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.
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.
If you have a neutral foot-strike:
If you over-pronate:
If you supinate:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.