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Choosing the Right Running Shoe

Choosing the Right Running Shoe

How to Choose the Right Running Shoe

With all of the options available, the search for the right athletic shoe can feel overwhelming. Not only are there various brands of men's and women's shoes for every sport, there are different models of shoes designed for different types of activity. When beginning the search for your perfect running shoe, you must first evaluate your stride mechanics and arch type - both of these factors play a major role in how the foot reacts to running. Foot shape, intensity of activity, and surface can also affect the body's reaction upon landing. The guide will assist you in evaluating your personal running style and will provide tips for choosing the optimal shoe based upon your preferences and goals.

Understanding Stride Mechanics

To better understand the type of support needed from your shoe, you first must learn how your body reacts as your feet hit the ground. In general, all women's and men's running sneakers are built to support different levels of pronation.

Pronation is the natural inward rolling of the foot when hitting the ground. The arch naturally flattens to absorb shock and increase stability. Lower leg muscles work to prevent the ankle from tilting too far inward and impact forces are distributed evenly. Pronation is normal; ideally the foot will roll inward about fifteen percent. Essentially every runner pronates; some just more or less than others.

Overpronation occurs when the ankle rolls in toward the middle of the body more than it should (more than fifteen percent). Muscles and bones in the lower leg work to correct this instability by absorbing additional shock. Repeated stress on these muscles can eventually lead to pain and injury. Overpronation typically occurs in runners with flatter feet; they tend to have flexible arches that flatten more than normal. Finding the proper shoe, focusing on biomechanics, and improving the efficiency of the stride can help correct overpronation.

Alternately, supination occurs when the foot rolls outward and away from the midline of the body. Supination naturally occurs when first landing (just before the foot begins to pronate) and again when pushing off the ground. However, if the foot continues to bend outward during landing (instead of pronating) this is sometimes considered insufficient inward rolling or "underpronation". This type of landing usually occurs in runners with high arches. As with overpronation, the muscles and bones of runners who underpronate typically demonstrate poor shock absorption.

At-Home Test: Look at the wear pattern on the bottom of an old running or walking shoe - if you underpronate, the outside edge of the shoe will be worn down. Conversely, the shoes of an overpronator will be worn on the inside (closer to the midline of the body).

Determining Arch Type

The height and shape of the arch should also be considered when selecting running sneakers.

A neutral arch typically indicates that the foot pronates normally.

A low arch can cause the foot to overpronate, or roll inward more than normal.

A high arch can cause the foot to underpronate, or roll outward more than normal.

At-Home Test: First, fill a pan with water and step into it with both feet. Next, step onto a paper bag or a thick piece of paper. Step off and observe the footprint. If half of the arch shows (the outside edge) this indicates that you have a neutral or medium arch. If the entire footprint shows, this indicates a flat foot or low arch. If only the heel and ball of the foot show, you have a high arch.

Deciding on a Running Shoe

In general, neutral shoes are best for normal pronators with neutral or high arches. Runners who underpronate often do well with lightweight shoes that allow more foot motion. Stability shoes are best suited for runners with low or neutral arches who need cushioning and support; typically mild to moderate overpronators. Shoes with extra stability are not recommended for high-arched feet because they discourage pronation.

Before making a final decision, however, it's also necessary to consider the type and intensity of activity for which the shoes will be used. Running shoes are typically categorized by activity. Stability, cushioning, size, and fit vary depending on the intended activity.

There are many varieties of shoes based around activity:

  • Road running shoes are designed to stabilize and cushion the foot throughout repetitive running on hard surfaces like concrete. The two basic types of road running shoes are neutral and stability shoes. Again, these are based on your running mechanics and foot type.
  • Trail running shoes are designed for running on uneven terrain, including rocky, muddy areas or routes with similar obstacles. Trail shoes have more tread than a traditional running shoe and offer additional protection and stability
  • Speed training/performance shoes are lightweight and flexible. They are best for injury-free runners with sound biomechanics. The amount of cushioning varies by shoe. Many runners will use these shoes for both speed training workouts and racing.
  • Minimalist shoes are also lightweight and flexible. They encourage natural movement of the foot through decreased stability and low cushioning. The differential between the heel and toe (called the "drop") is very small, typically between 0 and 4mm. (A more moderate minimalist shoe will have a drop between 4 and 10mm, and a traditional running shoe between 12 and 16mm.) These shoes work best for biomechanically efficient, injury-free runners looking for a more natural feel. Before transitioning into a minimalist shoe for the first time it's important to strengthen the muscles of the feet and lower legs.
  • Spikes are a lightweight shoe used in track and cross country races. Pointed metal screws are attached to the bottom of the shoe to provide traction and in turn increase speed. Spikes offer very little cushioning or support. They are not recommended for regular training.

Overall, comfort is key. Try a variety of options before making a final decision. Make sure the shoe you choose doesn't pinch, rub, or feel too restricting. A visit to a podiatrist or a specialty running store is recommended before purchasing running shoes. Typically, these stores will allow you to test their shoes by running on a treadmill. These professionals are also trained to evaluate your running style and find the best shoe to help you reach your goals and stay injury-free.

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