The perpetual question asked by my runners is “what is the best running shoe?” The short answer is that there is no one shoe that is perfect for everyone’s foot structure. What I generally end up doing is describing what a given runner should look for in an athletic shoe based on his or her foot structure. The construction of today’s athletic shoe has become a real science and once again keeping with my theme throughout this website, you cannot make blanket statements because everyone’s foot structure is different and therefore have different requirements in what they should be looking for in a running shoe.
Believe it or not, the first thing I look at is not the patient’s foot, but rather the patient. A 250 pound runner will place more demand on a running shoe than will a 150 pound runner because of the extra shock absorption needed by the shoe for that extra 100 pounds of weight. This is an issue that has nothing to do with the runner’s actual foot type.
Additionally, the runner’s training regimen plays a role in the type of shoe he or she should be wearing. Does the runner run primarily on a cinder track, runs long distance or short distance, runs on grass or asphalt; all of these aspects influence what type of shoe a runner should be wearing.
Lastly, the runner’s age and overall fitness plays a role as the shoe requirements for an older individual who runs 3-10 miles per week at a slow clip will certainly differ from the young runner who is doing 40-50 miles per week.
The runner’s previous injury history will also play a role in determining the type of shoe to purchase. There are two broad categories of injuries related to foot function. One is overuse injuries due to hypermobility of the foot, while the second is impact injuries due to lack of mobility in the foot. Runner’s knee would be an example of an overuse injury while a stress fracture of the foot or leg would be an example of lack of mobility and poor shock absorption.
Contrary to common belief the human being is not symmetrical in design meaning one foot is usually always longer than the other in just about everybody so your running shoe should always be fitted to the larger foot. I generally also recommend that people buy their shoes in the afternoon when their feet have had a chance to swell a bit.
If you have inherent foot deformities like a bunion or hammertoe you need to make sure your athletic shoe (or any shoe for that matter) accommodates the deformity so there is not too much pressure on the foot while running. For years New Balance was the only running shoe that came in widths, but today more and more manufacturers are starting to make shoes with varying widths and just as important are allowing for space in the forefoot from top to bottom.
Possibly the best thing a runner can do for himself is to buy shoes from a reputable store where the sales people are properly trained in measuring a foot and have had some education in the requirements needed in certain foot types to specific running shoes. While on the surface it does not seem to be a difficult thing to do, there is a proper way to measure a foot. Most times when we are measured for shoes the foot is measured from the heel to the end of the toe. However, it is also important to measure the foot from the heel to the ball of the foot. Why? Because we have to take into account the length of the toes. Some people have long toes relative to the size of their foot while others have relatively short toes. The importance in all this has to do with where the ball of the foot bends relative to the bend in the shoe.
For example, if you have two runners who both measure a size ten from heel to toe, but one has excessively long toes, while the other has “normal” length toes. The one with the long toes will tend to have his forefoot bend behind the bend in the shoe while the other with the “normal” toes will have his forefoot bend directly with the bend in the shoe. So, even though in this case both runners are a size ten, one particular shoe may be fine for one runner, but a poor choice for the other runner.
Another problem that will occur with the excessively long toe runner is that the widest part of his foot will probably not correspond to the widest part of the shoe, thus creating side to side pressure on the foot. Keep in mind that most running shoes are not sold in true American sizes; they are usually sold by European size. Ever wonder why you seem to be a size in ten in every shoe you buy but when it comes to purchasing running shoes you always seem to be a size 10 ½ or 11?
So….. what is the best running shoe for you? First you need to know what type of foot structure you have and how it reacts while running as opposed to walking. In an ideal world an evaluation by a podiatrist of your foot structure and observation on a treadmill would be the best way to determine what kind of shoes is best for you, but this is not a practical solution for most of you reading this article.
For you to self diagnose your foot type read my section on foot types. Basically there are two types, a pronated foot which exhibits excessive motion and is prone to overuse injuries, compared to a supinated foot which happens to be a high arched foot and is prone to impact injuries due to it poor shock absorbing capability.
Although this is not entirely scientific, next, think back to the types of injuries you have sustained over the years and try and see if you can classify them as overuse or impact related. In general pronated feet with a history of overuse injuries will require a running shoe that controls the function of the foot. This will generally require a stiff counter (back of shoe) to hold the heel vertical. It will also require some sort of arch support (in the cases of severe deformity, an orthotic will be necessary. The outersole of the shoe may also have a medial flare in the heel area as a means to reduce pronation. The sole of the shoe should be on the firm side with a little less bend at the level of the forefoot.
A supinated foot on the other hand will require extra cushioning to help absorb shock. An orthotic may also be necessary to more evenly distribute body weight along the bottom of the entire foot and to force the heel area into a slight varus (bent inward) in an effort to create some pronation. The forefoot of the shoe should have slightly more bend to allow better propulsion. Lastly, because a supinated foot generally tends to be a high arched foot, the contour of the running shoe chosen should be able to accommodate the size of the foot from top to bottom.
So how do you know which brand to buy? If you have been to a running shoe store lately you can get dizzy looking at the sheer selection of shoes. One option as stated earlier in this article is to use a specialty running shoe store where the sales people are trained in understanding foot structure and function and have a good knowledge of the features of each shoe in the store.
If that type of store is not available to you, then your next best option would be to visit Runners World or Running Times. Each year these magazine prepare a “recommended running shoe list”. This list mentions the major shoes on the market and describes the properties of each individual model. So if you have a good idea of your foot type, you should be able to match it with a particular shoe.
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