Choosing the right pair of running shoes is essential, but with hundreds of different options, it’s hard to know which pair is right for you. Should you pick barefoot running shoes or a motion control pair? Do you need gel inserts, air pockets and all-terrain treads? And what about pronation?
We asked Ty Whitten, general manager of Super Jock and Jill near Green Lake in Seattle to help break down the process.
Super Jock and Jill’s mission is to find the right shoe for each individual’s specific need. Here are some tips and tricks to find the right pair for you.
PHOTOS: Expert advice on how to pick the right running shoes
Running Shoes 101
All running shoes not created equal. They are designed with different levels of cushion, structure and arch support to account for various footfalls, gaits and running styles. Each person’s shoes should fit their specific needs, so having a professional at a running store analyze your gait will ensure the right fit.
Since everyone’s foot is different, Whitten believes “every shoe is right for someone.” The following are a few examples that represent the range of available running shoes. Each model features both men and women’s versions; as you move down the list, the cushion, structure and arch support in each type of shoe increases.
• Minimal Shoes
Minimal shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers (the ones with the individual toes) and the Nike Frees feature the least amount of structure and arch support.
• Neutral Shoes
Neutral shoes like the Asics Cumulus feature a little more structure and arch support than the minimal shoes.
• Moderate Shoes
Moderate support shoes like the Saucony Grid feature medium levels of structure and arch support, with more support than the minimal and neutral shoes.
• Stability Shoes
Stability shoes like the Brooks Beast for men and Brooks Ariel for women feature the highest level of structure and arch support. When looking at the shoe, you can even see generous support built into the arch area.
How to Pick the Right Shoe
Now that you know the range of running shoes, how do you pick the right one? Whitten walked us through Super Jock and Jill’s shoe fitting process, which can act as a guideline for anyone buying running shoes. The bottom line: try on many different pairs until you find the right fit for you.
Picking shoes starts with a dialog. Super Jock and Jill wants to know how well your current shoes are working for you, if you have any injuries and your training goals.
Based on this discussion, pick a pair of shoes, and then take a quick jog while someone from the store analyzes your gait and footfall. Work back and forth with different shoes of varying levels of cushion and support until you find the pair that feels the best.
According to Whitten, you know you have the right pair when there is a smooth transition from heel to toe without any pain points.
Whitten also advises running in your shoes for a while so you know you’ve made the right choice. Super Jack and Jill’s allows customers to do a short jog around the block before they buy. Whitten recommends buying your shoes from a store with a similar policy.
What about pronating?
Pronating comes up frequently in the running community, and how much you pronate can determine the amount of structure and support you need in a running shoe.
Whitten explained that, in fact, we all pronate. As we walk or run, the outside of the heel strikes the ground first, then the foot rotates inward towards the arch. When the foot rotates too far inward, over-pronation occurs. This can be problematic since over-pronation can add undue stress to the hips and knees.
According to Whitten, correcting pronation is done on a case-by-case basis. If it is determined that extra arch support is needed to counteract excessive inward rotation, Whitten recommends finding a shoe with more structure, support and cushion in the arch area. The Brooks Beast and Brooks Ariel are good examples of shoes that could work for pronators, since the Beast and Ariel have ample cushion and support through the arch.
Insoles are another way to add support to your running shoes, especially if you pronate. Cushioned inserts, like the popular SuperFeet, slip inside your shoe to stabilize your foot, improve shock absorption and increase the comfort of many running shoes.
The Rundown on 'Barefoot' Running Shoes
Mimicking barefoot running, in shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers, has become popular in the past few years. The theory is that running as close to barefoot as possible strengthens the muscles our feet, thus reducing our dependence on highly supportive shoes. Barefoot running can also potentially improve our balance, and reduce injuries like calf pulls because the calf muscles are allowed to stretch more.
However, Whitten recommends proceeding with caution when it comes to barefoot running. If you would like to try a trend like Vibram FiveFingers, it’s important to gradually incorporate them into your training and Whitten suggests adding this type of shoe as a compliment to your regular running shoes.
Only use them for about 10 percent of your total training, and increase their usage by only 10 percent each week. So if you run 15 miles per week, use the FiveFingers for one and half miles of your training for the first week, then about one and three quarter miles of your training the next week.
• Running shoes can be very expensive, and Whitten doesn’t see the need to spend $160 on a pair. Instead, he recommends finding shoes in the $90-$120 range.
• Replace your running shoes every 400-500 miles.
• Try on many different pairs of shoes until you find one that feels right.
Whitten’s main message is that with hundred of different shoes available, there is something for everyone. It’s not about the coolest trends - finding the right running shoes is about the pair that works best for you.