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How to choose running shoes

With more choice than ever, how do we choose the right running shoe?

Running has seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years and we now have a greater choice than ever when it comes to running shoes: minimalist, maximalist, neutral, stability, motion control, cushioned….. the list goes on. Historically we have been told that there are 3 main foot types: Pronated (low arch), neutral (normal) and supinated (high arch). Runners have been advised to do the ‘wet foot print test’ (below) and pick the corresponding shoe to their foot type (motion control shoe for a pronated foot, neutral for a normal foot and cushion for high arch). Could it really be that simple? Well…… NO!

What the research shows us is that there is no association between static measurements (wet foot print test) and dynamic function (the way your foot works when running). Therefore we can conclude that foot shape is not predictive of dynamic function and that the ‘wet foot print test’ should be banished, never to be used again.

Categorising foot function into 3 groups is overly simplistic to say the least; we must approach this with a much more person specific way. Now let me be clear, I’m not saying that the shoes aren’t doing what they say they are doing but we just don’t have a really reliable method of matching a shoe to a particular foot type. So, until we have a better method to match shoes to foot types, COMFORT should be the overriding factor when choosing and buying a running shoe (and there is evidence to show that this will reduce frequency of injury).

So what are the factors that would influence how comfortable a shoe is? The first thing to consider may be the ‘drop’ or heel height differential of a shoe. This is defined as the height difference of the midsole material underneath the heel, and underneath the ball of the foot. Traditionally this ‘drop’ has been 10-12mm, whilst for minimalist footwear it is anywhere between 0-4mm. What the research tells us is that for some runners, a more minimalistic shoe will be beneficial, whilst for others; a more traditional shoe with a higher drop will be beneficial. There is not one rule for all; it is very much a case of horses for courses.

Another consideration is stack height. This is the height of the heel and forefoot in the shoe. In basic terms the higher the stack the more material under the foot and therefore cushioning the shoe will have. A good example of a shoe with a high stack is the Hoka range which seem to have a bit of a cult following, especially amongst the ultra runners. The more minimalist shoes tend to have a lower stack height as well as a lower drop. Again not one stack height will suit everyone; some may prefer a more cushioned shoe while others may prefer a lighter, less cushioned and more responsive shoe.

The width, and general fit, of a shoe is also extremely important. All shoes are manufactured around a last; some manufacturers use a wider last, some a narrower last. If you have a very wide foot, you certainly don’t want to be running in a shoe with a narrow toe box and vice versa.

So to summarize, despite what you have read or heard, there is not one shoe, or type of shoe, that will make you run faster, run better, run with a certain type of foot strike or reduce your chance of injury.  Shoe selection must be made, very much, on a person-to-person basis.

There is a degree of trial and error when choosing your running shoe but when you find a shoe that is right for you DON’T CHANGE- if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!! So find your self a reputable, independent running shop with knowledgeable staff and above all else find a shoe that is comfortable.