Let me guess: You’ve just gotten back from the first run you’ve taken in months (maybe years) wearing the same shoes you wore for high school gym class — and you’re hurting. You’re probably hurting for a lot of reasons, but those old shoes aren’t doing you any favors. One of the great things about running is that it’s not too difficult to learn — no classes needed — and it doesn’t take a lot of gear to do it right. But a good pair of shoes makes your run easier and more comfortable and can help to prevent muscle fatigue. To get you on track for a more enjoyable run, here is the best way to choose a running shoe.
Know your gait
First, you’re going to want some help analyzing your gait. “Your gait is generally how your foot strikes the ground as you walk, or in this case run,” Roberto Mandje, head coach and senior manager of training and education for New York Road Runners, told The Active Times in an email. You should especially look at your gait if you’re just getting into exercising. Your gait and the amount that your feet pronate (roll inwards) or supinate (roll outwards) could help determine what kind of shoes are best for you. “A run specialty store employee would be able to help determine if you’re pronating or supinating.”
Running shoes will often specify what type of gait they’re good for, and some can even help to correct a gait that leans too far in one direction. But this is only a guiding factor. “Pronation is not something that always has to be corrected, and we only really put someone in a shoe that will help correct that if they’re in pain from overpronation or a lot of discomfort,” Rob Smith, marathon runner and co-owner of the Vancouver Running Company, told The Active Times over the phone.
How much cushioning?
Next, you want to choose the right type of cushioning for your shoe. Some people swear that running with no shoes at all is the most comfortable for them. These people may opt for barefoot shoes. Barefoot shoes are thin, almost sock-like shoes that allow your feet maximum freedom but provide minimal cushioning and only protect your feet from debris and injury.
Minimalist shoes are a step up from that, as they have only a little cushioning and allow the foot to move freely. But the lack of support could still leave you in need of a foot massage, or worse. “There have been a lot of studies showing — particularly in the running world — that if you wear lighter, more flexible, more flimsy sneakers, you’re more likely to be at risk of a stress fracture,” Dr. Mark C. Drakos, a foot and ankle surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, told The Active Times in an email. “I would advise against long-term barefoot running or minimalist shoewear choices.”
Neutral cushioning shoes are your “stock” running shoes, providing a good amount of cushioning while still staying light and somewhat flexible. Stability (or “motion control”) shoes often have a lot of cushioning, and can help guide the feet of those with abnormal strides and position the foot better as it hits the ground. The trade-off is that they’re often heavy and not as flexible as other types of shoes.
So which running shoe is best for you? Only you can tell. “Hands down the most important factor to consider is comfort,” Smith said. “Do you like to feel the ground or do you like to have a pillow under your feet?” The best way to find out is to head to a store to try some shoes on. Visiting a store later in the day can help you get a more accurate fit, as your feet can swell from activity throughout the day.
You should also think about where you run. “Obviously a track is different from running trails,” Dr. Patrick Maloney, attending surgeon at the Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, said to The Active Times in a phone interview. Both the tread and cushioning of different shoes are often suited for certain surfaces. Tell the employee at the store where you typically run so they can steer you towards a shoe most appropriate for your needs. Don’t take shoes with track spikes onto the trails.
Fit is king
Finally, and most importantly, make sure you’re getting the right size. “Finding the right size is absolutely critical,” Maloney said. Sizes vary widely between shoe types and manufacturers, so it’s important that you try the shoes on and verify that they fit the way they’re supposed to before you get them too worn to return. “Oftentimes new runners are surprised to find out their running shoe size is larger than their day-to-day shoes or even what they wear to go to the gym. Typically, it’s encouraged for runners to wear about half a size bigger in their running shoes in order to prevent too tight of a fit,” Mandje said. There should be a space the width of your thumb between your big toe and the end of your shoe, and your heel should fit securely in the shoe.
Once you have the proper footwear, you’ll finally be ready to hit the road (or the trail). Running is one of the best ways to get outside, improve your health, and get to know your community. You could also supplement running with one of these low-impact workouts.