As a follow on from last week’s article on How To Eat Your Way To A Better Run, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about one of the most important choices runners have to make. Which shoes they should buy! Running shoes play a major role in determining how well training sessions go, how likely you are to get injured (9/10 runners get injured each year) and they can even change your running style!
It’s the way our ancestors moved around and it is arguably the way we are designed to move. The structure of the foot is designed to bear the weight of the entire body during walking, running and various other activities. Running in bare feet encourages increased plantar pressure and strengthens muscles in your lower extremities. Running barefoot causes a fore-foot strike in most cases, which encourages pronation of the foot (a mild, shock absorbing twist which allows the foot arch to compress). This places pressure through the arch which is designed to bear weight.
However until very recently, most running shoes were designed with an abundance of heel cushioning which encouraged a heel-strike running style...
The Advancement Of Running Shoes
A fair amount of running shoes available are highly cushioned shoes which encourage us to lead with our heels when running (75% of runner’s heel strike). When you lead with your heel, the force exerted on your lower limbs is ~300% of your body weight. This can cause ankle, knee and lower limb injuries. When you think about it, it is almost inevitable that you will get injured at some point when you repeatedly put that much strain on your lower limbs.
As evidence mounted against shoes that make you adopt an ‘unnatural’ running style, a shift in the industry occurred. Bulky, padded shoes have been replaced by thinner, more flexible models which are designed to simulate barefoot running. Shoes with thinner insoles help provide sensory feedback which is necessary for accurate foot positioning. However, be wary if you have been running in highly cushioned shoes for a long time. Switching to barefoot style running can lead to tendonitis as it requires greater strength than running in thick shoes.
Regardless of your stance on the running shoe debate, the most important thing is that you choose a shoe which is right for you!
Choosing The Best Shoe For You
In order to ensure you get the most suitable running shoe, you need to take into account the following:
Flat – If you do not have a defined arch in your foot or you have no arch at all then you are classed as having flat feet. If you are unsure check your footprints. If you leave prints with consistent width or little variation down the length of your foot, then this is definitely you. You should choose shoes with mid-foot support to help with shock absorption.
High Arch – You have an extremely defined arch in your foot (much like that of a prima ballerina). If you flex your foot there is still an established upward curve between the heel and forefoot. It is recommended that you choose cushioned but flexible shoes to support your high arch while allowing natural movement in your feet.
Neutral – If your feet fall under neither of the aforementioned categories it is likely that you have normal feet. This is the best foot type to have as you are less prone to injury and have a wider selection of shoes that you can choose from.
Overpronation – If you have flat feet, it is likely that you overpronate as you run. However, there are runners with high arches who find they overpronate too! Overpronation means that your feet roll inwards when in contact with the ground. At the end of the gait cycle, the front of the foot pushes off the ground using mainly the big toe and second toe, which then must do all the work. You should choose running shoes which offer stability and motion control. If you wish to try a more flexible shoe and adopt a barefoot running style, proceed with caution. The change from stable shoes to flexible shoes must be gradual or risk of injury increases drastically.
Supination/ Underpronation – Usually associated with those who have high arches, it means that your feet roll outwards as you run. Consequently, forces of impact are concentrated on a smaller area of the foot and are not distributed as efficiently. In the push-off phase, most of the work is done by the smaller toes on the outside of the foot. It is recommended that you choose flexible but cushioned shoes. These will help support impact pressures while allowing you to adopt a more natural running style. This helps to reduce injury because it encourages you to adapt the movement of your feet to reduce the discomfort that you feel from supination.
Pronation - The outside part of the heel makes initial contact with the ground. The foot rolls inward by ~15% and comes into complete contact with the ground. This is the ideal running style to support body weight with minimal injury risk. At the end of the gait cycle, you push off evenly from the front of the foot. Again you have more option on the style of running shoe you can choose. Lucky you!
Running Surface & Training Demands
It is a good idea to take into account your running course and the duration, regularity and intensity of your workouts. It is likely that you will need to invest more money in high quality shoes if you want them to be durable enough to withstand daily long distance training sessions. Pay close attention to the soles of the shoes and choose those which are most appropriate to your usual running environment. The needs will be different for those who run on sand/ grass/ concrete etc.
If you have narrow feet it can be difficult finding running shoes which are comfortable. Insoles can help create a more comfortable space to slip your foot into, reducing friction between your foot and the material of your running shoes and cushioning your landing.
Insoles are also great for additional impact support if you are already suffering from mild lower leg injuries which cause you pain during training. Sorbothane Cush N Step insoles are ideal for mild impact running or those who have narrow feet to reduce the space inside the shoe. If you have a demanding training regime and require additional support, double strike insoles are a great choice for you.
What To Avoid
While it is important to have amazing looking shoes (particularly if they are expensive), try not to focus on the colour, style, brand and celebrity endorsement of shoes too much. The most important thing is that you find a shoe which suits your foot type and running style and will give you the best chance of avoiding injury! It is no good having shoes which are beautiful but hurt your feet, cause biomechanical imbalances and wear out two weeks after you bought them. Do your research and make the most of your training.
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Waddington G, Adams R, Football Boot Insoles and Sensitivity to Extent of Ankle Inversion Movement, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2003, 37(2): 170-5.