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Confused Over the Various Types of Running Shoes?

Posted Dec 02 2011 1:25pm
As a running coach who works with a great deal of new runners, I've discovered there are three camps when it comes to new runners and running shoes. Some newbies come to the sport with no clue they need a good quality running shoe. They show up in their 5-year-old knock-about-sneakers. Other new runners figure they need new shoes, so they buy what looks cool or what matches their outfit. And still others know a little about the different types of running shoes, but have no idea what they need and are overwhelmed by all the terms and lingo associated with running shoes.

Who'd a thunk that something that goes on your feet could be so technical and have become such a huge industry—about $4 billion a year in America. Buying new running shoes can be fun, exciting, frustrating, and expensive—especially for newcomers. Once you start looking for a pair, you quickly get bombarded with terms like, overpronator, supinator, motion-control, neutral, semi-curved last, curved last, midsole, yada, yada, yada. So how do you know which shoe is right for you?

To be competitive, shoe companies have added all sorts of bells and whistles to their running shoe lines. As a runner, especially a new runner, be careful not to let the cool features keep you from purchasing the shoe that best fits your foot type.

In order to do that, you need to know a little about your foot type. There's a really simple test you can do to determine this. All you need is a brown paper grocery bag, a cotton ball, and some cooking oil. Lay the bag flat on the floor. Using a cotton ball, spread a thin layer of cooking oil on the bottom of both feet (bare). Next, carefully step onto the bag to make a set of footprints.

Now examine your prints and compare them to the illustration.
  • Solid print—you're what is known as an overpronator.  This usually means you have a very low arch or "flat feet." When you run your foot tends to roll too far inward. Pronation in itself is not a problem, but runners with flat feet, tend to pronate too much and need a more rigid shoe that provides stability or good motion control.  
  • Slight curve—you're referred to as neutral. This means you have a regular arch and you're a normal pronator. You're the lucky runner in that you can run in most any type of running shoe. A bigger or heavier neutral runner may want a shoe with some stability, while a smaller/lighter runner may benefit from a neutral shoe with some cushion.
  • Large curve—you're an underpronator (or a supinator). Basically, underpronators have high arches. Underpronators can experience too much shock in the leg because the excessively high arch prevents normal shock absorption. A regular arch will collapse a little during the foot strike absorbing some of the shock. To help aid in the shock absorption, underpronators need a neutral shoe with extra cushion.
Another test you can do is to have a running buddy check your stance. Stand upright in bare feet. Be sure to stand in your usual standing posture. Don't try to correct anything. Have your buddy stand behind you and observe the position of your lower legs and ankles. If your ankles roll inward like the first picture, chances are you're an overpronator. If your stance is pretty straight with no inward or outward lean at the ankle, chances are you're neutral. And, if your ankles tend to roll outward like the third picture, chances are you're an underpronator.

Another thing to keep in mind is the height of the shoe's heel. A shoe with a bigger heel-to-toe drop tends to promote heel-striking which can lead to injury, if it's severe. Traditional running shoes on average have a 12-13mm drop from the heel to the toe. A shoe that has a heel-drop lower than that will help to promote more of a midfoot landing, helping you work more with the road as you run instead of against it.

Once you've determined your specific needs and you're ready to try on some shoes, be sure you do it in the afternoon, after you've been on your feet all day. You'd be surprised how much difference there is in your feet from the beginning of the day to the end. If you buy shoes in the morning you may be surprised that they feel too tight when you go for your afternoon run the next day. Also, make sure your shoes fit snugly in the heel and give you enough room in the toe box. Buying a shoe is often a lot of trial and error, but hopefully this information will help you find the shoe just right for you.

When should you replace your shoes? Rule of thumb is your shoes should be replaced about every 300-500 miles. This varies from runner to runner. A larger runner may breakdown his/her shoes more quickly and may need new shoes closer to the 300-mile mark while a lighter runner may make it closer to the 500-mile mark.

RunnerDude's Blog is really pleased to say that this post has been sponsored by Sears. Sears has asked RunnerDude's Blog to help spread the word about it's new initiative " Sears Fitness First " and the fact that you can find all the shoes you need to help get fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle right at Sears.  Runners, you'll find brands like New Balance, Reebok, Asics and more. In addition to offering a great array of running shoes to chose from, Sears has also produced a series of videos hosted by celebrity trainer Brett Hoebel. You may remember him as one of the celebrity trainers from last season's The Biggest Loser.

Also, be sure to check out the Sears Fitness First button/link in the top right-hand sidebar of the blog for a quick link to the Sears Fitness First website.

 Sears Sponsored Shoe Giveaway!Sears will be giving away a pair of running shoes for one lucky RunnerDude's Blog reader! All you have to do is check out the video below and watch as Brett Hoebel shares some of the different running shoe categories Sears has to offer. Then email  RunnerDude's Blog at by midnight (EST) on Friday, December 16th. Be sure to put "Sears Fitness First" in the subject line and your full name in the body of the email. (Limit one email entry per person.) The winner will be announced on the blog on Saturday, December 17th. If your email is drawn, you'll be able to select any one pair of the running shoes featured in the video below. How awesome is that! Don't delay! Enter today!

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