How To Choose A Running Shoe | What Are The Best Shoes For You?
A Guide to Choosing Running Shoes
Is your foot normal, or are your arches high or low? Finding the right running shoes will take time, but it will also help prevent injury.
By Jan Sheehan
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Running shoes are the most important exercise gear that any runner uses. But selecting from the dizzying assortment of running shoes in sporting good stores can seem overwhelming at times. There are countless brands, styles, and categories of running shoes from which to choose.
So how do you pick the best running shoes before starting an exercise program?
Running Shoes: Determine Your Foot Type
Do you have high arches, flat, or normal feet?
Take the “wet test” to find out.
Wet your feet and make footprints on a paper bag or blank piece of heavy paper. If you see almost your entire footprint, you have flat feet, also known as having low arches. If you see just your heel, ball of your foot, and thin line outside your foot, you have high arches. See about half your arch? You have normal feet.
“This is a quick and easy way to determine your foot type,” says Elizabeth Kurtz, DPM, a podiatrist in Chicago and a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Choosing running shoes for your arch type can help prevent exercise-related injuries.
Running Shoes: Get Your Exercise Gait Analyzed
Pronation — the way your foot hits the ground during running — can also affect the kind of running shoes you should buy. Runners with high arches tend to under-pronate — meaning the foot doesn’t rotate inward enough to effectively absorb shock — while flat-footed runners tend to over-pronate, meaning the foot rolls inward too much, which can cause excess strain and foot pain.
Even if you know you're flat-footed or have high arches, you can't always predict the way your feet will pronate. To determine how your foot actually hits the ground while running, go to a specialty running store to get feedback on your gait. “Some running stores will even videotape you on a treadmill, so you can see gait problems that could potentially lead to injury,” says Dr. Kurtz.
Running Shoes: Match the Shoes to Your Arch and Gait
Running shoes come in three main categories:
“Flat-footed, over-pronators do best with motion-control or stability running shoes since they prevent excessive foot motion,” says Glenn Gaesser, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. If you have high arches and under-pronate, go with neutral-cushioned running shoes. “This type of foot needs more impact protection,” notes Gaesser. Runners with normal arches and normal pronation usually do fine with any type of running shoe.
Running Shoes: Buy One-Half Size Larger Than Normal
Feet swell during running, which can cause blisters and toe pain due to running shoes that crowd the front of the foot. “To compensate for swelling, I recommend going one-half size larger than normal,” says Kurtz. “So if you normally buy a size 8 1/2 dress shoe, you should buy a size 9 running shoe.”
Two other tips:
- Buy the same brand of shoe.It may take some trial and error, but once you find a running shoe that works for you, it’s best not to switch to save a few dollars. Running shoes are one area where you don’t want to pinch pennies. “Most runners are very loyal to their shoes once they find the right ones,” observes Kurtz, who regularly runs marathons herself. “Even within the same category and size, there are differences [between] all of the shoe companies.”
- Replace running shoes that are past their prime.Waiting too long to buy new running shoes can lead to foot pain. The cushioning in running shoes wears out after 300 to 500 miles, leaving you vulnerable to foot pain and other injuries. “They may still feel comfortable, but the shock-absorbing padding in the sole and insole is usually gone by that time,” says Kurtz. Your weight also influences when it’s time to buy new running shoes. A heavier person — over 180 pounds — will need to replace their running shoes more often than someone who weighs less, advises Gaesser.
Following these guidelines can pay off in reduced doctor’s bills for foot pain.
Another benefit: “You’re more likely to stick with your exercise program when your feet feel good,” notes Gaesser. The result: better overall health and fitness.
Video: Beginner Running Shoes | 3 Things to Know Before You Buy
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