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What to Look for When Buying Running Shoes

A pair of running shoes should match and fit your feet perfectly. As a runner, you just know from the moment you put them on that they were meant for you. But, a cool design, fun and bold colors, and the “latest foam technologies,” whatever that might mean, shouldn’t be the selling point for you. Understanding what to look for when buying running shoes, and how to distinguish a great pair from a mediocre pair, will truly change the way you run and exercise. So, what exactly should you be looking for, and what should you avoid?

Important Factors to Consider When Buying New Running Shoes

There are several qualities that make a great pair of running shoes. Consider a few of these design elements when purchasing a new pair.

Heel Cushioning

Your running shoes should appear denser towards the back (heel), than your lifting shoes, cross trainers, or walking shoes. When running, you’re placing plenty of pressure on your heels with each step. A material designed to minimize the impact of heel strike, on the outer edge of the foot, provides a soft place to land for runners. A thick midsole will also help soften the impact with each step you take. This is a major selling point with some of the top manufacturers of running shoes. Also what if you have flat feet? It can be a potential challenge to find running shoes that fit perfectly in case of having such an adverse effects, but thanks to the expanding market, it’s now easier than ever.

Flex Groove or Toe Springs

Shoes groves, placed below the ball of the foot inside running shoes, help them bend in the same manner as your toes bend. What this design style does is allows your toe, midsole, heel areas, follow the proper rocker pattern with each stride you take. When choosing a shoe, look for

  • One which flexes/rolls in a similar pattern as your feet do when taking running strides
  • A shoe which naturally helps roll the foot forward before springing back up to take your next stride

The level of flex you’ll look for, is a matter of personal comfort. Your stride length, gait, and arches, will also impact this. Most shoe manufacturers create a flex grove spring of 15 degrees or greater. Try on a few pairs before purchasing, to find what fits well, and what mimics your natural stride most closely as a runner.

Heel Toe Drop

This is basically the difference in height between the heel of your foot and the ball of your foot when standing in your shoes. Changing the heel drop level can help in injury prevention, as you’re not flat-footed when running. It can also help distribute force differently on your feet and legs, and alter your stride. Flat shoes can roll over easily or cause ankle injuries. Shoes with some degree of heel toe drop help improve a runner’s stride and help reduce the impact on their feet. When trying on running shoes, look for a shoe which feels comfortable throughout the entire length of your stride.

Proper Arch and Gait

Your arches and gait will also impact the running shoes you eventually choose to purchase. Arches are defined in three ways

  • Flat
  • This arch type leaves the impression that the foot is flat on the ground, the arch is non-visible
  • Medium
  • This arch type presents a moderate to average arch in the foot, and your heel and toes appear to be connected by a wide band
  • High
  • This arch appears where the heel and forefoot connect with a very narrow band, and this arch type generally results in overpronation.

In addition to the arch, the runner’s gait also has to be accounted for. The three gait types are

  • Neutral gait means the outside of the foot strikes the ground first, and the feet roll slightly inward to minimize impact/shock
  • Overpronation is where the heel strikes the ground first but rolls inward aggressively, hindering stability in the heel and ankles
  • Supination (under) is a pattern when the heel strikes first, but there is no inward roll.

There are shoes which are designed specifically for these arch types and different levels of gait. For example, runners with supination might benefit from a flat running shoe with plenty of cushioning to help mimic the roll and complete the gait cycle, which their feet don’t complete on their own.

When choosing running shoes, look for gait and arch-specific shoes. This will help improve your running stance, minimize tread wear, and help reduce injuries while running as well.

What to Avoid

Okay, so now that you know what to look for when buying running shoes, what should you avoid? There are some common mistakes shoppers make when buying running shoes, which you’ll want to avoid when buying your next pair of shoes.

Buying tight-fitting shoes

Your running shoes should fit comfortably. A good rule of thumb is that there should be about one thumb’s length (about 1-inch) between the tip of your thumb and the actual shoe when you’re trying on your shoes. You should also be able to spread your toes and have a little “wiggle” room. Look for shoes with 1/2 sizes if you’re between a certain number. And, it’s better to size up, than down, if you’re not sure.

Buying for Looks

This is a major mistake people make. They shop for shoes because of how they look or because it’s the “best brand” in the industry. Don’t make this mistake. Make sure the shoe fits well, that your feet move freely in it, and that it’s comfortable. Take a few strides in the shoe store and make sure your feet feel good in the shoe.

Not Trying on the Shoe

Many people shop online today. And, although it’s a great way to save, you don’t actually try the shoe on. You can’t buy a size 9 running shoe, because your work shoes are a size 9. Every shoe has a different sizing, and this also varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. So, if you plan on buying something online, visit a local shoe store first, try on that running shoe, then purchase.

Trying on Shoes without Socks

The thickness of your running socks make a huge difference in the size of the shoe you’ll eventually purchase. A thick, wool sock for example, might necessitate that you purchase a shoe one size larger than normal. If you try the shoe on without socks, then try to go for a run with socks, you’ll realize the difference instantly. So, when trying on shoes, make sure you try them on with the socks you’ll actually wear to run.

Relying too much on Reviews

Yes, reviews are highly important. They give you an indication of what to expect. But, don’t rely on this and nothing else. If you see a pair of shoes with 3-stars and one of 4-stars, don’t automatically assume the 4-star rating is better. It might be, and in most cases it is! This, however, doesn’t mean it’s the right shoe for you. Try on a few pairs, and see what fits you best.

If you’re looking for a new pair of running shoes, you need to know what to look for when buying running shoes. These are a few simple tips to help you find the best fit, comfort, and highest degree of protection for your feet, when the time comes to select a pair.