How to Choose the Right Running Shoes

A few important factors to consider before picking a new pair of kicks

Ask two different running experts about sneakers and while one might tell you that finding the perfect shoe is essential to running happily and injury free, another might argue that as long as your feet feel comfortable—regardless of your foot type and all that other biomechanical jargon—you’ll be fine.

The topic has been argued back and forth probably for as long as running has been considered a professional sport. Research hasn’t yet reached a definitive conclusion, but chances are the answer probably falls somewhere in between the two sides, and for the most part it definitely can’t hurt to put some extra thought into choosing a running shoe that works well for you.

The American College of Sports Medicine recently created a helpful guide for choosing the right pair of sneakers, recommending that runners choose a new pair after carefully considering a few different factors.

Here a few things to think about before buying new running shoes:

  • Size: This one seems like a no brainer but according to the ACSM, choosing the wrong size is the most common mistake that people make when buying new sneakers. 85% of people wear shoes that are too small. Make sure your new shoes have room at the widest part of your foot but also that your heel fits snugly into the rear. (Break your shoes in with a few workouts and make sure they still fit after that period, too.)
  • Previous experience with sneakers: Are the shoes you have now comfortable or do you find that they’re causing you problems? Make your decision based on what you’ve learned from the shoes you’ve worn in the past.
  • Biomechanical needs (arch type, pronation, orthopedic injuries, etc.): Most specialty running stores will have the means to provide you with a proper analysis and some can even analyze your gait while you’re running and recommend a shoe for you based on the results.
  • Environmental conditions: Consider what types of terrain you will be running on most often.
  • Running and racing requirements: Think about how frequently you’ll be running, how much distance you’ll be covering on a weekly basis, and if you plan to race, what types of events you’ll be participating in.
  • Condition of old running shoes: You can use your old sneakers to determine the characteristics of your feet and gait. When placed on flat surface if your shoe tilts to the inside you might have low arch and flat feet. An outward tilt is typically characteristic of a high arch.

The most important thing about choosing a new shoe is finding one that fits both the length and width of your foot. If you can’t have your foot analyzed by a professional you can use the “wet test” to determine your foot type.

Simply moisten your foot and then place it down on a surface that will leave an imprint. If you have what’s considered a “normal” foot with a normal arch your imprint will flare but show the forefoot and heel connected by a wide band. The ACSM says that stability shoes work best for runners with normal feet.

Flat feet are associated with a low arch and will leave a nearly complete imprint of the sole of your foot. This usually results in overpronation, or an excessive inward roll of your foot and ankle after the foot strike while running. The ACSM recommends motion control sneakers for runners with flat feet and low arches.

If you have a high arch your foot imprint will show a very narrow band between the forefoot and heel. This is usually associated with underpronation and poor shock absorption. The ACSM recommends cushioned shoes for runners with high arches.

When should you buy new running shoes?

Instead of judging your need for new shoes based on the amount of visible wear and tear, aim to replace your sneakers after every 400-500 miles spent running because running in shoes with excessive wear can lead to injury.

The ACSM also recommends the following helpful tips for purchasing new shoes:

  • Try them on with the socks that you run in most often.
  • Try a few different pairs of sneakers from different brands that match your foot’s profile. Most running shoe stores will let you run around the store or up and down the street to test them out.
  • Try each pair for about 10 minutes to make sure they stay comfortable after wearing them for a while.
  • If possible, it’s beneficial to buy two pairs of sneakers that you can alternate between while training which will increase the life expectancy of your shoes.
  • Slowly build up to running your normal mileage amounts in your new shoes. It takes about 60 to 70 miles to break in a new pair of sneakers. 

Related: The 20 Best Running Shoes of 2014