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Are you asking yourself “which running shoe should I buy”? What are the best running shoes for men? What are the best running shoes for women? These are usually the first questions that come to mind, but there’s a lot more to consider when buying the right running shoe for yourself.
Picking the right running shoe begins with assessment of yourself as a runner. How is your gait? Are you a pronator, a supinator, or is your gait neutral? What is your weight for your frame? Are your arches high, medium, or low? How about your running style? Are you a heel-striker or a mid-foot striker? Do you tend to lumber along or do you turn your legs over easily and smoothly?
The definition of a pronator is a person who’s knees buckle inward as one rolls through the stride. There are different severities of pronation from mild to over-pronation. The definition of a supinator (under-pronator) is a person who’s knees hardly buckle inwards at all when rolling through a stride. A neutral stride does not have either of these anomalies.
How do you assess your gait? Here are some considerations for your analysis, but take them all into consideration to reach a conclusion. Considering only one method is not reliable.
Most runners whose feet point outwards (duck feet) are pronators, but this is not true with all pronators. Some pronators’ feet point inward (pigeon-toed) and their knees roll inward during the stride, too. Avoid reaching conclusions based on whether you have duck feet or are pigeon-toed. And avoid conclusions based on your observations while walking.
Supinators tend to have bowleggedness. This results in a tendency to land on the outside of the soles whether heels or midsole and wear down the outside sole of shoes faster. However, again, refrain from reaching conclusions without looking at all the facts.
Some runners may have multiple opposing characteristics, some of which offset each other’s effect. For example, a runner can have duck-feet and is bowlegged. So is he or she a pronator, supinator, or have a neutralized gait from the offset between these two factors?
Your gait can also change over time as a result of improving fitness, decreased weight, better form, and more efficiency.
The wear of the sole on your shoes can also indicate whether you have pronation, supination, or a neutral gait. But avoid reaching conclusions solely based on wear, too.
Generally, if the inside of your soles wear down faster both at the heels and the balls of the feet, it is an indication you are a pronator. The more lopsided the wear, the more over-pronation.
If the outside of your soles wear down faster both at the heels and the balls of the feet, it is an indication you are a supinator. There is less variability with supination because the human knee does not buckle outward extremely.
If the sole wear shows outside or even at the heel and middle to inside at the balls of the feet, it is an indication your gait is neutral.
Understanding your gait is the most important first step. You don’t need to pay for a special analysis. Observations from a friend who can watch your gait while running behind you is all the feedback you really need. Couple this information with your observations on where your toes point while running and the pattern of sole wear. This will give you the information you need to conclude about your running gait.
Your gait will determine whether a stability or neutral shoe is best for you.
Foot arches play a role, too.
Runners with higher arches tend to be supinators. Supinators strike the ground with the outside of their feet first, be it heel or midsole. There is little inward roll in their stride, wearing the outside edge of their shoes faster. This gait places a lot of stress on the foot, the ankle, and the outside of the lower leg. Peroneal tendonitis (outside ankle) may result.
Runners with low arches tend to be over-pronators, facilitating knee roll-ins. But again, it is not an end-all diagnosis because low arches combined with bowleggedness may result in a neutral gait.
Your weight is also an important consideration. If you are heavier for your frame, you need a shoe with a higher density and firmer sole for extra support. If you choose a lightweight or soft-soled shoe, you will surely end up with pain. Just like a soft mattress that is too soft to support a heavy person and will result in back pain, a running shoe that is not firm enough in the sole and lacks dense cushioning will result in injuries.
Your running style is sometimes related to your weight, depending on you personally.
Some heavier runners lumber along, stomping on each stride. Lighter runners tend to land lightly and stride freely.
However, this also is a function of your aerobic fitness. The better your cardiovascular fitness, the more fluid your stride and the better your cadence.
If you are a lumbering heavier runner, you will find your stride becoming more fluid and lighter as you become more fit.
Do you land first on your heel or your mid-foot?
If you are not a heel-striker, it is even more important to have the right mid-sole. A shoe with too soft a mid-sole or not enough density in the mid-sole will not provide enough of the right support. There is a lot of focus on heel support mostly due to the fact that heel strikers tend to be less experienced runners and heel striking tends to result in more injuries.
Typically, when a runner gains more experience, the stride becomes more efficient with less over-striding and morphs into mid-foot striking. Mid-foot strikers land on the balls of their feet first and then the heel will touch down to the ground before lifting off again. The ball of the foot catches the weight of the runner and the ankle brings the heel to touch down gently.
Since the forefoot contacts the ground first, the right mid-sole construction for your gait, weight, and style becomes more important than the heel construction. In these cases, a thick heeled running shoe with a deep drop is actually counterproductive. The thick heel will actually get in the way of your ball-of-the-foot-strike, making your landing feel flat-footed and catching the heel of the shoe on the ground in the process.
After assessing yourself as a runner, the next question is how will you use your running shoe? Are you shopping for a reliable training shoe to regularly run distance miles? Or are you looking for a lighter shoe for shorter distance speed work and perhaps race day use? Do you run trails?
A running shoe should feel snug when compared to other shoes, but not tight. Your feet should feel swaddled, but your circulation should not be cut off.
Make sure you factor in swelling and shop for shoes at the end of. day when your feet have swollen. Otherwise, you will find that your shoes will feel very tight, especially as the miles accumulate or if you like to run in the evenings.
You should be able to wiggle your toes freely. Your toes should not rub against the front of the toe-box while you are running, but should not be too far from it either.
If you push your foot all the way forward, being able to fit your thumb between your heel and the shoe is ideal.
Make sure to test both feet. Some people have slightly different foot sizes, so you want to cater to the comfort of the larger-sized foot.
How the toe-box is designed can be a factor in the right size.
Consider whether a shoe’s toe-off design is appropriate for you. Toe-off is the amount of curvature at the toe to aid the forward roll of the foot.
It sounds great, but some manufacturers shave materials off the sole under the outside toes believing it would help you roll into the next stride. Instead it makes your foot unstable at the point of rolloff or push-off.
You may be more susceptible to rolling your ankle or losing balance on unstable ground if the sole is thinner under the outside toes, especially if you are a supinator.
If you are a person who is susceptible to frequent ankle twists, then buying a shoe with stability features and less extreme toe-off will help lessen your risk of injury.
Running shoes are designed for forward movement, not lateral movement.
Wearing them for sports requiring agility like basketball or tennis is a bad idea. Not only can you roll an ankle , you will also destroy your running shoes, reducing the structural support they are designed to offer for running.
It is also a bad idea to wear running shoes for activities such as weight lifting. Certain exercises where you are standing on your feet such as squats or cleans require activating the small muscles in your feet to maintain balance and control during your lifting motion.
Your shoe not only needs to have a tread that will not slip on the type of surface you are weight lifting on, but should have a flat bottom with as little padding as possible, so your entire feet from heel to toe can feel the floor more directly.
This is so the small muscles in your feet can fine-tune their isometric contractions to control your balance while you are moving the weight.
Running shoes have padding throughout the sole, even zero drop shoes and racing flats. This mutes the feedback from your feet. It makes it more challenging for the small muscles in your feet to adjust for controlling your balance.
In addition, the higher your feet from the ground, the more likely your ankle can flex leading to an unstable twist or worse, like a knee injury.
Running shoes are made for forward motion and do not provide the lateral support of a court shoe such as basketball or tennis shoes made for lots of directional changes in agile sideway movements.
The shoe’s cushion is another decision point. Plush cushioning is best for high mileage training. Responsive cushioning is geared for faster training sessions or racing. Balanced cushioning works for both.
Again, the density and firmness/softness of the cushion should be matched to your weight and running style. Keep in mind the mattress analogy. You do not want a soft sole when you are a heavy runner.
A caution on drop which is the difference between heel and forefoot height. Shoes with less drop, that is a lower heel in relation to the forefoot, work better for more experienced, faster runners who land on their forefoot first.
If you opt for a low drop shoe, make sure you gradually increase the transition time or your achilles tendon and calves will be extremely sore. These muscles are invoked into activation more as they gently guide your heel down after forefoot landing.
Shoe size varies with manufacturers. It seems like everyone wants to dictate their own standards these days.
Many years ago, a certain size was a certain size with very little variability. Today, if you normally wear a size 10 from one manufacturer, you may find you need a 10.5 or 9.5 from others or even a size 11 from some.
Make sure you wear your running socks on your swollen feet when trying on shoes to find the correct size.
If you opt for custom or your own preferred inserts, try the shoes with them replacing the standard insert. Do not double up or you will find the shoe too tight.
When is it time to replace your old pair? There are a few indicators to watch.
If the midsole is compressed, it no longer provides the cushion and support you need. A simple test is to press down on the shoe on a flat, hard surface. Note if there is any compression and release, or note if there are any permanent wrinkles in the side of the mid-sole. If there are permanent wrinkles, it means the mid-sole is compressed and does not spring back to its original cushion.
If the soles of your shoes are so worn that they are lopsided, it is obviously time to buy new shoes.
Don’t wait until it is time to replace running shoes. Anticipate so there is time to gently break in a new pair while still using your old pair until end of its life. Your feet need to gradually adjust to a new pair for comfort before logging higher mileage runs.
Function vs. Fashion
If you are serious about running, do not pick a shoe based on fashion or even brand first.
Certain brands tend to make shoes catered to certain types of runners. For example, Nike’s technology traditionally works best for lighter runners, while Asics’ and Brooks’ technology tend to work better for heavier runners. Nike aligns its focus on supplying equipment to top performance athletes who are already fit and rely on lightweight equipment for performance. Asics and Brooks focus on stability and impact absorption which requires more materials and results in heavier shoes.
Narrow down your choices based purely on function first for your personal needs, then pick your preferred fashion.
Now you can make a more informed decision. What are the best running shoes for supination? What are the best shoes for overpronation? What are the best neutral running shoes? What are the best running shoes for high arches? What are the best running shoes for flat feet? What are the best cushioned running shoes? What are the best stability running shoes?