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Welcome to our guide on how to pick the right running shoes!
If you’re looking for guidance on how to choose your next, or even your first pair of running shoes, then you’ve come to the right place.
Knowing how to pick the right running shoes can be a confusing battle. There’s a minefield of advice, tech, terminology, marketing, and hype surrounding running shoes which is enough to confuse even the most seasoned runners.
In this article, we’ll be giving you some simple tips on how to navigate your way through this minefield. More specifically, we’ll be looking at:
- how to identify and define your running shoe needs
- how to find the best place to get shoe advice
- what to look for when you try on the running shoes
- explaining gait analysis.
Let’s get into it!
how to pick the right running shoes?
The short answer to ‘how to pick the right running shoes?’
Choose whichever shoes you feel comfortable running in!
Sounds simple, and in many ways, it is. However, there are some key features to look out for and pitfalls to avoid before you commit to buying a pair of running shoes.
So just remember, choosing running shoes is not an exact science
This is the most important point– there’s no ‘perfect’ shoe out there that fits everybody’s feet and suits everyone’s running style.
There’s no exact formula to follow that’ll lead you to your perfect shoe.
It’s trial and error, and as your body and running develop, your shoe requirements will change.
So instead, your goal is to find a pair of shoes among the many that helps you achieve your running goals, keeping you happy for many miles while protecting you from injury.
Related article: What To Wear When Running
Oh, and then after running around 500 miles (~800KM), it’s time to replace your shoes and start the searching process all over again.
Defining Your Shoe Needs: Four Factors to consider
To know how to pick the right running shoes, the first thing you want to be clear on is what you want from your running shoes.
It might sound obvious at first, (i.e. “I’m going to use them for running, dumbass”) but taking the time to think about your specific running needs and goals will make it easier to choose the right pair of shoes.
This will be important in selecting the type and various features of the shoe and will be useful to tell the assistant at the running store when you go and start your search.
There are four main questions you should ask yourself to help you define your running shoe needs:
#1: How do you intend to use your new running shoes?
Are you training for short speedy sprints or longer, steady-paced runs? Or maybe you’re looking for a shoe for recovery runs?
Are you going to only be using them once a week on the treadmill, or are you going to run the streets every morning on the way to work?
These are important factors to consider, with most running shoes being particularly suited to certain types of runs.
For example, high-cushioned shoes are great for absorbing impact and supporting your recovery runs or easy miles. However, this extra cushioning also means they’re usually heavier and can slow you down if speedy sprints are your goal.
The right running shoes will be designed with technology that can optimize your goal in a run – be it speed, distance, recovery, or otherwise.
In other words, knowing your intended goals and usage will help you identify the best shoe design for you.
#2: What terrain will you use the shoes in?
Running shoes broadly fall into two categories – trail and road.
There are several key differences between road running and trail running shoes, but in general, trail shoes have more grip and tread on the sole, whereas road shoes have flatter, more efficient soles.
Choosing running shoes according to the terrain that you run on most is important to minimize injury and optimize your running performance.
Running on hard and uniform road surfaces puts more strain on our knees, ankles, and other weight-bearing joints when compared to softer surfaces. For this reason, road running shoes usually feature shock absorption and support features to protect you from injury.
Trail running shoes, on the other hand, are designed to respond to unpredictable terrain, prioritizing grip, traction, flexibility, and cushioning. They often also feature a sturdier, more durable upper to protect your feet against rocks, nettles and
If you plan to do a bit of street running and a bit of trail running, opt for trail shoes that have comparatively little tread.
#3: What’s your running shoe history?
Looking back on how your previous running shoes have performed is a good benchmark for what you want to look for in your next pair and what you want to avoid.
Did that pair of New Balance you had fit you perfectly? Great! You can start to explore similar models. Did those high-cushioned shoes leave you with shin splints? If so, you know what to avoid.
#4: Consider your running gait and recurring injuries.
Running shoes are generally categorized into one of four groups – minimalist (including barefoot shoes), neutral, stability, motion control running shoes.
These different groups offer an increasing amount of stability technology and gait correction.
Do you overpronate? Or maybe you under pronate or heel strike? Are you prone to plantar fasciitis or other running injuries? Asking yourself these questions will help you identify the type and degree of stability you need in your running shoes.
How To Find A Good Running Shoe Store
Now you have a clear picture of what your criteria are, time to find a running store. This is key step in how to pick the right running shoes.
A good, multi-brand running store with interested, knowledgeable staff is worth its weight in gold.
While discount sports stores may stock the right shoe for you, their staff are often not trained in gait analysis or other expertise necessary to help customers identify the right running shoe for their needs.
Brand stores will have the latest shoes, but won’t have the range of brands for your to choose from.
So unless you already know exactly the type of shoes you need, it’s recommended to head to a running store that sells several brands of shoes.
If you’re not sure where these are, google a running shoe-specific store in your area or ask a friend for a recommendation.
Once inside, the staff will be able to guide you in choosing running shoes.
There is a myriad of different foot shapes and gait styles – narrow feet, flat feet, narrow ankles, major pronation, and more. A good store assistant will take these into account and be able to steer you towards suitable running shoe options for each.
A good running store assistant will want to know a host of information before looking at a good shoe for you – your running experience, your current mileage, injury history (what it is, where it is, what aggravates it), and shoe history.
If they don’t spend the time asking you these questions, it’s less likely they’ll be accurate in guiding you on how to pick the right running shoes.
How To Try On Running Shoes In the Store
Trying on is key to knowing how to pick the right running shoes.
The one way to truly know that a shoe works for you is to try it on, and then go for a run with it.
Before you visit the store:
- Take your running socks with you. If you don’t have a pair, look to try and buy socks in the store – then use these when trying on running shoes. Some running stores provide socks for trying the shoes, but you should be using the socks you plan to run with.
- If you use orthotics, running insoles, or thick socks with your shoes normally, bring them with you when testing shoes.
- If you usually run in a sports bra, then bring that along too as the gait analysis will have a bit of running.
Five tips for trying running shoes in a shop:
#1: Comfort is king.
How to pick the right running shoes? Look for comfort.
More than any other possible factor, a shoe that feels right is the one for you. If a shoe rubs or irritates you in the store, that will only get exponentially worse when you go out for a run with them.
#2: Don’t assume your size.
Don’t assume you know your size – every brand varies slightly. You want a thumb space between the longest toe and the shoe box.
This avoids the repetitive motion of the toe hitting the toebox, which leads to sore toes/lost toenails.
At the same time, if the shoe is too big your foot will move inside it and your toes will strike the toebox anyway – so it’s important to find the correct size in the middle of these two situations.
#3: Look for immediate comfort.
When trying on shoes, look for immediate comfort. Whereas some boots and harder shoes can be a little uncomfortable at first before being broken in, running shoes should feel comfortable and pleasant as soon as you put them on.
Of course, running shoes will also break in and mold to your foot shape and gait, but the breaking-in process should not be painful.
If the shoes give discomfort, friction, pain, or feel too solid/hard when you try them on, they’re not right for you. If you experience any of these the first time you try them on, they will likely give you a runner’s feet issue if you continue to run in them.
Consider the comfort and overall feel. Get up and walk around, if the shop has some little ramps go and see how the feet move inside the shoes when going up and down hills.
#4: Trial them.
You should always try running with the shoes on, preferably not on the treadmill – but occasionally this is unavoidable.
Good running stores will often have a clear run strip or treadmill in their store for you to try out the shoes.
To try the shoes outdoors, some shoe brands also offer a satisfaction guarantee, like Brooks RunHappy Promise, which allows you to try the shoes for a certain period before deciding if they’re right for you. If they’re not, then you can apply for a refund.
#5: Listen to your gut.
In the end, listen to your gut – don’t buy a shoe you don’t feel 100% comfortable in. If you don’t feel that the staff are listening to your needs, find another store.
Understanding Gait Analysis and Pronation
Understanding gait analysis is an important part of knowing how to pick the right running shoes.
Gait analysis is the study of how a person’s body moves – specifically while running. If you’ve ever seen a treadmill and camera set up in a running store, that’s what they are for.
The store assistant will usually have you run on the treadmill for a few seconds while she records a video of your feet and legs in motion.
They’ll then replay the footage, and use it to analyze your running style and prescribe running shoes or any other running aids.
One of the key pieces of information gained from gait analysis is how much you pronate. Pronating is the roll of the foot on each foot-strike, and the corresponding angle the lower leg takes on.
Someone who ‘pronates’, has a foot/heel movement that rolls inwards with each stride. The opposite is to ‘supinate’, a less common movement where your foot/heel rolls outwards.
It’s perfectly common for runners to either pronate or supinate. It is caused by the complex biomechanics of our bodies, and while it may be a sign of an imbalance, it doesn’t necessarily need to be remedied if it isn’t excessive and doesn’t cause any issues.
“Over-pronation” is a term used a lot – it can be used to mean that you simply pronate, or that you pronate to an excessive level that is likely to cause injury.
A good running store assistant will be able to take your pronation/supination into account and guide you towards a shoe that works for you.
Remember, however, that pronation and supination are not ‘conditions’ that need addressing. And even if it needs addressing, the answer isn’t always to find a pair of shoes that compensates for the movement – often strength training or physiotherapy offer more effective solutions.
This is our key point for gait analysis – it should be used as an aid, rather than a conclusion on, runner’s shoe requirements.
The danger of gait analysis is that the results are often over-simplified. There are many well-meaning, but under-trained, shoe store assistants who advise runners incorrectly based on the results of gait analysis.
They will simply look at how a runner pronates and break them into one of three groups (pronation, neutral, or supination) and recommend a shoe based on those three broad categories.
In doing so, they fail to consider other important factors – such as the runner’s history, previous shoes, and any injuries the runner has suffered.
Understanding Pressure Plates
Another common tool used similarly is a pressure plate or a wet foot test.
A pressure plate is an electronic tool that shows the weight distribution of your feet. The wet foot test is a very basic version of the same thing – you slightly wet the soles of your feet then step onto a sheet of paper.
The footstep shape created gives the shop assistant an idea of the shape and style of your foot.
Similar to gait analysis, many un-trained shop assistants use this method to then directly recommend a pair of running shoes. The problem is that again, this method doesn’t consider other factors, such as your running experience, previous shoes, and injury history.
Furthermore, several recent studies have shown that pressure plates and the wet foot test aren’t applicable, as they study the foot at rest rather than when running.
Your feet at rest and while running work very differently, and it has been shown that recommending shoes based on foot type does not lead to a reduction in injury rates1,2.
In conclusion, gait analysis is a great tool when used by a reputable and knowledgeable running store assistant. It can help identify your running style and choose the best shoe for you.
In untrained hands, however, it can over-simplify the shoe selection process and result in a misguided running shoe choice.
How To Choose Running Shoes: Go Minimalist?
Minimalist shoes are shoes with very little cushioning (such as Vibram Five-Fingers, Nike Frees) intended to mimic the act of running barefoot.
Minimal-style running is, in theory, better for your feet, allowing them to develop more strength and agility, and in turn, help you develop a better running gait.
However, for the vast majority of us, our bodies are just not used to the kind of movement and stress that minimal running subjects us to.
We’re used to walking around in comfortable shoes and have probably learned to run in cushioned trainers – so to suddenly shed all that cushioning and support can be inviting trouble.
The key to running in minimalist shoes is a slow transition period and a very gradual increase in mileage – the lack of cushioning does make things a lot harder when you’re starting to run on empty.
If you are just starting and want to try barefoot running, we’d recommend you get into it gradually, and consider alternating between a minimal shoe with a more traditional running shoe.
Which Shoe Brands Are Popular and why?
How to pick the right running shoes with so many brands to choose from?
There are dozens of brands out there churning out quality shoes these days, and it would be impossible to mention them all.
There are, however, a few brands that have unwavering popularity and have come up time and time again when I’ve spoken with other runners and running store employees (remember, we are not affiliated with any brands.)
- Asics, especially the Nimbus line, prove to be a perennial favorite for part-time runners and people starting. They provide good cushioning and support and have a decent build.
- Brooks are dependable and often used by novice – intermediate runners.
- Salomon for the more seasoned runner. This brand has become the ‘go-to’ for many seasoned distance runners – their trail running models such as the Speedcross have got a great build and a good reputation.
- Hoka One One‘s maximalist styles, have also taken over a huge section of the market for ultra-distance runners and are a close second in popularity to Salomon.
But don’t feel obliged to go with the herd if you already have a pair of shoes you’re comfortable with!
how to pick the right running shoes: 6 Takeaways
- Be clear in what you are going to use the shoe for before you hit the stores.
- Finding a good shoe store and knowledgeable, helpful staff is paramount.
- Comfort trumps every other variable. Regardless of gait, pronation, foot shape, etc., how comfortable you find the shoe is a strong correlator to the chances of avoiding injury and having a shoe you are happy with for many miles.
- Try on the shoes, spend time in them and beware of sales and marketing. What to look for when trying shoes is detailed below.
- Gait analysis and other tools are useful – BUT they are only of value if the store person knows how to interpret them. Whilst they can help guide you to the most appropriate shoe, gait analysis/foot type aren’t enough on their own.
- If you’re a beginner, stick to popular beginner’s shoes. The average beginner runner shouldn’t go for anything too extreme or exotic (barefoot, maximalist) – stick to the popular, tried, and tested brands.
Final Words of Advice from running shoe Experts
We went into some running shoe stores and asked them for their golden advice on how to pick the right running shoes.
“I do believe that the perfect shoe supports you where you need it but also allows your feet to move freely and naturally.
Currently, I have found two brands to cover a wide range of runners – Asics and in some cases Brooks. Adidas and Hoka are great for neutral runners wanting a highly cushioned, light, and smooth ride with maximum foot room.”
– Atlanta Drummond: Runner, Gait Analysis Specialist
“When I’m serving someone I try and find out the customer’s history. Things like what type of running they’re doing – is it for general fitness or are training for an event? Ultimately, runners should go for a comfortable shoe.
The gait analysis doesn’t show the entire picture of a runner, things like shin rotation and hip position, it is a guide.
For this reason, a couple of brands are moving towards neutral, “preferred motion” shoe designs that allow the body to move in its natural way. Then, the runners work to strengthen their body to correct their running gait where necessary, rather than relying on the shoes.”
– Nick Newman: Runner, Runners Need Assistant Manager
Wondering how to pick the right running shoes for your next marathon? Let us help you!
Now you’re wised up on how to pick the right running shoes, time to take a look at our recommendations for half marathons!
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