Finding The Right Shoe For You

The average person will take 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day. Over a lifetime this stretches out to 185,000 kilometres (115,000 miles). This is enough steps to walk the circumference of the Earth four times over. Given the fact that the average person walks ill-equipped with the right footwear this can be a daunting statistic.

Your choice of running shoes can make the difference between having a good or bad experience, running in comfort or in pain, and, most importantly, staving off injury. Poorly-fitted running shoes not only affect your feet but the rest of your body too. A bad landing position can cause injuries up through your knee, to your hip and further on to the upper body.

Understanding Your Feet

Pronation

Knowing the basics of foot biomechanics and recognising your foot type helps you to identify the right shoes. A biomechanically efficient landing position starts on the back outside of the heel and rolls inward (pronation). This reduces the stress of impact. The foot then flattens as the motion moves forward, rolls through the ball of the foot and rotates outward (supination) to the push off. Over-pronation is the inward roll of the foot as you roll off the heel.

There are different ways to determine your level of pronation: One is to look at your old shoes. The wear patterns of your shoes often show how you run. Even better, take a pair of old running shoes to the shop and let the sales person help you find the best shoe for your running style. Another way to analyze your style is to ask someone to take a video of your feet as you run or walk to determine how you land, and how you pronate.

Therunningadvisor.com explains the different types of pronation below.

Strong Over-pronation:

The outside of the heel touches the ground first and the foot rolls inward excessively. As a result the foot and ankle cannot properly stabilize the body. The best running shoes for moderate to severe Overpronators are Stability shoes or Motion Control shoes depending on the level of over-pronation.

Mild Over-pronation:

The outside of the heel touches the ground first and the foot rolls inward slightly reducing the shock more effectively which allows the foot and ankle to properly support the body. This is the most common foot type. The best running shoes for Mild Overpronators are Stability shoes with straight last.

Neutral:

The middle to slightly outward part of the heel touches the ground first. The foot then rolls inward slightly, reducing the shock more effectively. This allows the foot and ankle to properly support the body. The best running shoes for Neutral runners are Neutral Cushioning shoes with semi-curved shape for feet that are more rigid.

Supination:
The outside of the heel touches the ground first but the foot does not roll inward during the gait cycle. Instead it stays on the outside which causes the impact to be concentrated on a narrow portion on the lateral side of the foot. The best running shoes for Supinators are more flexible Neutral Cushioning shoes with curved shape.

Foot Type -Three Arch Types

The key is to know your foot type. The simplest way to find out your foot (arch) type is to walk on the hard surface with wet, bare feet to see your imprint.

The Normal Foot:

This foot type lands on the outside of the heel and roll slightly inwards to reduce shock. People with medium arched feet are lucky. Their feet are biomechanically efficient - their arches are higher than those with flat feet, but not too high. Those with medium arched feet are less likely than others to have common foot problems such as metatarsalgia or heel spurs, but thousands with medium arches still suffer from foot pain.

Athletes with normal arched feet do not need a motion control shoe. They will find semi-curved last (shoe shape) most suitable and may benefit from a cushioned or stability shoe with moderate control features.

The Flat Foot:

This foot type has a low arch. It leaves a print which shows the whole sole of the foot. It usually indicates an overpronated foot – it lands on the outside of the heel first and rolls then inwards (pronates) excessively. This can cause many different types of overuse injuries.

Low arched or flat feet are very common and often require support and weight redistribution. These feet are often flexible and over-pronated where the arch begins to collapse upon weight bearing. This motion can cause stress or inflammation on the plantar fascia, and may lead to discomfort and other foot problems.

There are many causes of flat feet. Obesity, genetics, pregnancy or repetitive pounding on hard surfaces can weaken the arch and cause over-pronation. When symptoms develop and become painful, walking can become awkward and add stress to the feet and calves.

Motion control shoes or high stability shoes with firm midsoles and control features that reduce the degree of pronation are recommended for people with flat feet. Avoid highly cushioned, highly curved shoes, which lack stability features.

High Arch Foot:

This foot type leaves a narrow imprint where the forefoot and heel are connected only by a curve at the arch. The elevated arch causes the heel and toes to turn slightly inward in a supinated position. High arched feet are usually rigid or semi-rigid. When walking or exercising, the heel and the ball of the foot disproportionately absorb shock. Poor shock absorption can lead to repetitive stress problems, including pain in the knees, hips and lower back.

Runners with high arches are typically under-pronators. They should avoid motion-control shoes and instead use cushioned neutral shoes with plenty of flexibility to encourage foot motion. Additionally to reduce pressure at the ball-of-the-foot, inner soles with metatarsal pads are often suggested for those with high arches.

Basic Categories of Shoe Construction

The following list is based on Fixing Your Feet, a book by John Vonhof.

Neutral: shoes are made for runners or walkers who have good biomechanics and would be categorized.
Flexibility: shoes are made for runners who are under-pronators, who have foot motion towards the outside and need a shoe that offers more shock-absorbing pronation than their bodies can deliver.
Stability: shoes offer high stability and cushioning. Midweight or normal-arched runners without motion problems who are looking for good cushioning typically use these shoes. These runners usually over-pronate slightly beyond neutral and need shoes with extra medial support. Most are built on a semi-curved last.
Motion Control: shoes provide the most control, rigidity and stability. Heavy runners, severe over-pronators, flat-footed runners and orthotic users often choose these shoes. They are typically quite durable shoes and often heavier. Most are built on straight last and offer the greatest level of medial support.
Cushioned: shoes are those with the best cushioning. These are typically used by those who do not need extra medial support and by high-arched runners. Most are built on curved or semi-curved last.
Light-Weight: shoes are typically made for fast training and racing. These come with varying degrees of stability and cushioning and can be worn by runners with few or no foot problems. Most are built on curved or semi-curved last.
Trail Running: shoes usually offer increased toe protection, outersole traction, stability and durability. Runners who run mainly on trails usually use these shoes. Trail running shoes come with varying degrees of stability and cushioning.

Buying footwear

Footwear terminology can be confusing. There are running shoes, walking shoes, trail shoes with different features and levels of support: Intelligent EVA, HAR, Impact Quetient Technology, Fusion Technology, all kinds of grids, HRC, CRC, Duo Max Medial Post, sounds all quite complicated. A good sales person can help to match the available technical features with your requirements. The main thing is to know what you want from the shoe. The below questions can help you:

  • How long have you been running / walking?
  • How much distance are you doing per week?
  • Where do you do most of your running?
  • On what kind of surface do you normally run?
  • Are you training for a particular event?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • Are you aware of any foot problems (i.e. flat feet, over- or under-pronation)?

Bear in mind that only you are able to feel if the shoe is uncomfortable. John Vonhof's Fixing Your Feet and therunningadvisor.com list some good tips to ensure a proper fit:

Fitting

  • Always try on both shoes fully laced. Walk and run around - jump up and down with them. It is better to feel the shoes in action.
  • Evening is the best time for shoe fitting, preferably after running and walking. Your feet become larger after sitting and walking around.
  • Check for adequate room at the toebox by pressing your thumb into the shoe just above your longest toe. Your thumb should fit between the end of your toe and the top of the shoe (at least 0.5 to 1 inches). Remember that your feet should have some room to breathe and swell. If you do long distance running, you need to allow more space for swelling.
  • The top of your feet should not be pinched when the shoe is properly laced. The shoe arch should be supported but not too high for your foot type. The shoe shape (last) should be comfortable and not overly curved or straight for your foot type. Make sure your heel stays snug in the heel counter and that there is very little up and down movement.
  • Check for adequate room at the widest part of your foot. The shoe shouldn't be tight, but your foot shouldn't slide around, either.
  • The heel of your foot should fit snugly against the back of the shoe without sliding up or down as you walk or run.
  • The upper (part of shoe that wraps around and over the top of the foot) should fit snugly and securely without irritating or pressing too tightly on any area of the foot.
  • The shoes should fit well with the same type of socks you will wear in your training or racing. Many runners find double socking a useful way to reduce friction and blistering.
  • Do not buy a pair of shoes assuming they will fit better later unless they are leather boots. In most cases, today’s shoes require no break-in period.

Sole

  • The shoes should flex well for the type of terrain you will be running on and at the right point of your foot.
  • Off Road Running: The outer soles should be sturdy enough for use: The shoe should protect your feet and reduce discomfort when stepping on rough-land, rocks, etc. They should also have adequate grip to prevent your feet from slipping.
  • If the insoles are flimsy in the shoes you are buying, replace them with ones that provide proper support. There are some moldable ones in the market which are recommended if your feet need extra support or if you prefer tailored support.

Material

  • Gore-Tex technology is great when you need to prevent your shoe from getting wet from the outside, but it also prevents your feet from breathing. Avoid use of Gore-Tex materials in hot or humid environments.

If you run or walk often it is good to invest in a few pairs of training shoes and rotate them. Remember to save the best (but not the brand new) pair for the race you are training for. Inspect your shoes regularly – there is no fixed rule but many suggest a maximum distance of 800-960 kilometres (500-600 miles) for a pair . You are likely to get used to shoes you wear as well as their faults. If your feet get tired and you feel that the shoe starts to lose its shape, it is time to change to a new pair.

References:

www.foot.com
John Vonhof: Fixing Your Feet, Wilderness Press, July 2006
www.runnersworld.co.uk
www.therunningadvisor.com