How to choose the right running shoe
Have you recently taken up running? If so how did you go about choosing which shoes to wear?
Maybe you took expert advice, had your running style assessed at a shoe shop, or (like me) went through a process of trial and error until you found the pair that were right for you. Maybe you still haven’t found the right shoe, the expensive ones that you bought rub your heel or maybe they hurt your knees. If you are struggling to make the right decision about the most important bit of running kit you will buy then read on to get our advice on choosing the right shoe for you….
Firstly, what type of running are you doing? Trail, road, track? What distance are you going to run?
The type of shoe you need should be determined by the type of running you plan to do. For instance, a road running shoe is made for specifically that, if you try to take it onto mud, wet rocks or other off road surfaces then you will see why there are specific shoes just for those surfaces. Trail shoes, made for cross country or mountain running tend to have a few features that increase the weight but make off road running a lot easier, such as waterproof uppers, larger tread to increase grip and toe protection (once you’ve kicked a rock you know why this is important). The distances you plan to do is also an important factor, the longer the distance the more comfort becomes a factor. Ultra-marathon runners can do 100 mile events and many prefer very soft forgiving shoes, which can weigh more, to help protect their feet but 10km runners may prefer the lightest shoe possible to increase speed.
The enemy of all runners is rubbing or chafing from the shoe, to avoid the likelihood of this choose a shoe size that errs on the roomy side, this means that you are less likely to hit your toes on the front or rub your heel on the back. If the shoe feels a bit loose you can always wear slightly thicker socks to take up the space. The most important feature a running shoe can have is comfort, if they feel good and perform well at the type of running you are doing then that is a good shoe! Even recent studies have confirmed that shoe discomfort is one of the biggest predictor of injury in runners (1).
There is no best make, or minimum price that you should pay, there is only the right shoe for you. I tried lots of different shoes over a few years looking for the right ones for me, after trying many of the more technical and expensive shoes I settled on a pair that cost £40, they’re basic but comfy and grippy!
Should I get shoes for over-pronating/under-pronating?
Firstly, why would this matter? Well, if the arch on your foot is nearer the ground when you stand (pronation), then you create a bit more motion in the ankle and the lower leg. If you have too rigid a foot (under-pronation) then this may be a problem as there is not enough shock absorption when your foot hits the ground. Both these patterns have been proposed as mechanisms of injury in runners. Surprisingly, unless your level of pronation is severe, there is no reason to think that it will increase your incidence of injury (2). This means when buying shoes, being classified into one of three styles (over-pronation, neutral, or under-pronation) of support may not influence how effective the shoe is for each individual (3, 4). Your degree of pronation is more valuable a finding for showing up hip and leg muscles that may need strengthening. That said, if you try the anti-pronation shoes and they feel great, don’t rub and they do the job when you get outside then they are probably the right shoe for you!
Should I get my running style (gait) assessed?
If you have access to a full laboratory set up with a full range of cameras and an expert present then yes, this type of analysis can be very beneficial in optimising your gait to help with increasing speed and minimizing risk of injury. However, most people’s access to gait analysis will be on a treadmill in a running shop which will break you down into one of the three groups mentioned above, meaning that it may be more valuable in showing up some strength deficiencies that need addressed as opposed to what shoes you need. The best thing you can do when you try shoes on in the shop is go for a brief run in them, most shops will allow this and can often be a valuable exercise!
Do I even need a shoe?
In 2009 the bestseller ‘Born to Run’ was released, promoting the benefits of barefoot running for strengthening feet and reducing injury. Many people attempted the transition from the more common heel strike pattern (where the heel lands on the ground first) to a forefoot strike (essentially running on the balls of your feet). Over the years since the book was released several running shoe companies have built ‘minimalist shoes’ to try to capitalise on the popularity of the book. However, there is little to no good evidence to say that this style of running reduces the frequency or severity of running injuries (5, 6). Some runners find the ‘barefoot’ style useful if they can adapt to the new style without injury, but for many it will just lead to new set of problems.
Recently there has been a study that has suggested that the more cushioned the shoes the more impact load is transferred to a runner’s legs, this is even more pronounced at higher speeds (7). However these results may only matter at the vvery extremes of either durattion or intensity of training load.
So what’s the message here? Choose a shoe that is suitable for your chosen type of running, if it’s suitable for the terrain, comfortable and you feel at home in it then that’s the right shoe!
Is an injury stopping you from running, or has pain stopped you achieving your running goals? If so why not book a running injury consultation with our expert osteopath Jay Ruddock. If you need some advice or more information on running injuries you can find more articles in our symptom guides, or basic exercises for various conditions in our Resources section.
1 – Mündermann, A., et al. (2001). Relationship Between Footwear Comfort of Shoe Inserts and Anthropometric and Sensory Factors. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Nov;33(11):1939-45
2 – Teyhan et al, available online at; https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f7f5/21ec059d3bf1f496634fbcb4840fa644bac7.pdf
3 – Bruckner J, (1987) Variations in the human subtalar joint. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy 8: 481.
4 – Forriol Campos F, Gomez Pellico L, (1989). Talar articular facets. Acta Anatomica 134: 124.
5 – Altman A, Davis S. (2016). Prospective comparison of running injuries between shod and barefoot runners. Br J Sports Med, Apr;50(8):476–80.
6 – Fuller T, Thewlis D, Buckley D, et al. (2017). Body Mass and Weekly Training Distance Influence the Pain and Injuries Experienced by Runners Using Minimalist Shoes. Am J Sports Med, Apr; 45 (5): 1162-1170.
7 – Kulmala JP,, Kosonen J, Nurminen J, Avela J (2018). Running in highly cushioned shoes increases leg stiffness and amplifies impact loading.Sci Rep. Nature, Sci Report Nov 30;8(1):17496