When it comes to selecting a proper running shoe, the options can seem overwhelming and the terminology alone is enough to turn anyone off.
“It can be a little bit intimidating when you’re new to running or trying to find a new shoe,” said Ed Griffin, owner of specialty running store Fleet Feet Sports Syracuse in Syracuse, N.Y. Throughout his 12 years in the business, he’s seen the importance of making the process as approachable as possible.
This is important because a properly fitting shoe is essential to avoid injuries. “There are a lot of ways to injury yourself running, but not having a proper shoe that supports you in the right way can put excess strain on the body,” explained sports podiatrist and doctor of podiatric medicine Cary Zinkin.
As a runner himself, Zinkin knows firsthand the importance of a good shoe fit. “You can wear any clothes you want, but you have to have the best shoe. That’s your equipment,” he says.
If you’re new to running or have never been properly fitted for a shoe, get an analysis of your foot type and size. Zinkin recommends heading to a specialty shoe store for this and warns against the convenience of online shoe shopping. “Don’t do it,” he said. “Even if you’ve had your feet measured in the past, both shoe models and feet measurements can change.” As you age or gain weight, he notes, your feet may also increase in size.
According to Stephen Pribut, a doctor of podiatric medicine and past president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, runners should generally go one size larger than their standard shoe size and may actually have different size feet. Time of day also matters when shoe shopping. Pribut suggests going at the end of the day when feet have expanded, or around the time of day you normally run.
Most shoe stores will use a Brannock device to measure the length, width and arch of your foot. Arch type gets a lot of attention in the shoe world, with three main types of low, normal and high. Runners with a low arch, also known as a flat foot, have a wide, straight foot. They often overpronate, which means their foot will strike at the outside of the heel and excessively roll inward. Individuals with this type of arch often find excessive wear on the inner side of their shoes. Runners with a normal arch will pronate normally and do not require the support that runners with low or high arches need. Runners with a high arch have a narrow, curved foot and often underpronate, also known as supination, in which the heel strikes outside of the heel but does not roll inward. Individuals with this type of arch often find excessive wear on the outside edge of their shoes.
SHARE YOUR HISTORY AND FUTURE PLANS
“If the sales person isn’t asking you any questions about what you’ve done or what you’ll be doing, find a different place to buy your shoes,” said Griffin. To share your history, he recommends bringing your old pair to the store for sales personnel to investigate, as the shoe can tell the story of your running style and foot shape. “Often individuals have a problem with their existing shoe — it may not fit right, may not have the right function or may have specific wear patterns,” he explained.
TRY IT OUT — AND GO WITH YOUR GUT
Confused about manufacturer shoe categories? You’re in good company. “The industry just made up a bunch of words to describe their shoe lines,” said Pribut. “Everyone has their own meaning for the terms.”
According to Victor Ornelas, FIT Manager with Fleet Feet, Inc., who helps develop the fitting process for the company’s franchise locations, there are three common categories manufacturers use: cushion, stability and motion control. Cushion, also called neutral, is designed for a stable foot with normal pronation. Stability will offer a dense material on the inside of the shoe and is best for overpronation. Motion control often has a denser material that’s often reinforced to have more stability for excessive overpronation. These features range among manufacturers and styles, however, and should be considered with the shoe’s last (or shape).
But, as Ornelas notes: “The fitting process is as much of an art as it is a science, and individuals should feel comfortable in the shoe.” This means you need to spend a significant amount of time in the shoe before buying it. Pribut recommends spending at least 10 minutes in the shoe. Zinkin suggests taking the pair for a test run. If you run outdoors, this means a jog around the block. If you run on a treadmill, check for a store that has one.
And remember that you should try many different shoe types before settling on a pair. As Griffin noted, “Don’t worry: No one is judging you. Feet are unique — and just like eyeglasses, you need to try out different options to get the feel right.”