For many beginner athletes the choice of footwear is all too often based on factors such as how much they cost, how pretty they are or even which celebrity has endorsed them. Many novice runners will go straight to the bargain table and look for the least expensive shoe that fits them and off they go. Conversely, some beginners assume that the most expensive shoe in the store is the best shoe.
In determining how to choose a running shoe, your choice of running shoes can make the difference between having a good or bad experience, running in comfort or pain, and, most importantly, whether you stay healthy or get injured. There really is no single 'best shoe' – as everyone has slightly different needs.
Choosing the right pair of running shoes can be overwhelming given all the high-tech shoes available, the in-your-face marketing strategies employed by big shoe companies and all the bells and whistles that are described with every different shoe that you look at.
Most shoe companies divide their shoes into three main categories: cushioned, stability and motion control. These options are essentially categorized by your biomechanical needs.
Factors to Consider When Picking a Running Shoe:
●Biomechanics-Foot Type and Gait Type
●History of Running
●How Fast Do You Run?
●How Far Do You Run?
●Are you Injured or Have you Been Injured in the Past Year?
●What is Your Goal?
●The Fit of the Shoe
One method of determining pronation and, ultimately, foot and gait type is by checking your arch height. The easiest way to get a general idea of your arch is by using the 'Wet Test'. Look at the outline your wet foot makes on the floor or the bath mat when you get out of the shower.
If you have a low arch (flat feet/over-pronator) you should choose Motion Control Running Shoes. If you have a normal arch (neutral pronation) you should choose Stability Running Shoes. If you have a high arch (under-pronator) you should choose Cushioned Running Shoes. Arch height is a very basic guide for shoe selection.
The more you weigh, the more force you will generate each time you put your body weight over your foot, and consequently heavier runners need a shoe that offers both cushioning for shock absorption and stability for added durability. Keep in mind that the studies done on athletic shoes were done with world class athletes who weigh very little…certainly less than the average runner.
History of Running
How many years have you been a runner? With more running experience in time and distance, you will have gained more strength in all of the muscles from your feet to your core that are important in supporting your feet and your body as you run. As a result, the longer you have been running, the less support you will need in your shoes.
How Fast Do You Run?
As you increase your pace, your foot biomechanics will shift in two important ways that will result in less support being required at your sub-talar joint (the joint at your heel underneath your ankle). The faster you go, the less support you’ll need in your shoe. As a general rule, if you are beginner (Running less than 3 years) and you are running slower than a 6:30-7min/km (10:30-11:15 min/mile) then you will need to be in at least a stability shoe and in a lot of cases, a motion control shoe.
How Far Do You Run?
More distance will generally require more support especially if it is your first time training for a particular distance. Even if you are a very experienced and speedy runner, you may want to have a training shoe that has more support for your longer runs and then on your shorter runs and on 'race day' you can wear your racing shoes that have less support.
Are you Injured or Have you Been Injured in the Past Year?
If you are currently injured if you have struggled with injury in the past year (and especially the last 3-6 months) then you will need more support at your sub-talar joint until you can get past your injury and get healthy and strong again.
What is Your Goal?
If your goal is to be active and get fit or to try something new or to have social time with friends or to get to the finish line upright and smiling with no injuries and you don’t care how fast you are going or how long it takes you to get there…then a shoe that will be supportive and help to prevent injury is a better option than the ‘newest, coolest, lightest’ shoe.
It is still a good idea to go to a specialty running store to purchase your new shoes. The people who work in these stores are knowledgeable and will guide you in making the best choice for your foot. If you have a particularly ‘special’ foot or if you have struggled finding the right shoe even with the advice of a specialty store, then consider seeing a health professional that has some expertise in this area. To get the best advice, see a health care provider who is an athlete themselves or who has a lot of experience working with athletes.
When is it Time to Get New shoes?
Running shoes should be changed every 500 miles or 800 km. For a frequent runner, this equates to about a couple of times a year (every 6 months). Those who are heavier or who run on challenging surfaces such as snow during the winter might need to change their shoes even more often (every 3 or 4 months).
When a patient presents to my office with a new symptom such as knee pain or shin splints or heel pain, one of the first things I ask about is the age and mileage of their shoes. Since shoes can appear to be in good condition (unlike these shoes above 🙂 ) but fail to provide adequate support, this is often a reason for a new injury.
For those with biomechanical challenges such as excessive pronation, severe bunions or a leg length discrepancy; a good shoe may not be enough and a custom orthotic insert may be recommended. Orthotics can help correct the biomechanics of muscles in the lower leg and foot to help stabilize the foot and restore normal function. Talk to your health care provider about the best options for your feet.
What About Barefoot Running and Light Shoes that Mimic Barefoot Running?
I get many questions about this topic from my patients, so it's worth a mention here. Human beings are designed to run, and they are designed to run barefoot. However, the majority of runners have been wearing shoes on their feet since they learned to walk and they have been walking on a flat surface 95% of their lives. This puts your body in a precarious situation if you choose to start running with no support on your feet. So, if you are an experienced runner and your pace is faster than a 5 min/km (8min/mile), you may be well suited to trying this kind of running. If you are a beginner or your pace is slower, then you definitely want to approach this running technique extremely tentatively and make sure to listen to your body as you go. I've seen many patients in my office with injuries from attempting this which is why I caution anyone who wants to try it to be careful. If you aren't sure, talk to your health care provider.
Hopefully this has given you the tools you need on your next running shoe shopping trip such that you can run happily and stay injury free.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or find me on Facebook.
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. She also inspires patients from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.
Her eBook Shin Splint Solutions has helped hundreds of athletes get past the pain of Shin Splints and get back to doing what they love.
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