Guide to choosing running shoes and trainers
For any runner the most important part of their running kit is what they wear on their feet. Whether you call them running shoes, trainers, sneakers, runners, or anything else for that matter, they are what is protecting you from the hammering of your feet hitting the ground and are also responsible for dealing with all kinds of other twisting and shearing forces that are generated as you run.
Of course, no two people are the same. You may be looking to run for 10min on the treadmill, take on a 10K race at full blast or to churn out a long run across the fells. You may be large or small, male or female, slow or speedy. What you need are running shoes to suit YOU. Your trainers must be what YOU need for YOUR running.
We can help you work out what kind of shoes you need. Then you can look at our extensive listings to find out which running shoe is right for you.
But first of all finding the right pair of running shoes means knowing your own needs.
Whether you are road running, treadmill running or running anywhere else a key factor will be your own personal biomechanics.
When your foot hits the ground it is likely to be landing on the outside of the heel. Your foot then rolls inwards to be flat on the ground. This rolling motion, called 'pronation', absorbs shock and gives you balance as you run.
It is very common for a runner to have their foot roll too far as they run. This is called 'over-pronation'. To work out whether you over-pronate is quite straight forward and there is no need to worry if you find you are an 'over-pronator'. It is a very common trait and there are plenty of shoes designed to help manage your footstrike, keep you comfortable and help you avoid injury.
The old shoe test
Take a look at a pair of your old shoes to see what kind of shoes you need:
- Stand them on a level surface and look at them from behind the heel.
- If you over-pronate your shoes will show a slight inward lean. You need support shoes or motion control shoes if you feet roll too far. (Many people make the mistake of looking at wear on the outsole at the outside of the heel and thinking they don't over-pronate. This wear is caused on landing and does not relate to pronation)
- Under-pronation is when a runner's foot does not roll far enough. If you under-pronate your shoes will show a slight outwards lean. Choose a pair of cushioning shoes.
- Correct pronation means there won't be any lean. Your feet are said to be neutral. You should choose neutral shoes.
- A final thing to consider. If you have run in support shoes in the past, not had injury problems and your shoes show no signs of inwards lean it probably means you do need support shoes but the shoes have successfully prevented the over-pronation in the past.
The wet foot test
An alternative way of being guided as to what type of shoe you'll need is the wet foot test.
With damp feet leave a barefoot print on a tiled floor (don't use a soft floor or carpet).
If you have a 'flat foot' it shows you have a low arch. Your foot print will show almost the whole sole of your foot with the band between heel and forefoot virtually the full width of your foot. Low arches usually indicate your feet are prone to over-pronation.
If you have a 'regular' arch the band between heel and forefoot will be around half the width of your foot. There is less likely to be a problem with over-pronation.
If you have a high arch you will see only a narrow band, or even no band at all, between the forefoot and the heel on your wet foot print. This indicates a high likelihood of under-pronation. You too should choose a neutral shoe.
Runners also vary in where their feet hit the ground. Most people heel strike. This means their foot hits the ground heel first before they roll forwards and off their toes.
A forefoot striker lands on the forefoot, they may then rock back onto the heel before moving forwards off the forefoot.
A midfoot striker lands with their foot heel and forefoot landing together.
A forefoot striker will need more forefoot cushioning as the forefoot is taking the initial impact force as well as the forces generated by toe-off. You will also find that as you run faster you will run more and more on your forefoot with the heel having less contact with the ground.
The shoe categories
We can divide running shoes into the following categories:
Neutral - These trainers are for runners who are neutral or under-pronate. Some shoes in this category may also be suitable for mild over-pronators. Under-pronators should look for a flexible pair of well cushioned neutral shoes.
Support - These still have the same kind of cushioning technologies as neutral shoes but in addition to this they have features to give extra support and guidance to slow and reduce over-pronation.
Motion Control - People who over-pronate more severely and heavier runners who over-pronate can choose these shoes that provide extra support and guidance.
Trail - specifically designed for off road running.
Lightweights - for use in fast training or racing. Less protection than regular training shoes. These shoes are also either neutral or supportive.
Racers - Made for racing or very fast training (eg track work). These shoes are very light but offer limited protection. Some offer some support for over-pronators.
To find out all about the shoes in each of these categories see our guide to running shoes where we review the trainers to let you know what is suitable for which uses.
General advice for buying shoes
There are some steps that you can take when buying your running shoes from a shop that can make sure you buy a good pair that will suit your running:
- Leave a thumb's width at the end of the shoe rather than going for a really snug fit. This will allow for the swelling of your feet and movement within the shoe which takes place as you run. You will probably buy a bigger size for trainers than for your regular shoes
- Buy when the shop is quiet. Saturdays can be busy so it is harder to take your time trying on the shoes and deciding
- When you go to the shop take along your normal running or sports socks. Put them on to trying your trainers on so you get the right sense of feel and fit
- Buy shoes in the afternoon or evening. Your feet swell slightly through the day so this will help get the fit right
- If the shop you go to offers an assessment using a forceplate or treadmill this is a good ting. But check the qualifications of the person doing the assessment. The most vital part of the assessment is the skill of the person doing it and their reading of the results.