You’ve heard it all before… finding the right running shoe for you is critical to your overall running (and healths) success. So to break it down for you, and to stress the importance of getting the cinderella fit, we have called upon our friend, Sports Podiatrist, Christian McErvale to bring you the professional low-down.
In the last 4-5 years we’ve seen the rise, and somewhat, decline of barefoot/minimalist running, the increased prominence of running techniques such as POSE and CHI and even the introduction of maximalist footwear in the way of HOKA one-one’s and the like. With all these changes, we have been left with an athletic footwear industry that has practically been turned on its head. Throw in the marketing jargon many of the major footwear companies use to sell their shoes, and it’s understandable if your feel a little overwhelmed when buying new runners (I am talking about that feeling you get when you walk into a store and see a wall full of different shoes and you catch yourself thinking, “Ah man, which one?”). Whilst I’d generally recommend seeking out the expertise of a specialty athletic shoe store, there are some basics principles you can equip yourself with in the search of finding the right shoe, for you. I like to call them the 3 F’s.
I believe this is one of the most undervalued aspects considered in the selection of a running/athletic shoe. The human foot is a complex structure. It’s comprised of 26 bones, an intricate network of blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendon’s, ligaments, cartilage, fascia and overlying skin. It is a structure worthy of respect. The moment you distort the natural alignment of the foot, is the moment you begin to distort and impede the normal function of these very tissues. Ideally the length of an athletic shoe should extend no less than half a thumb nails width from your longest toe (usually big toe or second toe). The width of a running shoe should be such that your toes feel free and uninterrupted when wiggled in the shoe. Observing from above, your foot should not bulge through the upper material and should remain within the borders of the shoe’s sole. A good indication of whether the shoes width and length is adequate is using the sockliner. The sockliner is the soft removable insert found in almost all running shoes. Take the liner out of the shoe and place it on the ground. With the heel aligned with the back edge, stand with the foot directly over the liner. If you notice your feet spilling over the side or front of the shoe, it is likely too small.
Athletic footwear is designed with specific uses in mind. Running shoes are specifically designed to support the feet in motion aligned with running i.e. front to back. Cross training shoes however are better equipped to support the feet in side-to-side motion. Ideally you would purchase a running shoe for running and a cross training shoe for court sports and aerobics classes. If it’s not financially an option for you to purchase a pair for each of your activities, go for one that correlates with the majority of your physical activity (e.g. if you run everyday but also join a friend for a pump class once a week go with a pair of running specific shoes).
If most of your running occurs off road, you may want to consider a trail shoe. The modern trail shoe is comparable in weight and appearance to standard running shoes with the addition of durable, water resistant upper materials such as Gortex. The outer sole of trail shoes is also likely to be deeper and configured in a way that provides optimal grip.
An athletic shoe can claim to offer the most advanced technology in material and “motion guidance” on the planet, but if it is uncomfortable for you to wear it is irrelevant. Always try the shoe in the manner in which it is to be used prior to purchase. Most footwear retailers will allow you to take the shoes for a run, which I suggest you to do. If you are aware of any areas of noted pressure, friction, slipping or general discomfort then it’s unlikely the shoe is right for you. Generally one’s perceived comfort level will refer back to the fit.
While on the “feel” component, I would also suggest you try at least one pair of “neutral” shoes. A shoe in this category will generally exclude a dual density midsole. The dual density midsole is simply a firmer piece of foam on the inside of the shoe’s sole which aims to stabilise the foot as it rolls in.
Use the history of your past running shoes as a guide when making your new purchase. Have a think about what you liked, didn’t like, how they made you feel, and whether you have a fave model or specific style you’ve preferred in the past. Ask the store assistant to trial the latest version and then compare other brands.
Lastly, while it’s important to look good, aesthetics are not the be all and end all. I understand that when investing in a pair of shoes you want them to look good, however I encourage you to put FIT, FUNCTION and FEEL before anything else.
Christian McErvale holds an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science along with a Masters in Podiatric Practice. With extensive experience in strength & conditioning, along with training in remedial & sports massage therapy, he brings a unique approach to injury management of the lower limb. Christian is a strong believer in educating & empowering people to manage & prevent their own ailments. When not helping people to move and feel better, Christian can be found surfing somewhere on Sydney’s Northern Beaches or at the gym practicing what he preaches. If you’ve got a question for him please leave a comment & we will pass it on.