Learning Center: Shoes 101

Shoes 101

Picking a running shoe can be a daunting task. With such a vast array of styles available, each with its own cushioning wizardry and latest space-age support devices, it's little wonder runners (particularly beginners) are intimidated by the process of buying running shoes.

The following text outlines the basic knowledge necessary to make an informed shoe purchase.

  • Susceptibility to injury is associated with how your foot strikes the ground.
  • How your foot strikes the ground determines your shoe type.
  • All shoes are designed for specific foot-strikes.
  • How do you match your foot-strike to the right shoe category?
  • What is shoe cushioning?
  • Do you need a performance shoe, racing shoe or trail shoe?
  • How does body frame-size relate to shoe selection?

For a detailed and technical discussion of biomechanics and shoe construction, please reference the Foot Motion page and Shoes PhD page or email us directly.

Quick Read

  1. The art and science of choosing the proper running shoe should start with a discussion of how your feet move when they are in contact with the ground. Shoes that encourage feet to maintain a neutral position from impact through push off tend to reduce risk for running related injuries. In comparison, shoes that allow feet to roll excessively inward or outward tend to increase the risk of injury. The goal of choosing the proper running shoe is finding a pair that encourages your foot to maintain the preferred neutral position from touch down to push off.
  2. When running, the foot strikes the ground and progresses through a series of movements before push off. These movements are influenced by your foot structure, muscle strength and coordination, the surface of the ground, and the type of shoe you're wearing. It's possible to estimate the natural running motion of your foot by conducting several tests (see Determining Your Foot-Strike here). These tests help predict your individual foot-strike, which can be associated with footwear that will encourage you to maintain a neutral position. Properly matching your foot-strike and footwear may result in fewer running related injuries.
  3. Running Warehouse classifies all running shoes based on the analysis of a variety of runners and the design features in the shoes that encourage a neutral foot-strike. After determining your foot-strike, use the shoe categories to find a selection of shoes that will encourage you to maintain the preferred neutral position.

Foot-Strikes Defined

Neutral Foot-Strike Ideally, the foot will roll slightly outward, then slightly inward, and then slightly outward again during the time it is in contact with the ground. The combination of these movements help keep the body properly aligned, while absorbing impact forces, greatly reducing the risk of injury. In a neutral foot-strike, fairly even pressure is placed across the entire forefoot and toes during push off.

Over-Pronated Foot-Strike A foot that rolls too far inward after the foot strikes the ground is said to over-pronate. Runners who over-pronate tend to place a disproportionate amount of pressure on the arch and ball of the foot during push off. Over-pronation tends to place the body in poor alignment and increases the risk for running related injuries. Over-pronation is associated with overly flexible arches and muscle strength imbalances.

Supinated Foot-Strike Supinated foot-strikes have a lack of inward roll, which results in purely outward movement of the foot. Runners who fall into this category tend to place a disproportionate amount of pressure towards the pinky toe side of the foot from touch down through take-off. Supination is associated with high, rigid arches. A supinated foot-strike does not absorb impact very well and thus increases the risk of injury. Very few people actually run with a truly supinated foot-strike.

What Does This Mean to You?

If you have a neutral foot-strike:

  1. You want a shoe that does not get in the way of how you run naturally. Shoes with controlling devices (i.e. motion control and support shoes) may put a neutral foot-strike in a bad position.
  2. You can wear just about any shoe as long as it's NOT designed for a moderate to extreme over-pronator.

If you over-pronate:

  1. You want a shoe that has the right amount of support to keep you from rolling too far inward. More support is generally better than not enough support for runners in this category.
  2. Your shoes might be a bit firmer than other shoes on the market. A good rule of thumb: as shoes get firmer, support increases. The number one issue for you is getting your foot in the right position so that the body stays properly aligned.
  3. Regardless of how firm a shoe feels, all good running shoes provide shock absorption or dispersion technologies that will protect you for miles. If you have the right support, but want a softer feel, try a similar shoe model from a different brand or purchase a cushioned insole.

If you supinate:

  1. You want a shoe that is soft and rolls easily.
  2. The most common problem with supination is the lack of natural shock absorption throughout the body. This being said, it is not necessary to correct the position of the foot. Rather, you want plenty of protection from a soft shoe.
  3. You also want a shoe that is very flexible.

Getting the right shoe does not mean you will stay healthy nor does getting the wrong shoe mean you will get injured. However, getting the right shoe may significantly reduce your risk of injury and will most likely increase the comfort and enjoyment of your running.

Shoe Classifications

The most common way to classify a shoe is by foot motion. Additional classifications account for cushioning levels, performance characteristics (training versus racing), different ground surfaces, and runners' body weights. Running Warehouse uses the following categories to classify shoes based on foot motion:

Neutral shoes Some brands, magazines, and running stores refer to neutral shoes as "cushioned" shoes. However, all running shoes provide some level of cushioning, so we have chosen to use the term "neutral" to define these shoes. Neutral shoes are designed to allow the foot to follow its natural path and they are ideal for runners with neutral foot-strikes. Since neutral shoes are designed not to alter the motion of the foot, they also work well for runners with supinated foot-strikes.

  • Mild neutral shoes are best for supination.
  • Moderate neutral shoes are best for neutral pronation.

Support Shoes Sometimes referred to as stability shoes, support shoes are designed to reduce various degrees of over-pronation. These shoes work well for the broadest range of foot motions. If none of the information above has made any sense, then get a support shoe and it will probably do at least one thing right for you! The majority of runners over-pronate to some degree, so there is a wide variety of shoes available in this category.

  • Minimum support shoes are best for mild over-pronators.
  • Moderate support shoes are best for moderate over-pronators.
  • Maximum support shoes are best for over-pronators who need more than moderate support but not the substantial support of a motion control shoe.
  • Keep in mind; it is better to get a little bit more support than is necessary versus not getting enough support.

Motion Control Shoes A motion control shoe is actually a support shoe, but it is so supportive it deserves its own category. Motion control shoes are designed for extreme over-pronators with any body frame type. Large-frame runners with varying degrees of over-pronation often find success with these shoes.

  • Moderate motion control shoes work best for low- to moderate-mileage, severe over-pronators, new runners with severe over-pronation, or large runners that have moderate over-pronation.
  • Maximum motion control shoes are best for the most severe over-pronators and for large runners with a severe over-pronation.
  • If a maximum motion control shoe cannot correct your over-pronation then you may need an orthotic. An orthotic is a device that supports the foot. You should seek medical advice if you feel you need an orthotic.

Cushioning Defined

Cushioning is not a measure of how soft a shoe is, but rather a measure of how long the shoe provides shock absorption over both the course of a run and the life of the shoe. Shoes with higher levels of cushioning technology should feel better toward the end of long runs compared to shoes with less cushioning technology. Shoes with greater cushioning characteristics will tend to weigh more than shoes with less cushioning. Running Warehouse uses the following categories to classify shoes according to foot cushioning level:

Key Term: Midsole Typically made of a type of foam or rubber, the midsole dictates the ride quality and durability of a shoe. The midsole is the primary location of cushioning and pronation control technologies and is situated underneath the foot and above the outsole.

Maximum Cushioning The cream of the crop, maximum cushioning shoes use the largest cushioning devices available, as well as midsole materials that resist breakdown. These shoes are great for high-mileage training, larger runners, and those looking for a luxurious ride. The midsoles of these models tend to have the longest life.

Moderate Cushioning The workhorses of running shoes, moderate cushioning shoes have medium-sized cushioning devices and a variety of midsole materials that accommodate the needs of most runners. These shoes are great for beginners and veterans alike. Moderate cushioning shoes can handle just about any training volume and body-frame size.

Minimum Cushioning Streamlined for speed, minimum cushioning shoes provide just enough technology to protect the body for racing and fast-paced training. Do not expect to get a lot of miles out of these shoes.

Note: All shoes will fall into at least one of the above categories. However, these additional categories might be useful when trying to find the right shoes:

Performance Shoes Where as most running shoes are built for logging miles, performance running shoes are built for faster paced training and even racing. Performance running shoes are typically lighter than other running shoes and are built lower to the ground. The result of this low-profile design is a shoe that gets off the ground quicker. Performance running shoes are great for speed work, interval training, and racing for larger runners. These models will wear out faster than normal training shoes.

Racing Shoes Taking lightweight to a new level, racing shoes are minimalistic and built for speed. Are you having trouble getting that next PR (personal record)? Try a racing shoe.

Trail Shoes Running off-road is different than road running. Most off-road running is on softer surfaces where cushioning is not as important. The varied terrain of off-road running makes for erratic foot-strikes, which reduces the need for pronation control. If the trails you run are not much different than the roads you run, stick with your road shoes. However, if you get off the beaten path regularly, trail shoes should improve your experience. Trail shoes offer better traction and stability in comparison to road shoes. Traction comes from the outsole pattern and materials used. Stability is created from low profiles and/or wide bases. Most trail shoes also have a protective upper and a degree of water-resistance or quick-dry ability.

Body Frame Size

How a shoe performs in terms of cushioning, support and durability is associated with an individual's body frame-size. The following table shows how Running Warehouse categorizes body frame-size by body weight.

Small-Frame Size Small-frame runners are likely to get more mileage out of their shoes compared to other runners.

  • Moderate cushioning should be fine for about any distance run and training volume.
  • Lightweight shoes may be worn as everyday trainers

Medium-Frame Size Medium-frame runners are likely to get average wear out of their shoes.

  • Moderate to maximum cushioning is appropriate for regular running.
  • Lightweight shoes may be used for faster paced training and racing.

Large-Frame Size Large-framed runners are likely to get less mileage out of their shoes compared to other runners.

  • Maximum cushioning is best for everyday running and moderate cushioning is appropriate for occasional running.
  • It is usually best to go up a bit in support. For example, if you have mild over-pronation, instead of getting a minimum support shoe get a moderate support shoe.
  • Lightweight shoes are good for racing.

Do you need more help picking a shoe? Call 1-800-606-9598 to speak to a shoe expert.

Fit Tips | Foot Motion | Shoes PhD