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How to Choose the Best Running Shoe and Shopping Tips

Buying a pair of running shoes used to be so easy. They were all designed pretty much the same, and you could get them in any color you wanted, as long as that color was white.

Today there are dozens of features, hundreds of styles and they come in every color of the rainbow. But there are still some simple rules you can follow to make sure you're getting the best shoe for you.

Start with shoes that are designed for running. That seems blindingly obvious, doesn't it? Unfortunately, I see people buying shoes all the time for their sense of fashion, not function. Don't buy a pair of running shoes because they match your wardrobe; buy them because they'll provide the most support where you need it.

You should also avoid using shoes that you happen to have lying around, like cross-trainers. Cross-training shoes tend to have extra support, but they are not designed for running long distances.

Parts of a Shoe

Picture of the parts ofa shoe.

Three Types of Shoes

  1. Motion-control shoes use firmer materials in parts of the midsole to minimize inward rolling. They're best if your feet overpronate (your foot rolls to the inside or medial side).

  2. Cushioning shoes emphasize shock absorption and may be better if your feet supinate (they roll slightly out).

  3. Stability shoes (and some cushioning shoes) blend cushioning and control, and may be better if you have a neutral running style (your feet neither overpronate nor supinate).

How do you tell which type of shoe you need? Check your arch.

Generally, overpronators have low arches, supinators have high arches and neutral runners fall in between. To test yourself, wet your feet, then step on a brown paper bag or piece of cardboard. Look at the footprints you leave behind and compare them to these.

Picture of Overpronator, Neutral and Underpronator Foot Marks


Shopping for Shoes

Shop for shoes later in the day. Feet swell as the day progresses, and you should try on shoes when your feet are larger. When you go in, bring your old shoes with you. A knowledgeable salesperson will be able to look at the wear patterns and help you in your selection.
Don't forget to take a pair of the socks you run in. Wear them when you're trying on the shoes to make sure you'll have a proper fit.

Try on both shoes, not just one. Some people have one foot that's larger than the other; you want to make sure they both fit properly. Lace the shoes snugly over your instep and try them out.

When you walk around, you're checking to see that the shoe is flexible. Be cautious of a shoe where the forefoot doesn't bend. The heel should also be snug and shouldn't move from side to side.

At the front of your shoe, the toe box should be spacious. You want to be able to wiggle your toes, and the space should be long enough so that a thumbnail-size space remains in front of the longest toe. Check to make sure you have enough room when you're standing, not sitting.

Don't buy a shoe if the collar is so high it cuts into your ankles or so low your heel slips out.

Running shoes are not designed to be broken in. They should not have any pressure points and should fit correctly right away.

Once you buy your running shoes, don't put them on for anything but running, or they'll wear down much quicker. If you're a serious runner, you may go through as many as three or four pairs of shoes a year. As a general rule, plan on replacing your shoes about every four months or 300 to 500 miles.
  • Special Tip for Weightlifters: You should replace your shoes based on the firmness of the heel counter. (That's the rigid piece surrounding the outside of the heel). You can also check based on the flexibility of the large part of the sole (nearest the ball of the foot). The sole should flex but not bend in half or twist from side to side.

Click here to learn the best surfaces to run on.

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Updated 3/28/2007