This is the second of a three-part series of blog posts focused on how to run more naturally to prevent injury. We’re happy to report that the first, Barefoot Sunday, received our highest ratings to date! If you haven’t yet read it, please do so as it lays the foundation for this post.
So, let’s dive in… today we’ll discuss the extremely important topic of how to choose the proper running shoe for you. Your choice of running shoes can make the difference between having a good or bad experience, running in comfort or pain, and, most importantly, whether you stay healthy or get injured.
Choosing a running shoe can be an overwhelming task given all the high-tech shoes available today and all the special features each running shoe claims to have. As described in the previous post, we believe in shoes that promote your body’s natural shock absorption system vs. overly-cushioned, high-heeled shoes.
Traditional running shoes have fat, cushioned heels – this type of shoe forces the body to balance itself in an unnatural, backward-leaning position. Your toes are pointing downward, your weight is shifted rearward, and your back is slightly arched. Basically, your body struggles to maintain balance while compensating for the lifted heel. Stop running in these shoes.
To be clear, we’re NOT saying there is anything wrong with cushioned running shoes. In fact, the new trend in running shoes is maximalism: beefed up shoes with lots of cushion. Maximalism was triggered by the growing popularity of shoes made by the brands Altra and Hoka – Runner’s World gave the Altra Superior 2.0 it’s “Editor’s Choice Award” this month. So no problem there!
What we ARE saying is whether you’re in the minimalist camp or maximalist camp, stay away from shoes with a high heel-to-toe drop (even in your work shoes) as they shorten your tendons and kills off the range of motion that your feet need to run more naturally.
For example, Altra has cushioned zero-drop shoes that encourage low-impact landing with a bent knee and a soft foot strike:
So how do you find the shoe that promotes proper running form and suits your running style? Follow these steps!
STEP 1: GO TO A LOCAL SPECIALTY RUNNING STORE FOR GAIT ANALYSIS
It pays to go to a specialty running store since people who work in these stores are knowledgeable and can guide you to the appropriate shoe models. Choose a store that has a treadmill with competent staff experienced in doing gait analysis. At our store, Run & Tri Rehoboth Beach, we have special gait analysis software that helps us match you with the shoes that best suit your running form and style. If you’ve never had a gait analysis, here’s what to expect…AS PART OF OUR GAIT ANALYSIS, WE ASK THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS:
- How long have you been running?
- How much mileage are you doing per week?
- Are you training for a particular event?
- Where do you do most of your running?
- Are you aware of any foot problems (i.e. flat feet, plantar fasciitis, stress fracture)?
Then we’ll ask you to hop on the treadmill and run barefoot so that we can video your running form – don’t be nervous, we won’t be timing you! Once we have your gait recorded, the software helps us analyze what your foot & ankle do as it strikes the ground, like this:
Performing a Gait Analysis
From here, we can determine what type of shoe will best match your form, like this:
Selecting the Proper Category of Shoe
So in the example above, the runner does not over pronate and her recommended footwear category is Neutral. We would then make recommendations on a few pairs of shoes in the Neutral category to try on. For example, here’s a listing of Neutral shoes in our store: Neutral Category.
This is just a quick overview of how we perform gait analysis, other stores may perform them differently – the point is, gait analysis is really important. For more details on how we perform gait analysis, watch this short video:
Julia: Be wary of running stores that don’t perform gait analysis… I remember back when I first started seriously running, I went to a running store and the staff member saw that I had high arches. He immediately put me in a pair of shoes that had high arch support BUT were a motion control shoe. The shoes were so stiff that I lost feeling in my feet after running just a few miles. What I know now that I didn’t know then is if he actually analyzed my gait, he would’ve seen that I don’t over pronate at all! What I needed was a neutral shoe that allowed my foot the freedom to land naturally.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL RUNNING SHOE SHOPPING TRIP:
- Bring your old shoes with you when you go shopping. Shoe wear will assist the salesperson in determining your degree of pronation.
- You’ll want to do a gait analysis barefoot, but you should bring socks that you usually run in and use them when trying on shoes.
- If you wear orthotics, bring them also. You need to see how the shoe fits with the orthotic inside.
- Do NOT make the most common mistake new runners make by buying the latest fad shoe. It is highly unlikely this will be the ideal shoe for you.
STEP 2: ENSURE YOUR NEW RUNNING SHOES FIT PROPERLY
A proper fit is the most important step in finding the right running shoe. A shoe that fits will be snug but not tight. A common mistake is to buy shoes that are too small, remember, your feet swell when you run – so don’t lose toenails because your shoes are too tight!
HERE ARE SOME TIPS TO ENSURE A PROPER RUNNING SHOE FIT:
Check for adequate room at the toe-box by pressing your thumb into the shoe just above your longest toe. Your thumb should fit between the end of your toe and the top of the shoe. You’ll find that different brands will have different size toe-boxes, Altra for example, has a really wide toe-box to support maximum toe-splay.
Check for adequate room at the widest part of your foot. The shoe shouldn’t be tight, but your foot shouldn’t slide around, either. We find that Merrell tends to fit runners with narrower feet, Newton for moderate width and Altra for wider feet.
The upper (part of shoe that wraps around and over the top of the foot) should fit snugly and securely without irritating or pressing too tightly on any area of the foot.
The heel of your foot should fit snugly against the back of the shoe without sliding up or down as you walk or run.
STEP 3: TAKE YOUR NEW SHOES OUT FOR A TEST DRIVE
Before purchasing your shoes, take them out for a test drive to see what they feel like while running. In fact, you should try running in at least 2 pairs of shoes that were recommended in your gait analysis – this will give you something to compare against. Some stores, like ours, have a treadmill, others allow a run around the parking lot and some don’t let you do anything other than bounce up and down. Just make sure you spend enough time in your shoes to get a sense of how they feel in action. Pick the pair that feels most comfortable while running.
HERE ARE SOME THINGS TO THINK ABOUT AS YOU RUN IN YOUR SHOES:
What’s the ride like? Is it the right amount of cushion for the distances you run?
Is the shoe the proper weight? You’ll want a heavier shoe for your everyday trainer, and a lighter shoe if you’ll be wearing them in a race.
When you land on your forefoot, is the shoe allowing for adequate toe-splay? Adequate toe-splay allows you to enlist your foot’s natural ability to absorb shock.
That’s all for this week’s post. We hope this proves as a helpful guide in your quest to find the perfect running shoe for you! Please comment on this post if you have any questions or need recommendations on running form or shoes that promote it. Next week we’ll talk about how to work on your running form and gradually transition to your new shoes.
Keep on Running!
Julia, Patrick & Jo-Jo