How to Buy Running Shoes: Tips to Treat Your Feet Right

Experts offer 13 tips for finding the running shoes that are best for you.

From the WebMD Archives

Looking for the right running shoes?

These days, the search can be daunting. It used to be so simple. As kids, we had sneakers that we wore for everything from riding a bike to climbing a tree to playing baseball in the backyard.

Now there are shoes for every sport -- and countless varieties to choose from. Asics, Nike, Mizuno, New Balance, Saucony -- these are just a few of the companies that sell running shoes. It's hard to pronounce these brands, let alone remember them.

So how do you know which running shoes are right for you?

We asked some fitness experts -- all of them runners -- how to buy running shoes. Here is their advice:

Know Your Running Profile

The best first step in finding the right running shoes is knowing what you will be doing with them, says Bruce Wilk, physical therapist and owner of The Runner's High, a running specialty store in Miami. Are you a jogger or a runner? Do you run 15 miles a week or 25? Do you run on trails, asphalt, or a treadmill? Are you training for a race?

"A high school track runner is different than a middle-aged marathoner," says Wilk.

You also have to take into account your body type, he says.

"A big round person is different than a narrow skinny person," says Wilk, and there are running shoes out there for every body type.

Identify Your Running Style

Know how you run, says Wilk. It's important to determine where a person first comes in contact with the ground. Is it the outside of the heel? Is it at the inside of the forefoot?

"If the point of initial contact is mainly through the forefoot (as for many athletes and sprinters), then there's not a lot of shoe needed behind the forefoot," says Wilk. "Why would you want to have a lot of cushion in the heel when you're not going to spend any time there anyway?"

If you're a forefoot runner, you should be wearing a running shoe like the Nike Vomero, which has most of its cushion in front. If you run from heel to toe, the Asics Gel Kayano might be the right running shoe for you.

Be sure to identify any injuries you have developed from running, as well. Problems like shin splints, blisters, tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis often can be reversed with the proper fitting running shoes.

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Know Your Arch

The shape of your arch helps determine whether you pronate (roll to the inside of the foot), supinate (roll to the outside of the foot) or remain pretty neutral when you run.

Supinators (sometimes called underpronators) are rare, says Wilk. Many more people overpronate, which can lead to lots of overuse injuries.

Get to know your arch," says exercise physiologist Jesse Pittsley, PhD, director of exercise science at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. "If a person has really flat feet, they're going to need more of a stability shoe but with a higher arch, they'll need more of a curved shoe."

Many stores that sell running shoes will give you a "wet test," that is, they moisten the bottom of your foot and have you make an imprint on a sidewalk or dark piece of paper to determine the size of your arch.

Test 360 Degrees

When you are being fitted for running shoes, it's not only important that there is enough space in the toe box when you stand, your whole foot should fit on the platform of the shoe, Wilk says.

"I teach my staff to palpate 360 degrees around the foot to make sure that all the bones are sitting on the shoe platform," he says. "The shoe fitting is not just that the upper is wide and long enough." says Wilk.

The running shoe shouldn't squeeze the foot, and the entire width of the foot should be touching the base of the shoe.

Shop Late

Feet swell during the day, says Julie Isphording, a former Olympic runner and organizer of Cincinnati's historic Thanksgiving Day Race. They also swell during a run, so trying on running shoes when your feet are at their largest is going to give you the most comfortable fit.

Bring Your Old Shoes

When you are shopping for a new pair of running shoes, bring your old ones along, Isphording says. No, you don't get to have them resoled or trade them in, but you can help the salesperson determine what kind of running shoes you need by having him look at the pair you've been wearing. The salesperson will look at the way your old shoe is worn to confirm your running patterns.

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Get Measured

Feet actually change as we age, says Isphording. "As adults," she says, "we rarely have our foot measured because we just assume we know our size."

Determining your shoe size is essential for a comfortable fit. Keep in mind, too, that the size you wear in a Saucony shoe may not be the size you wear in an Adidas shoe.

Not only the size, but the shape of our feet change over time, she adds. If your foot flattens, for example, you may need to change the type of shoe you buy from one designed for stability to one with motion control.

Dress the Part

Don't go shopping for a new pair of running shoes wearing a suit, or flip-flops and no socks, says Isphording. "Wear what you would wear to run," she says, "especially wear the right sock. And if you have special shoe inserts or orthotics, bring those along, too."

Forget Fashion

Be careful about buying a shoe for looks, warns Wilk.

"The average time a consumer takes to pick out a pair of running shoes is about 10 to 15 seconds," says Wilk.

Knowing that, he says shoe manufacturers will use characteristics like looks, weight (lightness) and cushion to sell shoes because these are tactile factors that appeal to consumers.

"Fashion running sneakers," he says, "are hourglass-shaped because that shape makes the foot look smaller," Wilk explains. "No foot is hourglass-shaped. It's either C-shaped or straight.

"Cool-looking running shoes that work is really an oxymoron because a running shoe that works, at some point, looks like feet."

Don't Overdue It

Even if you find out you are a pronator with flat feet and weak ankles, you may not necessarily want to buy the stiffest, bulkiest -- what people in the industry call the "motion control" -- shoe, suggests Pittsley.

"The human body was made to move," he says. "If the shoe is too bulky, it almost causes the shoe to compensate for your weaknesses. A person should be able to control his own ankles and should be able to control the shock (the natural occurrence of the foot hitting the surface) a little," he says. "If you do it all with the shoe, it's like crutches to you."

In other words, he says, you may be doing yourself a disservice by getting an injury prevention running shoe before you actually need it: "Medium-weight trainers might satisfy many people."

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Try, Try, Try

Once a salesperson can narrow down the type of runner you are and the type of foot you have, he or she will likely have several options for you. Try them all, says Isphording. Don't rush. Take your time trying on and testing shoes.

"Plan on trying on about six pairs that will range in price from $70 to $100," she says. Don't buy for price. Buy the pair that feel the best, she says. "There are a lot of good shoes out there. You'll find a pair that works for you."

Test Drive

Most good specialty running stores will have a treadmill in the store where you can try out your shoes. If there's no treadmill, ask to run somewhere close by. Trying on a shoe is much different than running in it. After all, you don't just sit in a car and decide you want to buy it, you start the engine and take it around the block.

At Wilk's Miami store, he calls this stage of the shoe-shopping process "feel."

"We can do everything to try to fit you to the right shoe," he says, "but we can't feel it for you."

This is a key step in the process, he says. Wilk asks customers to run at pace and then asks these questions: How does the shoe feel on initial contact? How does it transition? Is there anything that's rubbing you wrong or hitting wrong on the shoe?

Shoe Odometer

"Always date your shoes when you buy them," says Isphording. Don't keep them longer than six months or 500 miles. "Even if they still look pretty, throw them away," she says. There is a high risk of injury when running with worn out shoes.

Published January 2007.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Norman M Heyman, MD on February 12, 2007

Sources

SOURCES: Bruce Wilk, physical therapist; owner, The Runner's High specialty store, Miami. Julie Isphording, producer and host, health and fitness radio talk show; organizer, Thanksgiving Day race, Cincinnati. Jesse Pittsley, PhD, exercise physiologist; director of exercise science, Winston-Salem State University; president, American Society of Exercise Physiologists.

© 2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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