How to Buy the Correct Shoes for Your Running Style

Thirty years ago white canvas sneakers were all you needed for almost any physical activity. Today, more than 300 million pairs of athletic shoes are sold each year and the selection is so broad that choosing a suitable pair can be overwhelming.

Most experts agree that selecting the right fitness shoe is crucial to injury prevention. The wrong shoe can contribute to a variety of health problems. For example, poor arch or heel support can lead to plantar fasciitis (arch pain), inadequate heel cushioning is associated with heel spurs, and insufficient shock protection can promote stress fractures and lower back pain. So, how do you select the best shoe that is right you?

Understand Foot Biomechanics

Sounds like a scary subject, but it’s not difficult to understand. Most people overpronate, where their feet roll too far to the inside and push off the inside of their forefoot, usually caused by a low arch or flat feet. Others underpronate, or supinate, where their feet roll too far to the outside and don’t turn inside quickly enough. This results in pushing off too far on the little toe and is usually caused by a high arch.

Analyze Your Foot Type

Wet your feet and stand on a piece of cardboard. If you can see the entire sole in the imprint, you probably have a low arch and tend to overpronate. If you see only portions of your forefoot and heel with a narrow connection between them, you probably have a high arch and tend to underpronate. Shoes you’ve worn for some time may also provide clues: Overpronation creates wear on the outside heel and inside forefoot; underpronation causes wear on the outer edge of the heel and the little toe.

Match Your Foot Shape to the Shoe

Each company makes its shoes around its own set of “lasts,” or foot-shaped molds, which vary in arch height, heel width, toe box size, etc. So certain manufacturer’s’ shoes will fit you better than others. Make a paper tracing of your foot while standing and take the tracing with you when you go shoe shopping. You will be able to see which shoes best match your feet.

Determine How Much Cushioning You Need

The cushioning within a shoe disperses impact forces. Adequate cushioning is especially important if you underpronate, are an older exerciser, weigh over a certain amount (150 pounds for women, 180 pounds for men), or have a knee, hip or ankle problem.

Consider Stability

The shoe’s heel counter (the part that cups the heel) should be firm. If it “gives” easily, look for a more suitable shoe. In general, overpronators need more stable shoes than underpronators―so if you overpronate, be especially careful to select a shoe with a stiff heel counter. Underpronators often do better with a more flexible shoe with a softer heel counter.

Test for Flexibility

Underpronators generally need more flexibility in their shoes than overpronators. To determine the flexibility of a shoe, hold it by its heel and midfoot (not the toe) and twist; the more the shoe resists, the stiffer it is.

Match the Shoe to the Activity It’s Intended For

Look for a sport-specific shoe. Wearing the wrong type of shoe could promote injuries. A running shoe should provide excellent heel cushioning, shock absorption and a flexible forefoot. In a walking shoe the forefoot should be stiffer than in a running shoe, the sole should be thinner (especially in the heel) and the sole should be rounded so you can smoothly roll from heel to toe.

Have Your Feet Measured

Feet widen and lengthen as you age or gain weight. Get each foot measured at least once a year. Manufacturers use different sizing standards, so ignore the numbers and go strictly by fit. Look for a roomy toe box and adequate width across the broadest part of your foot. Fit should be snug at the heel to prevent slippage during movement.

When in Doubt, Throw Them Out

Your shoes can look okay but no longer provide proper support or shock absorption. Consider changing shoes after 150 hours of cross training, 300 to 500 miles of running or 1,000 miles of walking. In addition, replace your insoles frequently, rotate several pairs of shoes and save sport-specific shoes strictly for their designated activity.