Selecting a Running Shoe


Selecting the right running shoe can be a confusing venture. This guide will help you navigate the shoe market and prepare you for a great running experience. Specialty running stores are the best place to make your initial purchase. They will have knowledgeable staff that can help you find the perfect shoe. Chain stores usually do not have staff trained to offer you the best advice. However, with the use of this guide and some patience to try on a number of shoes you can find a great match.


Foot Type

There are three basic foot types and running shoes come in slightly different shapes to match these foot types. This chart demonstrates the relationship of foot type, alignment and running shoe shape as well as a general list of brands that match the foot type. An easy way to assess your foot type is to look at the impression you leave when your foot is wet. We used to recommend cushion type shoes for runners with high arched feet, neutral shoes for normal arched feet and motion control shoes for runners with flat feet. However, recent research suggests that a neutral shoe works very well for most people. So, don’t start off by spending a lot of money on a specialty motion control shoe. Select a neutral shoe that fits you well.

Foot Types - Selecting a running shoe

A Perfect Fit

Now that you are aware of the different foot types you will need to try a variety of brands and styles to find the perfect fit. Each shoe model and make will have a slightly different shape (curved line in the table), contour, forefoot width and heel width. The following list will guide you to a perfect fit.

Shoe shapeShoe shapes - Selecting a running shoeFoot shape varies, some feet are relatively straight and others have a bit of a curve to them (see chart). When you go to the store take a look at all of the running shoes and look for the general shape that matches your foot type (higher arched feet are more curved and flatter feet are more straight). Another approach to ensure that you are getting a good match is to pull the insole out of the shoe you are trying on and stand on it to see if it matches the outline of your foot. Matching the shoe shape to your foot is perhaps the most important part of selecting the right running shoe for you. Be patient and try on several different shoes.

Forefoot width – Some people are more comfortable with a snug fit while others like a little room to wiggle the toes. This is a preference issue; research has shown that it does not effect the mechanics.

Length – When you are standing and laced up there should be a little finger’s width gap between the longest toe and the end of the shoe.

Heel cup – Heels vary in their width so you will need to try on different shoes to find the brand or model that cradles your heel snuggly.

Points to Consider

  • Selecting a shoe that matches your foot type and provides you with a perfect fit is more important than the technological features. Don’t be wooed by the latest feature.
  • A quality running shoe typically retails for at least $70. Beware of shoes that retail for less than this because they are often replicas or lower quality models.
  • Shoes require about 24 hours to recover following a run (yes, they recover faster in the fridge). Don’t wear your training shoes when you are not training. If you train twice per day you should have at least two pairs of training shoes.
  • Replace your shoes regularly. In a recent survey, runners training in a pair of shoes for more than four months were more likely to be injured. If you are beginning to feel more aches and pains the first thing you should consider is how much use your shoes have had. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict how much training a shoe will be able to sustain and still offer you the support and cushioning you need. Runners who train on trails and have great biomechanics may not need new shoes as frequently.   If you have to run on sidewalks or have a larger frame, you may want to consider replacing your shoes more frequently.

Minimalist Shoes and Barefoot Running

Minimalist shoe - Selecting a running shoe

Minimalist shoes are designed to feel like you are running barefoot but offer some protection. Running barefoot or in minimalist shoes can be truly exhilarating, however, there are a few issues you need to be aware of.

  • Minimalist shoes or barefoot running does not prevent or cure running injuries, or at least there has not been sufficient research published to make this claim. One study showed that runners who ran with more of a forefoot contact (which running barefoot or in minimalist shoes promotes)had fewer knee and hip injuries but they had more foot and ankle injuries. So, the overall injury rate was essentially the same just different locations.
  • Minimalist shoes or barefoot running does not improve running efficiency. The recent dissertation of Allison Gruber at the University of Massachesetts compared running efficiency of runners that landed on their forefoot to runners that initially contacted with their heel and found that the efficiency of both styles was essentially the same with the possibility of less energy needed for runners that initially heel contact.
  • I do feel that running in minimalist shoes or barefoot can be beneficial. To me the potential benefit of this type of running is that it strengthens the foot muscles and can help you sense how much impact you are causing when you land. If you land hard you can adjust your gait and run smoother or with less impact. I also recommend not running more than 5 percent of your total mileage in minimalist shoes or barefoot unless you are quite experienced and gradually increase.


Bryan Whitesides MPT, OCS

Physical Therapist

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