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How to Choose Running Shoes

  • Tonia Moore
  • Posted March 11, 2013

What's a good running shoe for me?

That depends on your foot type and running motion. If you're flat-footed, your feet probably also pronate -- that is, roll too far inward when they hit the ground. If you have a high, rigid arch, they're likely to supinate, or roll outward when they hit the ground. And if you have a medium arch, they probably come down normally without rolling much either way. It's important to find a running shoe that encourages this happy mean; otherwise you may end up with a serious foot injury.

To determine your foot type, ask a friend to measure one of your sockless feet while you're sitting and again while you're standing. If there's no change in the length of your foot, you have a high, rigid arch and your feet supinate. If your foot lengthens by a quarter-inch or more when you're standing, you have flat feet that pronate. If you're somewhere in between, your feet are considered normal.

Nearly all running-shoe manufacturers make shoes that are specifically designed for these three foot types. They're generally labeled as follows:

  • Cushion (for high arches). These shoes come with extra cushioning in the midsoles to help your feet absorb shocks; their soles have a curved or semicurved shape (as seen from the bottom) that promotes a normal running motion.
  • Motion control (for flat feet). With a straight shape and a more rigid midsole than other running shoes, these help keep your feet properly aligned.
  • Stability (for normal feet). These shoes also have a semicurved shape, but the less rigid midsoles allow your feet to strike the ground naturally.

How can I make sure my shoes fit properly?

Go to a store that specializes in running shoes and is staffed by knowledgeable salespeople, and be prepared to spend as much as an hour trying on shoes. Here are some tips to help you get a good fit:

  • Shop late in the day or after you've been running, when your feet are likely to be a little swollen.
  • Wear socks that are the same thickness as those you'll be running in.
  • Don't focus on numerical sizes, since they vary a lot from brand to brand. It's not unusual for running shoes to be a half-size or even a full size larger than dress shoes.
  • Look for a snugly fitting heel; if it slips up and down when you run, you'll end up with blisters.
  • The front of the shoe needs to be roomy. You should be able to wiggle your toes up and down, and the space between your toes and the end of the shoe should be a half-thumb to a full thumb in width.
  • Make sure the part of the shoe that supports your arch is snug but not tight.
  • If you wear orthotics (customized shoe inserts), take them with you when you shop.
  • Make sure you can remove the insoles in the shoes that you buy, so that you can replace them with your own.
  • Ask if you can run around the block to make sure the shoes are comfortable.
  • If you already have a pair of running shoes, take them with you (even if you're not happy with them). A knowledgeable salesperson can examine the way they're worn to see how your feet function and what shoes might be right for you.

Does brand or price matter?

All the major running-shoe manufacturers make the three different types of shoes, but each uses a different design. Once you've determined your foot type, it's a good idea to try on a lot of different brands in order to find the one that fits you best. You'll rarely need to spend more than $85, although you may pay a bit more for a cushioned or motion-control shoe, or for the latest technology or style.

How do I know when it's time to replace my running shoes?

Track your mileage; 400 miles or so is the average life span for most running shoes. If you run about 25 miles a week, you'll need a new pair every four months. One good strategy is to buy two pairs and wear them on alternate running days, thus giving each pair time to dry out and spring back into shape.

References

Clarke TE, Frederick EC, Hamill CL. The effects of shoe design parameters on rearfoot control in running. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1983;15(5):376-81.

Clement DB, Taunton JE. A guide to the prevention of running injuries. Aust Fam Physician. 1981 Mar;10(3):156-61, 163-4.

Miller JE, Nigg BM. Liu W, et al. Influence of foot, leg and shoe characteristics on subjective comfort. Foot Ankle Int. 2000 Sep;21(9):759-67.

Reinschmidt C, Nigg BM. Current issues in the design of running and court shoes. Sportverletz Sportschaden. 2000 Sep;14(3):71-81.

Warren BL. Plantar fasciitis in runners. Treatment and prevention. Sports Med. 1990 Nov;10(5):338-45.

Wilk BR, Fisher KL, Gutierrez W. Defective running shoes as a contributing factor in plantar fasciitis in a triathlete. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2000 Jan;30(1):21-8; discussion 29-31.

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