How to Pick the Perfect Running Shoes
Updated: Jan 29, 2019
Running shoes aren’t one size fits all. While size is an obvious differentiator, many other factors will contribute to finding your perfect fit. From your stride to arches, gait and activity levels, there are many considerations that go into selecting your running shoes. Here’s how to find a shoe that fits your specific running needs in five easy steps.
#1: Understanding pronation
The way your foot falls from heel to toe is called “pronation.” Runners with neutral pronation will evenly strike their feet from the outside of their heel up to the ball of their foot.
If you roll too much towards the inside of your foot (typically caused by low arches and flat feet), you will overpronate. The opposite -- or underpronation -- takes place when your foot rolls too much towards towards its outside edges. This is often caused by high arches.
#2: Determining your arches
A simple test can determine the arch level in your feet. The next time you get out of the shower, step onto a towel or piece of paper. Then, step away and look at your footprint. Your arches are normal if you see a distinctive curve along the inside of your foot, with a band that’s less that half of your foot connecting the heel and toe. A low arch is characterized by a minimal curve along the inside of your footprint. The opposite is true for high arches: you’ll see a noticeable curve along the inside of your footprint, with a thin band from heel to toe.
Here’s a handy graphic to help you compare your wet footprint to its arch type.
#3: Evaluating your gait
With your arch height in mind, you can determine how your feet behave when you run (this is your gait). Choosing shoes that accommodate your gait type is integral to preventing injuries.
Severe overpronation takes place when the heel of your foot strikes the ground first and then rolls inward. Typically, these runners have flat feet or very low arches, and can benefit from a motion controlled shoe.
Milder overpronation happens when the outside heel hits first, followed by your foot rolling inward. This means you usually have lower or medium arches, and should shop for a stability shoe.
Neutral runners strike with the middle of their heel and then roll slightly inward. They often have a medium arch and will run best with a cushioned shoe.
Lastly, underpronation takes place when a runner hits the outside of their heel first and remains on the outer edge of their foot the whole time. Typically, these runners have high arches and also require cushioning shoes.
#4: Choosing your shoe type
In the previous step, we outlined the three categories of running shoes: Motion control, stability and cushioning. While many specialty running stores will label their inventory within these parameters, it’s still best to be able to identify them on your own.
Motion control shoes are characterized by a wide, straight shape that can be identified from its undersole. Stability shoes will have a moderate curve to them. And lastly, neutral shoes will have the most curve of the three.
#5: Planning for a seamless shopping experience
While the above evaluations can technically be done on your own, it’s best to seek the advice of a running professional in-store to determine your best fit. Not only will they conduct a more thorough analysis for you before you shop, they can help to explain the mechanics behind each shoe’s construction to ensure you’re selecting the best fit.
Wear your normal running gear: To conduct a gait analysis, a sales person will ask you to jog on a treadmill or run around the store for a few minutes. You’ll probably feel more comfortable doing so in your running gear versus work or party attire.
Bring your existing shoes: If this isn’t your first purchase, bring along your current pair of running shoes. The salesperson will want to take a look at their wear to further determine your best fit.
Wear your running socks: This goes hand-in-hand with your attire. If you show up wearing sandals and bare feet or thick socks and winter boots, you won’t be able to achieve the same fit that you will when running.
Give yourself extra time: This won’t be a speedy sale. You’ll want to budget time for the salesperson to ask about your running habits, evaluate your stride, to try on several pairs of shoes and try them out with a jog in-store.
Visit the store late in the day: As you go about your daily routine, your feet will have a tendency to swell. This means your feet are at their leanest when you first rise. You may find shoes bought in the morning will fit more snugly later in the day. Instead, shop in the evenings when your feet are at their largest to get a fit that will suit you all day long.
Don’t reorder your existing shoe on repeat: Many runners find a shoe they love and re-order it every time they’re due for an upgrade. But companies adapt and evolve their fits with every release. From a narrower (or wider) toe box to changing grip patterns, your once-favourite fit might not feel the same year over year. Try before you buy.
Shelve your expectations: If you go into your shopping experience wanting to buy the shoes your friends swear by, set those ideas aside. Everyone has a different stride and foot mechanics. What works for your running buddies won’t necessarily work for you.
Most importantly, before you hit the ground running with new shoes, try them out indoors. Whether you run around inside your house, on a treadmill or a running track, be sure you get in a quick jog in your new gear before you head outdoors. The majority of running stores will still accept a return or exchange on ill-fitting footwear that you tried out indoors because, ultimately, they want you to find your perfect fit, too.