Finding a good pair of running shoes can make or break your exercise experience. Especially if you’re just getting into running, finding a good pair of shoes that suits your needs can be easier said than done.
A bad pair of shoes won’t provide proper support and may leave you susceptible to injuries. This can lead to chronic pain and possibly you giving up running before you’ve really begun, which would be a shame due to the numerous benefits that running provides.
A good shoe, on the other hand, is both comfortable and suited to your personal aesthetic preferences. It will be designed solely for running, and will help support your training goals in every way possible. By the end of this guide, you should be able to choose the right pair of running shoes for you, with total confidence.
Shoe Anatomy 101 – Running Shoes
It’s a lot easier to know how to choose a pair of appropriate running shoes if you’ve done the research to learn about shoe construction. By knowing the nitty gritty of your potential shoes interior and exterior, you can make an educated purchase.
Follow along and learn the basics with us. Though this is a broad overview, it will give you enough knowledge to feel confident in the athletics department of your local shoe store.
This is literally the upper part of the shoe, or everything housed above the sole. Modern day uppers are usually made from knit or special fabric that stretches and supports, allowing the upper to be composed of a single piece of fabric.
Keep an eye out for an upper that is smooth in texture all over and shaped like your foot. Make sure there’s nowhere that chafes or otherwise shows signs of poor quality.
This is the wrapped portion of the shoe, supporting the ankle. Some are heavily padded, some are more loose, making proper form and fit essential. Look for something that’s comfortable for your ankle bones and won’t leave your heel slipping this way and that.
If it rubs, chafes, or is tender in any way, it’s not a good fit.
Not all shoes have this. If the design is minimalist, it may have nixed the heel counter in order to allow for full freedom and flexibility of motion for your ankle.
If you want something a bit more rigid and supportive though, a heel counter is a semi-rigid cup in the rear of the shoe that provides ankle stability and support. Look for a shoe that makes you feel comfortable and supported, whether you agree with older style designs or prefer the minimalist feel of current day.
The saddle is the area around the inset of your foot. It holds the laces in place and does a lot to support the proper range of motion for your feet. You want this to fit snugly, but not so tight that movement is restricted. Look for something that makes you feel secure and doesn’t allow your foot to slip around a ton.
The toebox comprises a good portion of your shoe’s upper. This is all the upper part of the shoe, from the eyelet to the tips of the toes. Usually this is capped off with a bumper for your toes, keeping you safe from stubbing your toe on every little thing.
You want a toebox that isn’t restrictive. you want your foot to be able to move the way nature intended it.
This is the bottom part of your shoe, literally the part that hits the road. This is often constructed of rubberized materials to provide good traction.
Look for something with good traction, especially if you’re going to be running on gravel or in slippery conditions. However, try not to sacrifice lightweight comfort for traction: find something that does both well.
Flex Grooves and Toe Spring – Running Shoes
Flex grooves lie beneath the ball of your foot in order to help the shoe bend in a way similar to that of a human foot. Toe spring is when the top of a shoe is curved upwards, which is another way to mimic the human foot’s natural shape.
Look for what feels right for you. Different manufacturers do these features in different ways, in slightly different locations. Find something that feels fantastic on your foot.
The midsole is the foam layer between the upper and the sole. This is designed to give you support while running and acts as a shock absorber for your joints when you go on runs.
Look for something that provides a decent amount of support, without being too heavy or bulky. You want the firmness to be somewhere in the middle of soft and firm: medium is the Goldilocks’ zone you’re looking for, and is common in popular brands, like Nike running shoes.
Heel Cushioning – Running Shoes
This is a part of the midsole cushioning. Sometimes, special extra padding is added at the heel for minimization of shock. Some shoes also have a rounded edge on the heel, to help give a smoother feel while running.
Research shows that extra padding can actually cause problems, so look for something that feels comfortable but doesn’t go overboard. Test a few shoes out, making sure that the heel can roll properly and the fit feels comfortable.
Also part of the midsole, the forefoot cushioning helps your body with support during loading and push-off. Some big muscles are used here, and support can really be helpful. Along with support, the cushioning here also provides protection for your feet.
Look for a good mix between proper, firm support and a platform that allows you to have a firm base to kick-off from. Think something comforting but very stable. The best walking shoes have similar forefoot cushioning to that of running shoes, so maybe take a look in that section of the store as well.
The heel-toe drop is the height difference between the ball of your foot and the heel. Experts can’t quite seem to agree on what the right ratio is, though different heights can alter your stride, either preventing, or, potentially causing, injuries.
If your shoe doesn’t provide proper support throughout your stride, it’s time to choose something else. Something that supports your foot and feels proper through the entire range of motion is what you’re aiming for: think high quality Nike running shoes.
Stabilizing Features – Running Shoes
For most runners, a simple running shoe without special stability features is all that’s needed. However, a few people want or enjoy extra stabilizing features. These features, like wide shoe geometry and extra foam, help keep your ankle from rolling or your foot from turning inward while running.
If you need something extra, look for these special features. Make sure to read reviews first to get the best walking shoes or running shoes for you.
This is the removable pad that rests inside your shoe. Many are padded with foam or gel for comfort, though softer isn’t always a better option and it doesn’t always mean more support.
Whatever shoe you choose, make sure to test it in action before making a final decision. Sometimes a shoe might feel comfortable when slipped on, but be utterly lacking or downright painful when actually in use.
Avoiding Common Shoe-Buying Mistakes – Running Shoes
Even people who’ve been purchasing the best running shoes for themselves for years make some common, but easily addressable mistakes. Armed with your newfound knowledge, you can be one of the impressive few who truly know what they’re looking for.
Mistake #1: Choosing looks over functionality. It can be tempting to buy the shoe that is most visually appealing to you, even if the fit isn’t quite right. Instead, resist the siren song of the coolest new look and choose something for functionality.
Mistake #2: Always paying full price. When you’re about to make your purchase, be sure to ask about any deals that the store is offering. Sometimes you can become part of a runners club and reap a pretty decent discount. Over time this can add up to a significant chunk of change saved.
Mistake #3: Going too small. Women in particular fall prey to this problem, often being self-conscious when it comes to their shoe size. To avoid blisters and pain, make sure your shoes have about a half inch of space at the toe.
Mistake #4: Not buying in the evening. Feet swell throughout the day, so if you buy in the morning a too-small pair of shoes might seem to fit.
Mistake #5: Assuming your size is the same across the board. A size 8 isn’t the same in every brand, or even every set of shoes. Always get your feet measured before buying, and try on the pair you want before making a final purchase to get the best running shoes possible.