop assistant who tells you the exact make and model shoe which is best for you, they’re always wrong.
How to Pick the Right Pair
Once you figure out the kind of shoe for your kind of foot, it’s time to pick the pair that’s best suited for you. This is a surprisingly hard task.
If you’re new to running, or if you’re having trouble with the shoes you have, then you might need to reassess what type of shoe you need.
To that end, it’s a good idea to send us an email. We have a staff that’s trained to help with fitting. He’ll take a look at your posture, age, and physique. Then he’ll pair that up with your goals, training intensity, and where you’re running to get you into the right type of shoe. If it’s your first pair of running shoes, it’s not a bad idea to try this FREE CONSULTATION so you can get the fit right.
Finally, no two shoes are exactly alike, and a pair of shoes a friend swears by might not work for you. When you’re shopping for shoes remember the main goals: comfort, support, and fit. That’s all that really matters when it boils down to it. As many runners often say: the best running shoe is the one you never notice.