Trying to find the perfect running shoe for your needs can leave you feeling bewildered and confused especially when you see so many different types, features and manufacturers. Combine this with a raft of different categories, and it is no wonder that runners are left out of pocket, injured and unprotected by choosing the wrong shoes. Finding the best running shoes to suit you personally will make you run better, allow you to enjoy your running for longer, and help reduce the risk of overuse injury. This is why I have decided to take the mystery out of choosing running shoes, by explaining what the terminology means, examples of the best and how to buy and evaluate your own feet and footwear. This information will save you time and money – read on!
Running Shoe Categories
Motion Control Running Shoes
Motion control shoes (sometimes called maximum support) are the least flexible, control orientated running shoes available. They are designed to limit or slow down excessive pronation (feet that roll inwards too much) and support certain foot types. They also tend to be heavier than other categories of running shoes.
They include features like medial posts (higher density materials like EVA on the inner side of the rear of a shoe – often grey in colour or made of plastic depending on the brand), straight lasted (built on a straight last during manufacturing, compared to racing shoes that are built on a curved last) to guide a ‘flatter-foot’ from heel-to-toe offering maximum ground surface contact, Supportive uppers (the material that holds your foot on the base-midsole), Stiff heel-counter (stiff plastic around the heel to control heel motion) etc.
Motion Control shoes should be worn by flat-footed – excessive pronators, very heavy runners and those with weak hypermobile ankles. Be aware that motion control shoes tend to have slightly less cushioning, and can feel a little hard underfoot. It is not uncommon to see an individual in motion control shoes who merely don’t need them.
Examples of Motion Control Running Shoes Are:
|Asics Gel Foundation|
|New Balance 1540|
Stability Running Shoes
Stability shoes often called the ‘structured cushioned’ category, offer a good blend of foot support and cushioning. They are not as heavy as motion control shoes but still provide excellent support. This is the most popular category and the group of running shoes most recommended by sports injury specialists. They too have medial support (e.g. the patented Asics Duomax feature) but are not as supportive as motion control. They are generally built on straight, or semi-curved lasts to offer ground contact stability.
They often have a special visible cushioned material on the rear outer edge of the shoe where most heel-to-toe runners strike the ground. They usually have cushioning in the midsole under the forefoot too. Runners with mild pronation issues and feel that they need some support, should consider this category. You should also consider these shoes if you do heavy mileage on the roads and suffer over-use injuries on occasions. You can wear stability shoes with in-shoe orthotics.
Examples of Stability Running Shoes Are:
|Asics Gel 2000/3000/kayano|
|Adidas Adizero Tempo|
|Brook Adrenaline GTS|
|New Balance M860|
|Saucony Guide ISO|
|Nike Air Zoom Structure|
Neutral/Cushioned Running Shoes
Neutral shoes generally have less motion control or stability features, although they still need to guide through the contact phase of gait safely. They are usually lighter and less durable in the midsole because they have less structure, although they have increased cushioning. They are built on a curved or semi-curved lasts to encourage a faster transition from contact to toe-off during running. They are often used by lighter runners who have ‘neutral’ feet that do not excessive pronation and collapse inwards. In-shoe orthotics can be worn with any category of shoe depending on your needs; however, most orthotics are probably worn with neutral shoes traditionally. This is because of the advice dispensed by practitioners and running stores – but is not necessarily correct.
You are NOT restricted to neutral running shoes if you wear orthotics. The combination of running shoe with orthotics is individualistic, i.e. it depends on the runner and their injury. Be aware that if you are in the wrong neutral shoe (avoid air bubble in midsoles, and the quality of neutral shoes varies between brands), then you increase the risk of overuse injury. For example, ‘shin-splints’ (medial tibial stress syndrome), ‘runners knee syndrome’ (patella-femoral pain), Achilles tendinosis and even pelvic and lower back pain etc. Seek specialist advice or send me a message and I will try to help. Runners who wear heavier stability shoes often switch to the lighter more flexible neutral shoes for races.
Examples of Neutral Running Shoes Are:
|Nike Zoom Pegasus (has a touch more support)|
|Adidas Energy Boost|
|New Balance M460|
|Mizuno Wave Rider|
Lightweight Running Shoes & Racer
These are lighter versions of standard trainers and sometimes even have mild motion control features for those that need it.
They are generally more flexible and built on a curved last to encourage speed and agility. These should be kept strictly for shorter races, or fast work (Road or track). Elite lighter athletes often use them over long distances. If you are a heavier excessive pronator, you are best sticking to a more supportive shoe (stability or even motion control) even for faster races, as they may save you energy, make your legs less fatigues and reduce the risk of injury. Orthotics can be used with this category; however, you may find you need a narrower lighter pair made to suit this type of running shoe specifically.
Examples of Lightweight Running Shoes Are:
|Asics Gel Pursue/DS Racer|
|Nike Free RN Flyknit|
|Adidas Adizero Adios|
|New Balance Minimus/1400|
|Saucony Fastwitch Racers|
|Mizuno Wave Sonic|
Trail & Off-Road Running Shoes
Off-road running shoes range from shoes that are similar to road shoes, but with better grip, water-proof and more supportive, right through to lightweight trail running shoes for serious fell runners. Most off-road running shoes are offered by most of the leading brands. However the specific fell running shoes can be quite specialised like Walsh’s and Inov8. Trail shoes provide increased outer sole traction for off-road running. They have midsoles similar to that of stability shoes to offer support on uneven terrain and good supportive uppers. They also have toe bumpers to protect your toes and reinforced stitching along with waterproofing to cope with wet, muddy conditions.
Warning! We would NOT usually recommend using these shoes on the road or track when there are much better-suited shoes for this purpose. They can also sometimes be a little slippery under-foot on wet-surfaces on concrete and tarmac. The very specialised fell shoes mentioned above can be less supportive and may increase the risk of injury in some individuals because of the lack of support.
Examples of Trail & Off-Road Running Shoes Are:
|Mizuno Wave Daichi|
|Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse|
|Inov8 Mudclaw/X-Talon (Fell shoes)|
|Walsh Elite Trainer (Unisex fell shoe)|
Foot Type Guide
Foot typing is a complex area, and everybody is different. Fitting the correct shoe, insoles and training for your needs is extremely individualistic. Here is a simple guide to understanding your foot type.
Neutral Foot Type
Even the experts can’t agree on whether a neutral position of the foot actually exists, and therefore whether deviating from it is an issue or not! This is because individuals with all foot types get injured from time to time, and actually, some of the best runners in the world have flat feet and perform exceptionally well without injury. A ‘neutral’ foot the, therefore, is defined as a foot that has neither a collapsed or too-high arch profile. This foot type does the ‘normative’ amount of pronation and supination. It can absorb shock well and be used as a stable lever to propel you forward. This individual would use neutral or stability shoes depending on mileage and body weight.
Excessive Pronation Foot Type
This foot type is classically the one where we would observe a lower than ‘normal’ arch or collapsed to the degree that the foot profile is lower. It can occur on one foot or both and can in some cases increase the risk of overuse injury. It can create a function different in leg length and cause your pelvis to rotation backwards on the affected side etc. Excessive pronation will cause your legs to internally rotate cause ‘knock-on’ effects through the legs and upper body. It can cause your feet to stay on the ground for too long while running and slow you down. Runners with this foot type would benefit most and be safer in a stability shoe, and if you are a heavy runner, suffering from recurrent injury and have weak ankles, I would recommend maximum support running shoes. It has to be pointed out that runners from some nations perform better with plat-feet and even win Olympic Gold medals unshod (no shoes) – Abebe Bakila, 1960 Olympic Marathon Champion. He defended his title four years later but this time wearing running shoes.
Supination (also called under-pronation)
You could say this foot type is opposite to that of the excessive-pronator, but that technically speaking wouldn’t be right. However, the arch of this foot type is much higher and more stable. It absorbs shock less well and is sometimes called a ‘cavus’ foot type due to the high arch profile. Runners with this foot type should note that they require lots of shock absorbency from the shoe because the foot can’t offer it, unlike other foot types. This foot type often lands on the forefoot while running and can place stress on the Achilles tendon and calf muscles. Therefore, I would recommend plenty of stretching and strength and conditioning for the calves regularly.
Selecting the Right Running Shoe for Your Needs
Running shoes should be chosen carefully. Factors to consider when looking for a new running shoe include:
* Past experience with shoes
* Current Problems
* Body weight
* Biomechanical Needs
* Environmental Factors
* Running and Racing Requirements
If you have been having no problems when running or racing, it would be hard to recommend a change of shoe, because something is obviously working to keep you running injury free. However, if you are not happy because your current shoes don’t feel right and or you are currently injured and in pain – then now might be the right time to consider different shoes.
Check Out Your Old Shoes
Examine the soles of your shoes by noting where wear has occurred. Most people wear their shoes at the rear outer corner. This is because most runners are rearfoot strikers due to the natural varus (inverted) angles of their feet and legs, but also due to the contraction of Tibialis anterior before heel strike in the gait cycle, which further inverts the foot before hitting the ground. Runners also have what is called a narrow base of gait. This means that the feet contact close to the midline of your body and this creates additional varus of the limb.
There are generally three ways in which the foot contacts the ground during running. These are:
* Heel-to-Toe (Most runners and certainly those that excessively pronate etc.)
* Midfoot (Second most common, or those with weak hip flexors and short stride length etc.)
* Forefoot (Most ‘neutral’ foot types, good to elite standard athletes and those with tight calves etc.)
How you strike the ground with your feet depends on many factors including your natural inherent biomechanics and gait style. Running faster can also push you up onto your toes. You can work out what strike pattern you have by going out on a steady, easy run and observe which part of your foot/shoe strikes the ground first. Make sure you mention this to the store assistant when buying your next running shoes because this will help them in the fitting process. It may be that you have been wearing your old shoes for too long. Failing to replace worn shoes is a major cause of running injuries. Estimates vary, as do individuals, as to when is the best time to replace your running shoes. The general estimates place the mileage at somewhere between 350 and 550 miles. This means that many individuals should be replacing their shoes before they show significant wear. In spite of the lack of wear, the shoe will be gradually losing its shock absorption capacity as well as possibly starting to lose some of its stability. This can vary from individual to individual depending on the surfaces you run on, your biomechanics and body weight. Excessively worn shoes will increase your risk of injury.
How to Fit your Running Shoes
Make sure you fit your running shoes with sufficient length and width to avoid black toe-nail and other painful lesions. It is common to leave at least one finger width from your longest toe to the front of the shoe to allow your foot to lengthen slightly when it is tired. If the shoe is too long, you may have the opposite problem and slide forwards, again bruising your toe-nails. A shoe that is too tight might trap one of the plantar foot nerves causing severe burning in the sole of your foot and toes (Morton’s neuroma). Shoes that are too wide in the forefoot will cause shearing under the sole of the foot. Make sure you have your feet measured every time you buy running shoes because foot size can change over the years.
Trying on Shoe in The Store
When you have purchased your shoes wear them in the house for a couple of days in case you discover that they are not suitable and at then you can get a refund or exchange, so make sure you keep the receipt. Buy your shoes from the experts, not some young Saturday teenager who doesn’t care if you run in wellies. Make sure you try on both shoes. Run up and down in them a few times or have a run on the treadmill with your specialist fitter. This is the only way to experience what running will feel like. You should also keep the shoe on your foot for about 10 minutes to make sure that it remains comfortable. Make sure that nothing pinches and that you like the feel of the shoe and your stride. Buy your shoes in the afternoon when your feet are slightly swollen. Buying unfamiliar running shoes on-line does run the risk of injury so wear them in the house for a few days before wearing them outside. This way you can exchange them or get a refund.
|Consider the type of running you do, i.e. on or off-road, your mileage, and speed.
|Make sure your running shoes match the terrain and inform the store assistant what surfaces you will be running on. Otherwise, you will feel unstable underfoot.|
|Is the shoe for training or racing/track-work?
|Buy shoesRunning in incorrect shoes will increase injury risk.|
|Your age, and weight.
|As you age, your connective tissue can be weaker and more vulnerable to overuse injury. I would recommend you wear stability shoes as you age to protect you. Heavy runners should be very cautious of neutral shoes because they will not support you as well.|
|Your foot type, i.e. high-arched, ‘normal’-arch or excessive pronator (a foot that rolls in).
|Understand your foot style and buy accordingly (see categories above). You may wish to carry out a ‘wet foot-print test’ to see if you are high-arched or flat-footed. This will help you select the correct category of running shoes.|
|Your running style, i.e. are you a forefoot, mid-foot or heel-to-toe runner?
|Forefoot runners may be more suited to neutral lighter shoes, while mid-foot or heel-to-toe runners may be more suited to stability or motion control shoes.|
|Are you currently injured or do you wear in-shoe orthotics (insoles)?
|If you are currently injured then make an appointment with a specialist and find out what is causing it. Avoid very light flexible running shoes until you understand the origin of the injury, as you may be in the wrong category of shoes and they are creating the problem.|
|Word on the street||Make sure you do your homework and research different shoes online. Look at shoe reviews and avoid gimmicks – the running show world is full of them.|
How Sub-4 Can Help You
If you require any help or advice when selecting a running shoe, don’t hesitate to contact us. We can not only supply you with running shoes but information on the type of shoes you require, and help with fitting. We can also alert you to changes that may occur in the manufacturing of your favourite shoe.
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