Struggling to find the right running shoes? Read this
When it comes to running or walking, there are so many footwear options it feels impossible to know exactly what to look for. All these fancy words, colors, models, and designs can be super overwhelming for a new or even a recreational runner/ walker.
Listen, shoes are not going to alter the fact that you are sending a force up to 3x your body weight through your body with each step. However, shoes CAN affect the way forces are being dispersed through the body.
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to address the shoes in terms of running because it is a higher impact activity. The factors that affect running impact will also affect walking to a lesser degree. So…which runner are you?
If you are adding in more miles or changing your regimen:
Key word: midsole thickness/ cushioning
Midsole thickness has been shown to affect the amount of muscle activity needed to run, less muscle activity is needed to run further distances. Picking a shoe with some padding (not excessive) will allow you to add more running in without creating injuries such as muscle strains or ligament sprains.
That being said, once you have transitioned to longer distances or even introduced running recreationally you should really try to train yourself to mix in a type of minimalist shoe. Consistently running in a shoe with greater midsole thickness (ahem Hokas) can put you at risk for ankle sprains and tendonitis due the reliance of the shoe to run rather than your own muscular strength and stability. Think bouncing off the shoe rather than propelling forward with your own force.
If you are coming back from injury:
Key word: orthotics and extra support (*initially)
Orthotics are a great mediator for injury because they allow you perform activity while avoiding an injury site. An orthotic is the best tool to help disperse the forces caused by impact because they are molded to your foot specifically. However, if you don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for a custom sole, these shoes can help do the trick too.
- Types of foot: flat feet (decreased arch)
- Type of injury: metatarsal fracture, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, patellar tendinitis
- Examples of shoes: Brooks Adrenaline, Saucony Omni, Asics Gel-Kayano
- Type of foot: high arch and/or non-recreational runner
- Type of injury: lower leg fractures, ankle sprains, sesamoiditis, plantar fasciitis
- Examples of shoes: On Cloudstratus, Asics GEL-NIMBUS, Hoka Clifton
- Type of foot: a normal arch but slight excessive overpronation when in motion
- Type of injury: metatarsal fracture, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, patellar tendinitis, shin splints, bunions, achilles tendonitis
- Examples of shoes: Asics GT-2000, Brooks Ghost, Saucony VIZIPRO
- Type of foot: normal with proper foot pronation
- Type of injury: varies- could be anything
- Type of shoe: Brooks Launch, On Cloudswift, Nike Pegasus
Increased heel to toe drop- someone struggling with achilles tendinopathy
- Type of foot: any
- Type of injury: achilles tendinopathy (tendinitis, tear, etc)
- Type of shoe: Nike Air Zoom Odyssey, Saucony Cohesion, Hoka Bondi
These are not a permanent solution, but it will get you back to being able to run or walk while avoiding extra pressure where it hurts.
If your response is “Oh but I have high arches, flat feet, my feet cave in causing knee pain, or I naturally over-pronate,” not only do studies show that heavily cushioned shows don’t reduce the magnitude of ground reaction force, they actually don’t reduce the rate of injuries either! Research shows arch strength, not arch shape, is responsible for injury. Strengthen those feet!
If you are a recreational runner who just wants to run without change:
Key word: the shoes you already have
If you’ve been running for 10 years in the same shoes and have not had any glaring issues, keep it up! Your body is accustomed to the shoe you’re running in and research shows that recreational runners know how to self-select their shoes for optimal comfort.
That being said, there could be other injuries that are likely directly related to your lack of foot strength like low back pain, knee pain, hip pain, and even incontinence! It may be beneficial to mix in a few different kinds of shoes when running during the week and add in a barefoot shoes for activities to address foot weakness.
In the long run, having stronger feet and better biomechanics overall will lower your chances of getting an injury in the future.
If you want to PR:
Key word: A lighter shoe with a carbon fiber plate
Lighter sneakers are effective in decreasing oxygen consumption by up to 4%. This is the only factor in a shoe that can affect speed and running demand. It is suggested that a shoe with a carbon plate (ex: nike vaporfly) may also allow for improved speed when running due to the ability of the shoe to recoil. Evidence for this is weak but present.
Training to really PR in a race will involve changing things up to allow your feet to be strong and steady to propel you forward. This means training with heavier shoes to improve oxygen demand, barefoot shoes to allow for muscle strength and endurance, and the lighter racing shoe to allow for adaptation to the forces generated on the body that mimic the race. Once the race comes along, your body will have more strength and resilience for faster pace with a lighter shoe to help you shave time off your race goal.
The key to running/walking optimization for everyone (yes, you too!) :
Key word: Cycling in a barefoot running shoe
There is extensive research on barefoot shoes compared to traditional shoes due to the big push for a minimalist shoe that occurred a few years ago. It is true that barefoot shoes can put you at greater risk for injury (especially in the foot and ankle). This is because people tend to go from 0 to 100 when it comes to trying new things.
A barefoot shoe should be cycled in. Research shows increased demand in the ankle rather than the knee to adapt to the forces. Injury occurs when the tendons, ligaments, bones, etc cannot keep up with excessive demand. The barefoot shoe can be phased in to build up the strength and avoid an injury, no supplemental exercises needed when done right! Having strong feet will also work up the chain to allow for strong knees, hips, and low back and allow you to run faster as well as prevent injury.
The bottom line:
Optimizing your foot strength by wearing a barefoot shoe will provide long term longevity and injury prevention when it comes to walking and running. Other shoes can be used as tools when coming back from an injury, adding running/ walking into your routine, or trying to PR in a race.
If you still have no idea where to start when it comes to what shoe to pick, feel free to give us a call. We’re happy to set up a personal gait analysis and figure out exactly what shoe works best for you to do the things you love.
Agresta, C., Giacomazzi, C., Harrast, M., & Zendler, J. (2022). Running Injury Paradigms and Their Influence on Footwear Design Features and Runner Assessment Methods: A Focused Review to Advance Evidence-Based Practice for Running Medicine Clinicians. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2022.815675
Malisoux, L., & Theisen, D. (2020). Can the “appropriate” footwear prevent injury in leisure-time running? Evidence versus Beliefs. Journal of Athletic Training, 55(12). https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-523-19
Sun, X., Lam, W.-K., Zhang, X., Wang, J., & Fu, W. (2020). Systematic Review of the Role of Footwear Constructions in Running Biomechanics: Implications for Running-Related Injury and Performance. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 19(1), 20–37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7039038/
Umar, H., Idrees, W., Umar, W., Khalil, A., & Rizvi, Z. (2022). Impact of routine footwear on foot health: A study on plantar fasciitis. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 11(7), 3851. https://doi.org/10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_637_21
Willems, T. M., De Ridder, R., & Roosen, P. (2019). Is consumer behaviour towards footwear predisposing for lower extremity injuries in runners and walkers? A prospective study. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13047-019-0354-x
Zhao, X., Gu, Y., Yu, J., Ma, Y., & Zhou, Z. (2020). The Influence of Gender, Age, and Body Mass Index on Arch Height and Arch Stiffness. The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery, 59(2), 298–302. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.jfas.2019.08.022