Choosing a running shoe is a different experience than buying other types of footwear. For one, everyone has different preferences when it comes to running style and needs. Some shoe brands are known for making shoes for specific types of running (trail, speed, everyday), and you may notice that some market themselves as minimalist, maximalist, or in-between shoes. Running shoes, like walking shoes, can also be versatile enough to be used for different activities. The only difference is that running shoes are designed to withstand the rigorous nature of running, but they can work well as walking shoes as they need similar support.
Paul Nasri, who has a doctorate in physical therapy and works at The Physiotherapy Game Plan in New York says the most important thing to consider is the type of race you're trying to do and the distances you're interested in running. “For example, if you're doing speed work, this shoe should be lighter and a little more minimalist, whereas if you're doing a long run, it should be more supportive and a little more maximalist,” he explained. On the other hand, if you're focusing more on tempo work or short, easy runs, you might want to choose a medium-support type of shoe.
Knowing how often you will use your running shoes is also important because someone who only runs a few miles a week doesn't need the same qualities as someone who is training for a marathon. “No matter the case, you should always alternate between two shoes when doing your regular run throughout the week,” advised Nasri.
Two main qualities to look for in a running shoe are heel support and space in the forefoot area. “You want to make sure the heel counter is supportive and that the heel doesn't move around too much, but you also want to make sure the shoe breaks down in the forefoot area where your toes would normally extend,” Nasri said. . “Many shoes now have carbon plates in the shoe and this can make running easier, as this plate makes it easier to spring when pushing, decreasing the amount of energy needed to propel yourself forward.”
The best way to find the right style is to visit a running shoe store and get a shoe ready. You will then need to do a trial period of walking and running in these shoes to see if they are best for you. Nasri said, “Make sure the toe box is wide enough for your foot—if you're seeing red marks on the side of your big toe or big toe, this shoe is too tight for you.”
Nasri advises also looking at the height of the toe box, because if your toe tips turn red or pink after a run, it means the toe box is too low and you're experiencing too much friction. “There should be a thumb-width space in front of the big toe because this will ensure that the front of your toes do not press against the front of the shoe, especially when running downhill,” he added.
Knowing your running style
Another thing to consider when wearing a new running shoe is whether it is working with or against your gait. One measurement that makes a big difference is the heel-to-toe drop, which is the measurement (in millimeters) of the difference in height between the back and front of the shoe. Shoes can have zero drop (a flat sneaker), low drop (1-4mm heel drop), medium drop (5-9mm drop), or high drop (9-10mm drop or greater).
The heel-to-toe drop you choose will depend on whether you plan to aim for short, medium, or long distances. You should also take into account your natural attack pattern. Nasri advises against using minimalist or zero-drop shoes for medium- and long-distance running, as they can significantly alter your natural striking pattern.
If you're a natural heel striker, you'll want a shoe that has more cushioning in the heel, which Nasri says generally has a greater heel-to-toe drop. Natural midfoot strikers can wear low to medium heel shoes if they prefer. Forefoot strikers may want a lower heel-to-toe drop, but they are the rare group that can choose whatever shoe is comfortable for them.
“I do not recommend changing your natural walking pattern on your own, as this alters the distribution of force throughout the body and can result in overuse injuries,” warned Nasri. Instead, he recommends working with a running coach, qualified physical therapist, or strength and conditioning coach if you want to focus on changing your stepping mechanics. The good news is that you don't need to change the way you run because there aren't enough evidence that your foot type increases your risk of injury.
Supinated feet vs. pronated feet
You may be more prone to certain conditions depending on your foot type: supinated or pronated. Supinated feet tend to put more weight on the outside of the foot, while people with pronated feet put more weight on the inside of the foot's arch. You need supination and pronation when running – the problem is when your feet become too pronated or supinated, because this can make you more prone to lower limb injuries.
“People with excessively supinated and pronated feet may be at greater risk for plantar fasciopathy,” Nasri said. Runners with excessive supination are more prone to foot stress fractures (or bone cracks), while those with excessive pronation are more prone to posterior tibial tendinopathy, or pain on the inside of the ankle due to overuse.
“The only time I worry about this as a physical therapist is when there is a clear asymmetry between the left and right foot, and the side in question has pathology,” Nasri said. Overall, he suggests selecting a shoe that is comfortable and supportive for you, without focusing too much on marketing terms like “stability,” “motion control,” and “overpronation” shoes.