How to Choose Running Shoes: What to Look For
Choosing the ideal running shoes isn’t just about style – it’s about finding the right support, fit, and features that suit your unique running journey.
If you’re wondering how to choose running shoes, I'm here to take you through these fundamentals, ensuring you step confidently towards your next run!
Quick Running Shoe Tips
- Your running goals and experience level dictate the type of running shoes you need, focusing on fit and comfort over brand hype.
- Understanding your foot dynamics, including arch type, gait, and pronation, is vital for selecting the right running shoe to avoid discomfort and injuries.
- Fit is everything—ensure there’s a thumb’s width of space in front of your longest toe, and don’t ignore the importance of the shoe’s width and the role of heel-to-toe drop for a comfortable running experience.
Assessing Your Running Ambitions
Before choosing a new pair of kicks, answer this question... what are your running goals?
Believe it or not, the answer to this simple question can lead you to your ideal pair of running shoes. Whether you’re a sprinter aiming for speed or a marathoner seeking endurance, the best running shoes echo your running goals.
Are you an occasional runner tackling your first flat marathon or a dedicated marathoner? Your experience level matters too, as different experience levels demand different shoe designs.
If speed is your game, the weight and responsiveness of cushioned shoes should be your focus. On the contrary, long-distance runners should prioritize cushioning to endure those extra miles. But remember, regardless of your goals, comfort should always take the center stage!
If a shoe doesn’t feel right when you first try it on, it’s likely to be uncomfortable during your run too...
It's easy to get carried as you buy your first pair of new running shoes, but try not to be swayed by the latest trends or flashy designs. Instead, remember that your feet can expand during a run, so choose a shoe that can accommodate this natural process. Some runners opt to go a half size up in their running shoes to leave room for swelling!
The Importance of Foot Dynamics
Mastering your foot dynamics is a winning ticket when it comes to selecting running shoes. It’s all about how your feet work and what they need to perform at their best. From minimalist to neutral, stability running shoes to motion control shoes, there’s a pair of running shoes tailored for every foot!
Minimalist shoes, for example, are designed to strengthen and increase the agility of your feet, potentially improving your running efficiency. However, the transition to these shoes should be gradual.
On the other hand, stability shoes and neutral shoes provide support and cushioning to your foot without interfering with your natural stride. A neutral shoe is a great option if you’re looking for a balance between support and flexibility.
Identifying Your Arch Type
Grasping your arch type and foot shape is another essential component in finding the ideal shoe. You could have normal arches, flat feet, or high arches. For instance, if you have high arches, your feet could slightly roll inwards when you run, a phenomenon known as underpronation. This means you may need shoes with extra cushioning and support.
Knowing your specific arch type can help you find the right shoe at your local running store to ensure a comfortable and injury-free running experience.
Identifying your arch type is quite straightforward. You can perform a simple 'wet foot test' at home! Wet your foot, step onto a piece of construction paper and examine the footprint. If you see the entire imprint of your foot, you likely have low arches or flat feet. If you see just your heel, the ball of your foot, and a thin line on the outside of your foot, you likely have high arches. A footprint showing about half of your arch indicates a normal or neutral arch.
Analyzing Gait and Pronation
Let's untangle some jargon first incase you don't know what these words mean.
'Gait' is just a fancy word for how you walk or run, like the pattern your feet follow. 'Pronation' is about how your foot rolls inward when it hits the ground during a step.
Understanding your gait and pronation offers valuable insights about your running style. Gait analysis uses video technology to observe your running style and foot movement. This information is crucial in determining the right traditional running shoe for your style and preventing injuries. Analyzing gait and pronation can be done by a professional at a specialized running store, where they use video technology to observe your foot movement.
There are three types of pronation: neutral pronation, overpronation, and underpronation. Too much inward (overpronation) or outward (underpronation) foot roll can lead to pain in your feet, ankles, and knees. Choosing the right shoe based on your pronation type can help alleviate these issues and make your run more comfortable and injury-free.
Perfecting the Shoe Fit
It's simple really. A shoe that doesn’t fit well can lead to discomfort and potential injuries. So, always aim for a shoe that fits well, feels comfortable, and allows your feet to move naturally.
Don’t shy away from trying different sizes until you find the perfect fit. And remember, if the shoe causes discomfort, friction, or feels too solid during the trial phase, it’s probably not the right fit for you!
Measuring Up: Finding the Right Size
For the optimal shoe fit, aim to have a thumb’s width of space between the end of the shoe and your longest toe.
However, keep in mind that not all running shoes fit the same.
For example, for the New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v13, testers suggested getting a half-size bigger than usual as they felt small. So don’t hesitate to experiment with sizes until you find your perfect match.
Width Matters: Selecting the Right Width
When it comes to shoe width, think of Goldilocks – not too narrow, not too wide, but just right. Selecting the right shoe width ensures a comfortable and secure fit, preventing discomfort and potential injuries.
To determine if a shoe is wide enough, press your thumb down next to the ball of your foot while standing and measure the width of your foot at the widest part. The right width is essential not only for comfort but also for achieving a smooth ride.
The Role of Heel-to-Toe Drop
The heel-to-toe drop refers to the height difference between the heel and the ball of the foot when standing in the shoe. This measurement affects the way the foot strikes the ground during walking or running.
Running shoes can have a variety of heel-to-toe drops, catering to various running styles. For example, Altra shoes have zero drop, emphasizing a natural foot strike, while shoes like the Saucony Guide 16 have a specific drop designed to create a rocking effect.
Choosing the right heel-to-toe drop depends on what feels comfortable and reduces stress on your body. For instance, if you tend to strike with your heel, you might want to consider shoes that offer heel cushioning to lessen the impact shock.
Cushioning: A Balancing Act
From maximal to minimal cushioning, running shoe midsoles offer a range of options, allowing you to choose based on your personal preference.
Whether you prefer the plush cushioning in shoes like the Altra Escalante 3 or something less substantial, finding the right balance of cushioning is crucial. It not only adds to comfort but also aids in absorbing impact when your foot strikes the ground.
But remember, cushioning isn’t just about comfort. It plays a significant role in how well the shoe performs overall. From impact absorption to stability, the right amount of cushioning can make all the difference in your running experience.
The Debate Around Minimalist and Barefoot Shoes
Minimalist and barefoot shoes are the renegades in the realm of running footwear. They’re designed to encourage a more natural running style by promoting a forefoot or midfoot strike, as opposed to a heel strike.
However, transitioning to minimalist shoes isn’t a walk in the park. While they can (apparently) make your feet stronger and more agile, minimalist shoes also come with their share of risks, such as a higher likelihood of stress fractures due to less cushioning and support.
The verdict on minimalist and barefoot shoes isn’t set in stone... while research indicates potential benefits, including increased running efficiency, more comprehensive studies are needed to fully understand their long-term effectiveness and safety.
Trailblazing: Choosing Trail Running Shoes
Trail running shoes serve as off-road champions among running footwear. They’re designed to tackle rough, uneven terrain with their specialized features like Gore-Tex liners, midfoot wraps, and lugged rubber outsoles.
One of the key considerations when choosing trail running shoes is grip. A good grip keeps you steady on rough and slippery ground, preventing falls and potential injuries. Remember, a stumble on the trail is a lot more unforgiving than a stumble on the road.
Beyond grip, trail running shoes also need to offer durability and support. The rugged terrain demands stiffer midsoles for extra support and a snug fit for better precision and control. So, when you’re trailblazing, make sure your shoes are up to the task.
The Science Behind Stability and Motion Control Running Shoes
Stability and motion control running shoes act as protectors of your foot dynamics. They’re designed to provide extra support and prevent excessive motion, especially for overpronators.
Stability shoes offer a balance between cushioning and structured support, while motion control shoes are designed to control severe overpronation, preventing excessive foot roll. This extra support can help correct your walking style, preventing discomfort and potential injuries.
Whether you opt for stability or motion control running shoes, the key is to choose the right running shoes that offer the right balance of support, cushioning, and comfort.
Navigating Shoe Brands and Models
Amid the ocean of shoe brands and models, locating the perfect pair can seem like a daunting task. But don’t get swept away by the waves of marketing hype and flashy trends. Instead, prioritize comfort, fit, and functionality around your running form!
Whether you’re considering Inov-8, New Balance, Saucony, or others, the choice should depend on factors such as:
- heel height
- feel on the ground
- running conditions
- your goals
- your walking style
- your body type
Remember, the best shoe is the one that fits well and feels right.
From the Skechers GO RUN Razor 4 to the Fresh Foam X 860, the market offers a plethora of options. So, take your time, do your research, and remember – the perfect shoe is out there, waiting for you.
On average, the cost of running shoes in the UK can range from around £60 for beginner-level pairs, up to as much as £200 for advanced, feature-packed models.
Accessorizing Your Run: Socks and Insoles
When selecting running socks, it is best to opt for the ones that offer technical features such as added arch support and extra padding across specific areas of the foot. This can provide better impact protection while running.
And remember to avoid cotton as it retains moisture and can cause blisters, calluses, and hot spots from the heat and friction of running.
Insoles or sockliners are like the cherry on top. These squishy foam pads inside your shoe provide added comfort during your run. So, don’t overlook these accessories – they might just be the key to transforming your run.
Testing Before Buying: The Trial Run
Prior to finalizing your choice of running shoes, ensure you give them a thorough trial run. It might take some time to break in your new running shoes, but testing them out can give you a good idea of what you're purchasing.
Whether you’re doing an in-store trial or an actual run, the testing phase can provide valuable insights into the shoe’s fit and comfort. Pay attention to how the shoe feels when it hits the ground and moves with your stride.
Testing running shoes can also reveal how they perform on different surfaces and in various conditions. So, don’t rush the process. Take your time to test and choose the right pair – your feet will thank you.
Choosing the perfect running shoe is indeed a science, but it’s not rocket science. It’s a delicate blend of understanding your running ambitions, foot dynamics, and personal comfort preferences.
Whether you’re a fan of the benefits of trail running or prefer the open road, remember to prioritize comfort, fit, and functionality over trends. Test before you invest, and don’t shy away from accessorizing your run with the right socks and insoles. After all, your running shoes are more than just footgear; they’re your trusted companions on the journey to achieving your running goals!
Author: Nick Hancock is a UESCA Certified Ultrarunning coach and UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) and has coached many busy professionals and parents to achieve finishes, top-10s and podiums in events such as London Marathon, Manchester Marathon, Amsterdam Marathon, UTMB, UTS, Centurion events, Endure24, Backyards and many more. Host of the Maximum Mileage Running Podcast and author of the Ultimate Cookbook for Runners.
He can be found on Instagram @runwithnick