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How to Choose Running Shoes – A beginner’s Guide

How to choose your next pair of running shoes is a question that plays on the mind of many runners and gym goers. It’s a question that gets asked frequently to Podiatrists in the clinic. No wonder why as there is a lot of information on footwear out there, and it’s hard to know what to believe.

You may have heard these comments before:

  • “You have flat feet”
  • “Your arch rolls inward”
  • “You need a neutral shoe with lots of cushioning”

What does this all mean? Let’s dig deeper into some sound advice so that you have confidence in getting the right running shoes for your gait type and fitness demands.

Running shoe types

When it comes to selecting the right running shoe there are many different types. Quite simply though, there are three main running shoe categories. These are neutral shoes, stability shoes and motion-controlled shoes.

Neutral Running Shoes

A neutral shoe means that the entire outsole is made of one density or thickness of material. This type of running shoe ensures an equal amount of cushioning around the entire base of the shoe. They can also be called cushioned shoes for this reason. The shoe is not tipping the foot and ankle in any one direction as such. Neutral shoes hold the vast majority of market share when it comes to running shoes.
These shoes are suitable for a normal foot arch as well as feet that have high supination (feet and ankles rolling out / high arch feet)

Neutral shoes are a great option for those wearing foot orthotics

Stability Running Shoes

A stability shoe on the other hand has a reinforced midsole with a firmer density of thickness underneath the arch and rearfoot areas. Based on an individual’s type, they may require more midfoot support through stability shoes.They are great for shock absorption and slowing foot pronation. It is important to look at foot type and posture to see if this is the right running shoe choice.

These types of shoes are best suited to feet that undergo overpronation (feet and ankles rolling in/ flat feet).

Motion Control Shoes

The final type of running shoes is motion control shoes. These shoes seem to be losing popularity over time. They are either for those heavy on their feet and need more durability from a shoe, or are suitable for a foot type that extremely rolls in. From a podiatrists perspective this type of running shoe is not required for a moderate over pronator. They really only suit a small percentage of people requiring such advanced support.

These types of shoes are maximum support running shoes best suited to those heavy on their feet, or are extreme overpronators through the midfoot or rearfoot.

Apart from neutral and stability running shoes, other running shoe types include:

  • Short and long distance runners (road shoe types)
  • Minimalist shoe
  • Trail running shoe

Flat Feet – What Does It Mean?

The Podiatrist view: “Flat feet” and feet “rolling in” are terms that are used very loosely. Pronated feet or pronation is a medical term used to describe this observed “rolling in” motion. Running gait observations can lead to the suggestion of what shoe type is the right shoe choice for your feet. Generally speaking, a stability shoe may be advised for the foot types which ‘roll in’ although many are happy and comfortable runners in neutral running shoes too. It depends on the factors of running style, wear pattern, current injury, injury history, and shoe comfort.

Why Do We Get Pain? Is It The Shoes?

When it comes to foot, ankle and leg pain there can be many factors at play. A podiatrist can provide a lot of insight as to what factors are driving your pain. They will assess your walking and running gait through a gait analysis, which will look closer at foot strike, movement patterns, and habits with running.

A large portion of foot pain is due to loading issues and not purely from footwear. Think of this as if you’re going from the couch to 5km overnight because it’s January 1st and you’ve decided you need to work off the holiday eating! Your body is simply not ready for the jump. Most of the time it’s getting the training right and getting the muscles and joints ready to cope with the demands of the activity. Podiatrists can also provide insight into this more for you. 

When foot pain does come from footwear it can be due to the issues of wearing an uncomfortable shoe, an old shoe, or a shoe not suitable for your foot type. For example, this occurs if a person with a high arch foot is wearing a motion control shoe that is built for those with low arches. The shoe will exaggerate the high arch, and will position them into an extreme range (where injury can occur). It is best to have a podiatrist assess yoru feet and be involved in the process of your next running shoe choice, along with a trusted footwear retailer. 

Do You Need Runners With Support?

A recent study looked into this in-depth. 81 female participants training for a marathon were randomly given one of three types of shoes to wear: motion control, stability or neutral shoes. What were the results?
More than 50% of the women with motion control shoes reported injuries, with every single one of those women having highly pronated (also called rolling in feet).
The researchers found that the approach of prescribing runners with medial (inside of foot) support on the basis of foot type was overly simplistic and potentially dangerous.(1)

Another study of 900 runners also found that running in neutral shoes had no effect on injury risk for pronated runners (feet that roll in). They closely observed heel strike and foot postures in this study. This would lead us to believe that the biggest predictor of injury is uncomfortable shoes then, rather than the observation of how the foot and ankle move during running (2).

What is important to note is that there are many, many studies with often conflicting advice. Have an awareness of the basic principles when it comes to running shoes, and combine the information with what your podiatrist and retailer recommend. Try on a few different brands and styles rather than the first one or your favourite colour shoe, to get the right new running shoe!

Running Shoe Fit

The best advice we can give when it comes to running shoes is to have your feet properly assessed by a podiatrist, and then to have the shoes properly fitted in store.

A store shoe fit assessment should include:

  • Measuring your foot width and length
  • Comparing both feet
  • Fitting for the larger foot and the longest toe (usually either 1st or 2nd toes)
  • Trialling more than one pair of shoes
  • Practicing your chosen activity in the shoes
  • Assessing that the heel counter and lacing are the right fit for you
  • Choosing the right running shoe upper for the activity

Running Shoes For Aussies

Running shoes are a huge market globally, with an impressive amount sold across Australian retailers. On average, it is said that each year there is a 7% increase in the amount of running shoes sold in Australia. On average it is also said that the Australian consumer will annually spend around $270 on running shoes (3).

Over time there have been market shifts noted in Australian running shoe choices. A change has been the move from motion control and stability shoes, to instead a wider market of neutral shoes being sold and purchased. Another change seen is the offering of the same base model and name of shoe, but with either a neutral or stability shoe option. This makes it a lot simpler for consumers – one shoe model, two options of support.

Australian consumers should be made aware of the general distance recommendations when it comes to needing to upgrade their current pair. On average, most runners will last 400-600km. For those who are lighter on their feet they may get 700-800km of wear, and for those who are heavier on their feet it could be around the 300km distance.

Take Home Points

Arch Supports
  1. You don’t need to wear running shoes with in-built support. You should focus on what feels comfortable
  2. Don’t worry about trying to find the ‘perfect’ shoe. Simply choose the right shoe for you and your chosen activity. 
  3.  Be prepared to invest into a proper pair of running shoes. Have an assessment and fitting for your next runners.

If you are experiencing pain, injury or just concerned about your overall technique a gait analysis
from a qualified health professional would be beneficial

bjsm.bmj.com. 2019. The effect of three different levels of footwear stability on pain outcomes in women runners: a randomised control trial. [ONLINE] Available at: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/45/9/715.short. [Accessed 31 January 2019].

bjsm.bmj.com. 2019. Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe: a 1-year prospective cohort study. [ONLINE] Available at: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/48/6/440.short. [Accessed 31 January 2019].

https://www.statista.com/outlook/250/107/footwear/australia [Accessed 21 October 2020]

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