Running Shoes – How to select the right one?

Ever walked into a sports shoe shop and feel completely lost as to what shoe to buy? You are not alone. The range of running shoes available is so big that anyone can be forgiven for making a mistake in a purchase. Do I need motion control shoes, thick soles or thin soles, extra arch support, or do I just get the pink ones?  The list of questions goes on. Here is my best attempt at simplifying the selection process.

There are mainly four categories of running shoes. Neutral cushioning, motion control, minimalist and maximalist. Let’s start our conversation off describing minimalist shoes.

Minimalist Shoes

Shoes that have very little or almost no cushioning under the foot. All brands have made a minimalist range of shoes to choose from. The theory behind the shoe is that the foot is given a chance to feel the ground more and therefore strengthen the foot in an endeavor to avoid injuries. The shoe structure tries to mimic barefoot running by providing as little cushioning as possible. It arose from the idea that perhaps traditional running shoe designs with lots of cushioning were the cause of so many running injuries. The public has slowly learned that this is not necessarily true. In my experience, running shoes cause injuries when they are selected incorrectly. Length, width, last and category all play a role in preventing injuries not just the level of cushioning.

Neutral Cushioning

Neutral cushioning shoes provide the runner with ample cushioning from the surrounding surfaces to reduce impact on the foot and the rest of the leg joints. They are called neutral because they do not try to control any foot movement but rather allow the foot to function in its own natural way within a cushioned environment. People who have anatomically neutral feet fall into this category. Anatomically neutral meaning that they do not have feet that pronate excessively or supinate excessively. Unfortunately, the only real way to find this out is by getting someone to watch you walking or running from behind. Various self help techniques are available but often lead you done the wrong path and land up with incorrect decisions. Trained running shoe shop staff could help or a check up with your podiatrist may be worthwhile.

Motion Control Shoes

Motion control shoes (also known as stability shoes) attempt to control the speed and magnitude of ‘incorrect’ foot movements. One of the main movements that it tries to limit is excessive pronation. While pronation is deemed to be a normal movement, in which the foot transfers your body weight from the outer side to the inner side of the foot, too much of it, is deemed pathological. It is such a common incorrect foot movement that an entire shoe range has been made for it. Supination, the opposite of pronation, is less common so did not previously deserve the attention to have a range of shoes made for it. This type of shoe is the most commonly incorrectly ‘prescribed’ shoe on the market. As soon as a runner walks into a running shoe shop complaining that they have knee pain or foot trouble, this category will be brought out. Irrespective of your foot type, this will be recommended as the cure. Possibly because it is also the most expensive category.

Running shoes: Anti-pronation/stability shoe dissection

Running shoes: Motion Control/stability left shoe dissection – the grey material is harder and in the shape of a wedge


This video shows the various components making up a motion control shoe

Maximalist Shoes

Maximalist shoes are a relatively new category. The midsole is a whole lot thicker than the average shoe. As the name suggests, it provides a large amount of cushioning to the foot.

The different categories of shoes exist because of the different foot types that exist. There is such a large amount of variability in foot function, shape and size that the above four categories do not cover everyone. That is the reason why many require custom made orthotics to control foot pathologies better. Custom orthotics are lightweight devices that are placed inside the shoe to control or guide your foot out of movements that injure tissue leading to stress and pain. Ready made orthotics just like incorrectly selected running shoes are dangerous and can harm you. They are best left up to an experienced foot clinic, like the Family Podiatry Centre, to prescribe based on a thorough assessment of your walking, running and posture.

Once you find that right running shoe category that works for you and leaves you feeling good after a run – stick to it. Most brands repeat the models in different designs every season. Example, a neutral category shoe will have a name and may be accompanied by a number that indicates the season the shoe was released. Terminator 1 could be last year followed by Terminator 2 this year.

It is essentially the same category but in a different colour with new patterns. So if Terminator 1 served you well then change it after 800-1 000km and get the Terminator 2.

Overall running should be an enjoyable experience. It is a relatively simple and inexpensive sport since it does not require much sporting equipment. The only real equipment is the running shoe. So invest the time and money in it to avoid injuries.

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