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  • Writer's pictureMary Brooking

Some tips on how to choose a running shoe

Updated: Nov 1, 2023


As runners we are told we should replace our trainers every 300-500 miles, or when they are showing signs of a worn tread, loss of cushioning or if they have become less comfortable. However choosing a new pair of running shoes can feel confusing and overwhelming. The number of brands available, high price tags, complex terminology, constantly changing technology and old favourites being “upgraded” all add to the uncertainty.


Running shoes on grass

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months trying to find the right new running shoes for me so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and tips on the topic. - Buy from a specialist running shop, with a big range of brands, if you can Try and visit a specialist shop. Bring in your old trainers for the sales person to have a look at and run on a treadmill in the shop in a variety of new options. Have a think in advance about the questions listed below and discuss your answers with the salesperson; their guidance can be a helpful part of the choosing process. Try to take running socks with you and go in the afternoon when your feet will have swelled a bit from their day.

- Be aware of what your feet feel like in existing shoes. A bit squashed anywhere, or a bit loose/wobbly inside the shoe? Running shoe width varies enormously by brand, and also whether this width is through the whole foot or specifically in the toe box. If you think you need wider or narrower shoes for specific places in your foot then ask when you are buying your shoes which brands/models are best for that fit.

- What are your running plans - do you need shoes for tarmac paths or for trails? If you are likely to be running off tarmac for any extended periods then trail shoes will give you the grip to be safe on mud, rock and varying surfaces in-between, plus a host of other off road specific features.

- Any injuries you are predisposed to? Achilles issues? Knee or shin issues? For runners who are managing any Achilles tendon issues, or have a very pronounced heel strike often a shoe with a heel drop of 6-12mm is advised. For those who have knee or shin issues, or a very pronounced forefoot strike then a lower heel drop of 0-6mm may be better.

- Pronation: does this always point to one type of shoe? Pronation (the inward roll of the foot after the heel strikes the ground) is a normal part of walking and running gait and means the foot is functioning properly. When this happens to a greater degree than normal, such that the ankle appears to collapse inwards on landing, it becomes “over-pronation”. This can, but doesn't always, overstress structures on the inside of the foot resulting in a collapsed foot arch and causing compensation further up the body. About half of runners “overpronate” and are often guided towards stability/support shoes to help their foot to land and behave in the "right" manner. In some cases this may be helpful and correct a bad habit.

Sometimes however foot landing position is not the result of poor foot or ankle function but a weakness or imbalance further up the chain which stability shoes won't directly address or help in the long term. So try other shoes (ie neutral or not stability/support shoes) too and see what feels more comfortable and perhaps consider seeing a physiotherapist or running specialist for further gait analysis.

Post purchase tips - Wear new running shoes around the house for a couple of hours a day for a few days before taking them outside. Check they are comfortable, they feel the right length & width, toes aren’t being squashed and there is enough room for foot expansion as you run. Most companies will accept the return of shoes if they have only been worn indoors, have no marks and all tags are still in place. - Build up running in new trainers gradually; phase the old ones out and the new ones in. This is especially important if heel drop has changed significantly as the impact on leg and foot muscles will have altered and and adapting slowly is crucial

- It can be a good idea to buy a new pair of shoes half way though the life of an existing pair and rotate using them for a while.


I hope whatever running shoe choice you make you enjoy running in them!


lacing up running shoes


Running shoe jargon explained What is heel drop? The heel drop of a shoe refers to the shape of its sole and indicates the difference in height between the forefoot and the heel. A higher heel height compared to the forefoot means a higher heel drop. It is important to note, however, that sole thickness is not the same as heel drop, as even thick soles can have an overall low heel drop. The heel to toe drop is usually expressed in millimetres, the calculation being: heel height minus forefoot height gives the heel drop. When the heel and forefoot are at the same height, it is called zero drop.

What is stack height? Stack height is the term used to refer to the amount of shoe material between your foot and the ground. Stack heights can range from barefoot to maximal, and this measurement is often equated with the amount of “cushioning” that a shoe has. A shoe with more cushioning will have a higher stack height while a shoe will less cushioning will have a lower stack height.

What is a barefoot shoe? A barefoot shoe will always have zero heel drop and will normally have very minimal cushioning, ie a low stack height. These shoes do come with a high injury risk if well cushioned trainers have been used for years maybe resulting in under-used muscles and joints around the foot. To change to using this type of shoe proceed cautiously and perform 6-8 weeks of foot and ankle conditioning exercises initially, progress running in these trainers slowly with low volume and intensity initially, no more than 5 minutes at a time and on a surface that isn't too hard (concrete) or soft (sand).

What is a maximalist shoe? Maximalist shoes have a greater stack height, typically above 30mm compared to traditional running shoes with stack heights of 20-30mm and barefoot shoes which will be less than 15mm, in some cases significantly less. This high stack height means more cushioning, meaning its possible to land on on almost any part of your foot without causing discomfort. These mean the shoes feel really comfortable, providing an ample buffer from the ground, offering the reassurance—whether warranted or not—that the shoes are “protecting” our feet more than those with thinner soles. There is however increasing evidence that maximalist shoes may not be lowering injury rates just altering injury types. These shoes can sometimes be helpful to runners who struggle with foot injuries but runners with knee issues might want to avoid maximalist shoes, as knee loads might be higher in these. What is a stability shoe? Technology built into the midsoles on the inside of stability shoes, called 'medial posts' or 'rails', help to steer the foot and prevent "excess" inward-rolling or "over-pronation". Stability shoes also tend to have a higher density foam on the inside of the midsole to provide extra structure, as well as support near the big toe, under the ball of the foot and on the inside of the heel, all designed to control the degree of pronation of the foot.


What is a neutral shoe?

Neutral shoes feature little or no structural support to help offset pronation and control movement; they are designed to be “neutral” across the shoe, so your feet are free to move and flex naturally while you run.


References:

Strength & Conditioning for Endurance Running: Richard Blagrove

Jargon definitions: Sourced from a variety of websites

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