Imagine this: you walk into the shoe store, thinking, “About time I replaced my running shoes, they’re getting worn out. This should be quick; I’ll just pick a pair and go.”
Except, it’s never really that simple. There’s shelf after shelf of running shoes before you, and so many varieties you didn’t even know existed. Motion control shoes? Thick soles? Thin soles? Extra arch support? Memory foam? Oh, but those pink shoes look adorable. Choosing the right running shoes is an ordeal in itself.
You might be able to get by if you just ask the salesperson for help, but here’s a podiatrist’s opinion on what shoes are right for you. After all, wearing the right running shoes for the occasion is just as important as wearing the right clothes.
There are four main categories of running shoes. Neutral cushioning shoes, motion control shoes, minimalist shoes, and maximalist shoes.
Neutral cushioning shoes are your standard-issue running shoes that generally work for all purposes from running to taking a stroll around the park. They provide the runner with ample cushioning all around to reduce impacts to the foot and the leg joints. They are called neutral because they don’t try to control any foot movement, but rather, they allow the foot to function in its own natural way within a cushioned environment.
People who have anatomically neutral feet – meaning, feet that do not pronate or supinate excessively – are suited to wearing these running shoes. However, this is hard to figure out on your own, and the only real way to find out is to have someone watch you walking or running from behind and observe your feet. Most self-help techniques lead to inaccurate conclusions, and you should ask trained sports supply store staff or a podiatrist to help you with this.
Motion control running shoes (also known as stability shoes) are made in such a way that they help to control the speed and magnitude of “incorrect” foot movements, like excessive pronation and supination. Most motion control running shoes focus on limiting excessive pronation.
While pronation is a normal part of walking as your body naturally distributes its weight from the outer side of the foot to its inner side, too much of it is usually an indicator of a structural problem with your feet. Excessive supination, which is the opposite of pronation, is less common.
This type of running shoes is the most incorrectly prescribed on the market. As soon as a runner walks into a shoe store complaining of foot or knee trouble, they will be recommended motion control running shoes, regardless of if they actually have issues with pronation or supination – and whether the shoes they are being recommended actually address the correct problem. This might be because motion control running shoes are also the most expensive kind of running shoe.
We highly recommend finding out more about your foot type before investing in motion control running shoes, as wearing the incorrect kind (for example, wearing running shoes to correct excessive pronation when you actually have excessive supination) may make your problem worse.
This can be done by consulting a podiatrist or asking trained store staff for assistance. Make sure that they can tell you about your specific foot type and issues and are not just trying to sell you an expensive shoe! You can also get a better understanding of how motion control shoes work with our shoe dissection video here.
These shoes have very little or almost no cushioning under the foot. All brands have a range of minimalist running shoes to choose from, mostly targeted at actively training runners. The idea is that with a minimalist running shoes, you can feel the ground better through the sole, and this makes your foot stronger and more resistant to injuries.
These shoes try to mimic the feel of barefoot running by providing as little cushioning as possible. They were conceptualized with the idea that maybe the traditional running shoe which has lots of cushioning may have been the cause of many running injuries, since they were less “stable” and were worse at literally keeping their feet on the ground, making runners less aware of their environment.
This isn’t necessarily true, though. Injuries are more often caused by incorrect shoe choices. Length, width, durability and the type of shoe all play a role in preventing injuries – not just the level of cushioning.
That said, minimalist running shoes are definitely the lightest of all, which makes them popular among runners who focus on speed, or some sportsmen. We don’t recommend these running shoes for people who have irregular foot anatomy – for instance, if you have flat feet or a high arch. These shoes will be unable to provide you with the support needed for your feet and can cause joint issues over time.
Furthermore, as they are so thin, runners need to be disciplined about resting regularly to prevent overuse injuries, as well as adjusting their running form to reduce the stress applied to their feet. All of this has given minimalist shoes a reputation as the shoe of choice for more “serious” runners.
Maximalist shoes are a relatively new category of running shoes where the midsole is very much thicker than the average shoe. In contrast to the minimalist shoe, they provide a large amount of cushioning to the foot and are gaining popularity both for their looks and performance in providing a comfortable running experience. These make them well-liked by marathoners who need more cushioning and support over long periods of time running.
However, they also tend to be heavier because of this, and may not be a good choice for people who prefer lighter shoes. The thicker midsole may also lead to a higher risk of ankle injuries from falling or improper running form for someone new to using them.
Some studies have shown that wearing maximalist shoes may also lead to runners putting in excessive force into their steps while running as well, because the thick, high soles make them less aware of the ground. This can be problematic in the long run as excessive force puts strain on the muscles and joints. However, with time and as maximalist shoe designs improve, this problem could solve itself. Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you prefer maximalist shoes or neutral cushioning for your long runs!
All these different categories of shoes exist because of all the different foot types that exist. In fact, just these four categories don’t cover every kind of foot function, shape, and size. Therefore, many people need custom orthotics or insoles to better mold the shape of the shoes to their feet.
Custom orthotics are somewhat similar in concept to motion control shoes, except these lightweight insole-like devices are specifically molded to help with your specific foot issues. For instance, if one of your legs is shorter than the other, your orthotic needs to be of a specific height to compensate for it, and if one of your feet has a higher arch, it needs to be specially molded to compensate for the exact degree in which your foot is arched.
Many shops sell insoles which claim to address these problems, but as they are not specifically made for your unique foot issues, they will be ineffectual at best and worsen the situation at worst. Ready-made insoles should only be used for simple cushioning purposes, and even then, you need to make sure to choose the right insole to prevent injuries to your foot.
It will take time to find a running shoe that just fits, but when you do, stick to it, and make sure to change it regularly so that you don’t end up running with just rags on your feet. Most brands repeat their shoe models in different designs every season. For instance, the Terminator 1 could be released next season in a different color as the Terminator 2.
Always make sure to test out shoes and make sure they fit well before you commit to the purchase, too. Never sacrifice comfort or function for style, especially in sports! And if you have foot issues that need you to wear special running shoes, don’t hesitate to approach a podiatrist to understand your feet better.
Overall, running should be an enjoyable experience. It’s among one of the easiest (and cheapest) sports to get into since you just need running shoes to start with. Because they’re your best friend when running though, make sure to invest in good ones that will last you a long time