A lot goes into running shoes, and our guide will tell you what to look for in your most important piece of equipment.
How To Buy Running Shoes
Few activities put more stress on the feet and body than running. Finding a shoe that offers the cushioning and stability to match your running style and foot shape is essential not only to your comfort, but also your overall health. The wrong shoe can move the stress on your feet all the way up to the hips and the lower back, where it can cause serious problems.
Key features of Running Shoes
This is the bottom of the shoe.
- Carbon rubber – Durable, somewhat stiff and relatively heavy material used for outsoles
- Blown rubber – Lighter weight, more cushioned and flexible rubber used for outsoles. It is made by injecting air into a rubber compound
- Flex grooves – Grooves cut horizontally across the forefoot of the outsole that allow the foot to flex at the ball of the foot (its natural bending point) and roll more naturally
- Split heel – The heel of most running shoes is flared and split into 2 sections, an outer and an inner piece. This makes the heel-to-toe running motion more efficient
The layer of soft, shock-absorbing material between the outsole and the upper. This is the most important part of a running shoe, because the construction and materials used will impact the levels of both cushioning and motion control/stability in the shoe.
The amount of cushioning in the shoe is generally proportionate with the shoe’s heel height. The two types of cushioning generally found in running shoes are EVA and Polyurethane.
- EVA – Lightweight cushioning, not too much stability and durability. EVA can be compressed to make it somewhat more durable
- Polyurethane (PU) – More dense and durable cushioning material. PU can add stability to the shoe, but also adds weight
- Stiff materials, usually in the form of a medial post or a footbridge, are used in some shoes on the medial or inner side of the shoe to reduce over pronation or excessive inward rolling of the foot
- Heavier densities of cushioning materials may also be used in the medial area to increase a shoe’s stability
This is the soft body of the shoe. Usually made of a combination of materials, from lightweight, durable synthetic mesh to heavier materials like leather. The materials and construction of the upper provide stability, comfort, and a snug, but not tight, fit. Features to consider in the upper include the following:
- Last – This is the basic shape of the shoe. Running shoes have one of three basic categories of lasts: straight, semi-curved and curved
- Toe box – The front part of the shoe. This should provide ample room to allow the foot to flex and make the toe-off portion of the running motion comfortable. A toe box that is too small will restrict the muscles and tendons in the foot and lead to pain and cramping. As a general rule, you should have about 1/2 an inch (about a thumb’s width) between your longest toe and the front of the shoe
- Heel counter – A plastic or composite material used to reinforce the heel area and increase stability. Heel counters come in varying degrees of stiffness. An external heel counter generally provides the most motion control and stability
- Achilles notch – A groove in the back of the heel collar that protects the Achilles tendon. Prevents irritation to the Achilles tendon. Contributes to a snug, secure fit.
Choosing the Right Running Shoes
To find a running shoe with the fit characteristics that best match your running pattern, determining your foot type is essential. There are three basic running patterns or biomechanical tendencies. Each is associated with a certain foot type.
Basic Foot Types
- The foot strikes on the outside of the heel and rolls inward excessively
- Many types of overuse injuries are associated with this foot type
- About 60% of the population have pronated feet
- The foot is rigid, doesn’t pronate (roll inward) enough and is not an effective shock absorber
- About 30% of the population have supinated feet
- You land on the outside of your heel, then roll inward slightly to absorb shock
- If you are of normal weight, you are considered the most biomechanically sound type of runner
- Only about 10% of the population has neutral/ideal feet
The “Wet Test”
1. Get your foot wet
2. Then step on a surface, such as a sidewalk or a piece of dark construction paper, which will show an imprint of your foot
3. The characteristics of the imprint will determine your foot type
- High-Arched Foot/Supinated
- Your feet are supinated if there is a large open area on the imprint where the arch of your foot didn’t touch the ground
- Flat Foot/ Pronated
- Your feet are pronated if a complete impression of your foot can be seen
- Neutral/ Ideal
- Your feet are neutral/ideal if a moderate space is visible in the arch area
If you are Flat Foot/Pronated:
- Look for a straight or semi-curved last for stability and maximum support for the inside of the foot
- Look for features like a medial post (a stiff material on the inner side of the shoe) to help reduce overpronation or rolling in
- Look for a dense, durable polyurethane midsole for moderate cushioning and greater stability
- Look for a carbon rubber outsole for greater durability
If you are High-Arched Foot/Supinated:
- Look for a semi-curved or curved last to encourage foot motion
- You are not likely to need any additional medial support
- Look for an EVA or compressed EVA midsole, which will provide the softest cushioning and the lightest weight
- Look for a softer, lighter outsole with a greater flexibility
- Some shoes combine heavier, more durable carbon rubber in the heel area with lightweight blown rubber in the forefoot to make the shoe more flexible
If you are Neutral/Ideal:
- Look for a straight or semi-curved last
- Although you probably don’t have any major motion-control problems, you may want to consider a shoe with a medial post for motion control. A medial post is a stiff material on the inner side of the shoe to help reduce overpronation or rolling in.
- Look for a shoe with moderate cushioning, such as a 2-density midsole. The blend of EVA’s lightweight cushioning and polyurethane’s density and durability offers a nice mix of cushioning and stability.
- Look for a durable carbon rubber outsole or an outsole that combines carbon rubber with a lighter weight, softer blown rubber in the forefoot
When to buy new running shoes
- The easiest way to tell if you need new running shoes is to look at the soles. If they are worn out or very unevenly worn, they should be replaced immediately.
- Running shoes should be replaced every 400-500 miles, or every six months
- If you are wearing your running shoes for activities besides running, those miles count, too
- Shoes with polyurethane midsoles are likely to maintain their level of cushioning longer than shoes with EVA midsoles
Determine your shoe size
- Determining your shoe size is essential to a comfortable fit
- Don’t assume your shoe size is the same as it always has been. The shape of your feet changes over time.
- For the perfect fitting shoe size, see Determine Your Shoe Size before making your purchase decisions