Buying a new pair of running shoes is like buying a new car: you need to do your research, try several models, and test drive the final pair before you make a purchase. We recommend doing some research and then going to a specialty runner’s store with knowledgeable staff so that you can get expert help. Many of these stores have a generous return policy, so if you take your shoes for a spin in the real world and they don’t work out, you can return them. Here we present some good, general information to allow you to speak knowledgeably and have a good sense of what you’re looking for in a running shoe.
Minimalist shoe: Typically used for more advanced runners when on a track or cushioned surface and encourages a forefoot strike. However, this shoe is associated with an increased risk for stress fractures, especially with higher mileage and/or on a treadmill.
Neutral shoe: Most runners can use a neutral shoe if they have properly addressed any strength or mechanical deficits. This shoe offers a moderate amount of cushion and increases your contact time on the ground. (Increased ground contact time is less efficient, and allows for increased forces through your leg, increasing injury risk and causing a slower pace).
Stability/ motion control shoe: These are designed to control the foot if you “over-pronate” (your foot rolls in too much when it’s on the ground in the stance phase of running). A recent study found there is a decrease in medial pressure on the bottom of your foot when you wear these shoes, especially when running on a treadmill. The shoe is designed to dissipate forces in a cushioned heel and then control motion at the mid-foot with a rigid structure— something that is important for heel-strikers. While the shoe does decrease pressure at the midfoot, it also leads to a longer contact time (increased injury risk and slower pace). It is important to understand the need to address your running mechanics and strengthen your foot muscles for long term running health, not just simply rely on a the shoe to fix all imbalances or mechanical issues.
- Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA): This is the soft part of a shoe that provides cushion. It begins to lose its integrity as soon as it is manufactured, much like rubber in your car tires. Keep this in mind if you buy discounted shoes—factor in the age of the shoes when are determining how many miles you will get out of them.
- Polyurethane: This is the hard plastic that offers stability at the mid-foot; the more of this material, the more stability the shoe will offer. Be aware that the more stability the shoe offers, the more the shoe could potentially increase your contact time.
Properties of the shoe
- Last: This is how much the shoe is curved. There are three categories: straight, semi-curved (most common), and curved (typically spikes or competition shoes).
- Flexibility: The shoe should bend at head of your first metatarsal (base of your big toe) to allow for push off.
- Guidance line: A break in the bottom of the shoe that helps to transfer force, This should go from the lateral (outer) heel to where you push off (usually your big toe).
- Toe box: The width of toe box is important to consider, especially if you have a wider foot. If the shoe is too narrow, a tendinitis can develop.
- Laces: We all know what shoe laces are, but it is critical to tie your shoe laces tight. You should not be able to put shoe on and off without untying the laces. The reason for this is that the upper (top and side part of your shoe) has built-in lines for stability to control arch movement and dissipate forces. If you don’t tie your shoes tight, these structures are not able to do their job and you have an increased risk for posterior tibialis tendinopathy and/or plantar fasciitis. If tying the laces tight enough is bothersome to the top of your foot, you can try the heel lock lacing technique.
Because everyone’s foot is shaped differently and everyone has slightly different running mechanics, it is impossible to recommend one best shoe. Also for the same reason, don’t put too much into breaking down the science of a running shoe. In the end, when you find a shoe that’s comfortable and fits like a glove, you’ve found your shoe. Happy running!
- Kathleen Leninger, PT, DPT
- Elizabeth Brewer, SPT
- Cheung, R. T., and G. Y. Ng. "Influence of Different Footwear on Force of Landing During Running." Physical Therapy 88.5 (2008):