Although there are tons of different gadgets and accessories commonly marketed to runners, the running shoe is still their primary tool. Unfortunately, many runners are confused about exactly how to choose running shoes. Thankfully, the running shoe guide below has been compiled to guide you through this potentially daunting process.
Why It Matters
Before directly discussing how to choose a running shoe, it's important that you understand why it matters so much.
While you're out for a run, your feet endure an incredible amount of punishment. Each minute, you take about 180 steps, with each one placing impact forces equal to about 3 times your body weight on your feet. Your running shoes act as armor against that ordeal.
But there are also other factors to consider — as will be covered below in this running shoe guide. You may have issues maintaining a safe and healthy stride pattern, or there may be other concerns about your joints. In these cases, your running shoes have to provide both protection and correction.
It's also important to consider the entire kinetic chain in this discussion. The fact is that the stress on your feet ripples up and impacts your knees, hips, back, shoulders and neck, as well. So, if your running shoes are not doing their jobs correctly, all of these connected joints can suffer stress and pain. In the long term, this can lean to potentially significant injury.
With all that said, it's time to cover the primary factors that will affect your running shoe choices.
How You Run
As mentioned above, different runners exhibit slightly different movement patterns, which will all need to be considered when shopping for a shoe. To help clarify what you need, then, it's important to have a stride analysis performed. Generally this can be done at running specialty stores, but many runners opt for a more DIY style by simply wetting their feet and looking at the shape of the footprints left behind. Still, others will examine the wear pattern on an old pair of shoes.
Either way, here are the main things you're going to look for.
- Overpronation: This pattern is demonstrated by increased wear along the inside edge of your shoe. Essentially, this portion of your foot is hitting the ground first and dealing with the majority of the stress. Over time, overpronation can cause knee pain and other joint problems.
- Underpronation: Also called supination, this motion is made evident by wear patterns on the outside edges. With this pattern, your feet are not sufficiently absorbing the impact of your steps.
- Neutral: In contrast to the above patterns, a neutral pronation means that the ball of your foot and a small portion of your heel show the most signs of wear. This is a safe and efficient way to run.
Where You Run
Once you have a good understanding of the mechanics of your individual movement pattern, you also need to think about the conditions that you might experience when you run.
Hard surfaces, like concrete, will require a little more padding than you might otherwise need. Running on unpaved areas or trails, however, will subject your feet and ankles to uneven surfaces and frequent changes — which means that ankle support is a must.
You'll also want a fabric that works for your environment. Whether you live in a hot or cold area will have a powerful influence on what sort of materials you look for. It's often recommended — especially for those who run off-road frequently — to consider waterproof fabrics.
The tread pattern on the sole of a shoe is also important. You'll need something that provides a considerable amount of grip. Remember, though, that more grip will also mean more weight and less flexibility in the shoe.
Putting It All Together
What impact does all of this have on how to choose running shoes?
Start with your strike pattern. Overpronators will want to look for stability or motion control shoes. These are designed to compensate for the increased amount of roll in your ankles and retrain the joint. Realize, though, that this usually calls for some added materials which will make the shoes larger and heavier so try to get only as much support as you need.
Because underpronation limits your body's own shock-absorption system, these runners will need well-cushioned, flexible shoes. Again, these features will add to the overall mass of your shoes.
Because these concerns will determine much about the size, shape and build of your shoes, they must be considered first. From there, you can start to experiment with different materials. A good running shoe should be comfortable, allow you to maintain a neutral foot strike and meet the needs of your terrain.