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How to Pick Running Shoes

Picking the perfect running shoes isn’t an exact science, but the right running shoes will significantly impact your comfort and performance when you run. Whether you’re training for a marathon or you run for fun, this article will help you decide how to find the best running shoes for you.

How should I pick my running shoes?

Close-up of neon green running shoes.

Ultimately, you’ll want to pick and choose whatever running shoes feel most comfortable for you. Although that’s an oversimplified answer, it’s the truth! There’s no perfect running shoe, but by considering the right factors when you buy, you can pick a pair of running shoes that most closely meets your needs and wants.

There are a myriad of different running shoe options, so picking the best running shoes can be overwhelming. Before we review the different factors you’ll need to consider, let’s look at the different types of running shoes available to you based on your feet and gait.

What are the different types of running shoes?

5 types of running shoes hanging up on the wall by the shoe laces.

There are a few types of running shoes for different types of gaits to consider when picking running shoes. To help you understand their significance, we’ll explain the three types of running gaits and how running shoes affect them. 

The three types of gaits in running shoes are neutral pronation, overpronation, or supination (underpronation). The term “pronation” refers to the natural movement of your foot when you walk or run.1

  • Neutral or normal pronation is when your foot rolls inward with each step you take. As you push off with each step, your big toe and second toe do most of the work, and your other toes stabilize your gait. As you step, your foot rolls outward and upward, your arch rises, and your body weight shifts to the outside of your foot and then back to your big toe as your step ends.2 
  • Overpronation means your foot and ankle roll too far inward with each step. It’s more common among people with flat feet, but other conditions like pregnancy and obesity can also cause people to develop overpronation. Eventually, overpronation can cause the arches of your feet to flatten more than they usually should, straining the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support them. As a result, you’re more likely to injure your feet or legs while running.3 
  • Supination or underpronation means your foot and ankle roll too far outward with each step. When this happens, the outer edge of your foot and smaller toes do the brunt of the work, putting more stress on them. Supination is most common in people with high, rigid arches that don’t flatten enough during each step.2 If you are a supinator, you may be more likely to develop ankle and other running injuries.4

Different types of running shoes are designed to address the specific needs of each running gait. They include stability running shoes, cushioning running shoes, and motion-control running shoes.

Selecting the correct type of running shoe for your gait will improve your overall running comfort and reduce pain and injuries.

  • If you’re a neutral pronator, a solid pair of stability running shoes will do just fine. They combine cushioning and support features for a well-balanced running shoe that helps keep you comfortable and pain-free.
  • If you’re an overpronator, stability running shoes or motion-control running shoes may help. Motion-control running shoes offer more support and are heavier and stiffer than most other athletic running shoes to help guide your foot into the proper pronation. If you have severe overpronation, you may need custom orthotics, which are prescribed by a podiatrist and are completely customized to meet the needs of your feet and gait pattern.
  • If you’re a supinator, flexible, well-cushioned running shoes are likely best for you. That way, they will provide a better range of motion and absorb the impact of each stride. 

How can I determine my gait pattern when picking a running shoe?

Woman walking with back foot running shoe showing bottom.

Not sure whether you’re a neutral pronator, overpronator, or supinator? No problem! There are several ways you can determine your gait pattern:

  • Get a foot analysis. Go to a specialty running shoe store and ask an athletic shoe expert for a foot analysis. They can use a foot pressure scan or watch you walk or run to determine your gait and help you choose appropriate footwear.
  • See a podiatrist. You may want to see a podiatrist if you have ongoing foot or ankle pain while running. They can diagnose the cause of the issue and help you determine your gait pattern to select more appropriate footwear that will reduce future problems.
  • Take a look at the wear pattern on your current running shoes. Look at your current running shoes. If you see more wear on the inner edge of the heel and forefoot, you’re likely an overpronator. If there is more wear on the outer edge, you’re a supinator.

What other factors should I consider when buying running shoes?

A group of runners with focus on feet, mid run.

Although running gait is one of the most important factors to consider when buying running shoes, you should also consider the following things.

Your running goals

The right running shoes are designed with your specific goals in mind. What we mean is, that if you are doing more long-distance running than sprinting, you might want heavier, more cushioned running shoes. But the same running shoes would slow you down if you intended to do primarily sprints. Before deciding on a pair of running shoes, ask yourself what you’ll use them for most often.

The overall shoe fit

Of course, you also want your running shoes to be as comfortable as possible! Your running shoes should stretch and support your foot in appropriate places without squeezing your foot, bunching up, or causing you to chafe. Your running shoes should also allow for comfortable ankle motion and fit on your foot to prevent any slippage while running. The front of the shoe should not squeeze your feet and toes. Instead, allow them to spread out naturally.

The running surface

Do you plan to run indoors on your treadmill with Vingo, outdoors on the road, along cross-country trails, or maybe a combination of all three? Depending on where you plan to run, you’ll need to choose running shoes that provide optimal support and comfort for that specific surface. For example, road shoes are designed to cushion your feet against hard surfaces like concrete. In contrast, trail shoes have the additional feature of grippy lugs on the outsole and protective elements for more technical terrain, like rocks and roots.

Cushioning and comfort

Running shoes use various cushioning materials to minimize the impact of each step as you run. Ideally, your running shoes should have a balance of cushion and comfort without being overly firm. The amount of cushioning you prefer depends on how you’d like it to feel while you’re running. Do you like a more plush, light feel underfoot? Or do you prefer a more solid, neutral amount of cushioning? You may need to try a few pairs to determine what you like best.

Support

As mentioned above, depending on your running gait type, you’ll want to ensure your running shoes provide adequate support. Refer to our shoe selection tips for each type of gait, and if you need additional help, head to your local running shoe specialty store for a personalized foot analysis.

Stylistic preferences

Of course, colors, designs, and overall appearance should also play a role in the running shoes you wear. If you plan to slip into your running shoes often, you should enjoy wearing them! And having good-looking shoes that match your personality and style will help.

Price

Although we wish it weren’t a huge factor, price is another important consideration with running shoes. Most of us don’t have an unlimited budget for shoes, so it’s necessary to find a pair within your desired price range. It helps to set a budget before you start shopping. That way, you can limit your selection to finding a pair of running shoes you like that won’t break the bank.

What common running shoe-buying mistakes should I avoid?

A male runner with back foot showing the running shoes bottom.

Whether you’ve been buying running shoes for decades or this is your first pair, try to avoid making these common shoe-buying mistakes.

  • Getting the wrong size. Different types of running shoes will fit differently. Always have your feet resized before assuming you know your shoe size. You might be surprised that a size 7 fits you in one brand, but an 8 is more comfortable in another.
  • Selecting a pair of shoes solely based on looks. It’s easy to fall into the trap of choosing a pair of running shoes primarily based on their looks. Although you should find a pair you think looks great, you also want to make sure they perform well. Unfortunately, even if a pair of running shoes look great on you, you might end up dealing with unnecessary pain and injuries if they don’t provide the proper support or cushioning for your feet.
  • Forgetting to ask about discounts. Many running shoe stores offer special deals, but you may not get them unless you ask. Always ask if the store is running any specials before you buy. You might end up saving a few dollars!
  • Not bringing your current gear with you. When you go shopping, bring your current running shoes, socks, and any inserts you prefer to use. That way, you can compare any new shoes you try on to your current running experience more accurately.

How do I know when it’s time for a new pair of running shoes?

Group of dirty running shoes up against the wall.

Generally, replacing your running shoes every 300 to 500 miles is best.5 At that point, the midsole cushioning won’t be doing its job as well as it should be. If you opt for more minimalist running shoes, they may only last about 300 miles, whereas more robust shoes with maximum cushioning will last closer to 500.

When you’re ready to replace them, we recommend going to a high-quality professional running shoe store, where a sales associate can accurately help you choose a great pair of shoes based on your running gait and other needs and preferences.

Key Takeaways:

When choosing running shoes, you should consider many factors, including your running gait, budget, and preferences for cushioning, support, and style (among other things). Although there’s no exact science to it, choosing the right pair of running shoes will significantly impact your overall comfort and performance when you hit the pavement, trail, or treadmill.

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Sources:

  1. Lippe-McGraw, J. (2019, March 8). The Beginner’s Guide to Pronation. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/beginners-guide-to-pronation#Different-types-of-pronation 
  2. Pronation and Overpronation for Walking and Running. (2022, July 29). Verywell Fit. https://www.verywellfit.com/pronation-definition-3436329 
  3. Disease/Condition: Overpronation: What It Is, Causes & Treatment. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22474-overpronation 
  4. Pérez-Morcillo, A., Gómez-Bernal, A., Gil-Guillen, V. F., Alfaro-Santafé, J., Alfaro-Santafé, J. V., Quesada, J. A., Lopez-Pineda, A., Orozco-Beltran, D., & Carratalá-Munuera, C. (2019). Association between the Foot Posture Index and running related injuries: A case-control study. Clinical Biomechanics, 61, 217–221. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2018.12.019 
  5. When to Replace Your Running Shoes. (n.d.). REI. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/replace-shoes.html 

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