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How to Choose Running Shoes: If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Wear It

Posted Nov 07 2011 7:24am

by Jason on November 7, 2011

How the hell do you choose the right pair of running shoes?

How to Choose Running Shoes

Beginner runners usually have no idea so they head to the specialty running store to get an “expert” evaluation. The specialist will look at the new runner’s arches and how they walk (rarely will they have them run down the sidewalk and watch) and make a recommendation based on three types of shoes: neutral, stability, and motion control.

That’s hardly the best way to choose running shoes among all the options. In fact, the wrong pair of shoes can often wreak havoc on runners and cause new aches and pains to pop up in otherwise healthy runners. Not cool.

I called on Ruggero Loda from Running Shoes Guru to write a bit more on this topic. There’s a simple way to choose shoes for the huge amount of individual variability in feet and running form. Read on to learn what it is…

Running injuries can be devastating and demoralizing to both experienced and beginning runners. When an injury occurs, you risk losing all of the progress you’ve made and can find yourself out of shape when you finally get healthy. That’s why it’s so important to take every precaution possible to prevent injury and stay healthy while you run.

In the running community, there’s a temptation to blame our shoes for all sorts of ailments, from foot pain to shin splints and even knee injuries. Truthfully, your shoes are rarely the cause of running-related injuries. More often, running-related injuries are a result of improper training or poor form.

For most runners, especially beginning runners, milestones and progress are keys to remaining motivated during a training cycle. Because of this, all too often they will push too hard, running either too far, too fast or both.

It’s vital to listen to your body and not overextend your abilities. Every runner feels some aches and soreness, but there shouldn’t be pain, especially in your feet. Don’t give in to the temptation to run farther or faster than you’re ready to go. If you find that you’re running through pain, try slowing down or taking a rest day.

One of the biggest sources of running injuries comes from poor running mechanics. The fact is, form matters. In order to reduce the risk of getting hurt, focus on your running form.

How your foot strikes the ground, how much you over-stride, and your stride cadence can all play a huge role in your overall running health. Here are a few quick tips (that don’t involve your shoes!):

  • Don’t lean too far forward or backward. Maintain a neutral posture with a slight forward lean.
  • You can avoid higher impact forces on your muscles by running on softer surfaces, like dirt trails.
  • Land with your foot underneath your center of mass, not far out in front of you.
  • Don’t crash down hard on your heels.
  • When in doubt, run slower or take a recovery day.

Too many people go to specialty running stores and purchase the most expensive pair of shoes, only to find later that the shoe doesn’t alleviate their running injuries. The latest technology and “guidance line vertical flex grooves” won’t necessarily help you.

To make matters worse, because of the significant investment some runners make in trying to ensure that they have the proper shoes, they become determined to stick with their shoes despite the pain. If you’re still feeling pain, then you’re not wearing the right shoe.

What matters more than the characteristics of the shoe itself is how it feels on your foot. As the saying goes, “if the shoe fits, wear it.” In contrast (and perhaps more importantly), if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. 

An ill-fitting shoe can cause pain and injury because it’s just not right for the way your foot is shaped. A shoe that’s too tight will prevent your foot from expanding as it strikes the ground. This causes your foot to swell and leads to more pain and injury.

A shoe that’s too big will cause twisting, slipping, and blisters. Shoes that are too wide or too narrow keep your foot from striking the ground naturally and can ultimately cause even more problems.

When shopping for running shoes, don’t underestimate the importance of the fit of the shoe. Pay attention to the length, width and arch height. Most importantly, focus on how the shoes feel when you try them on. If they’re too tight or too loose, don’t buy them. They should be snug, but comfortable.

Making sure that your shoes fit properly is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to prevent injury, short of changing your mechanics and making sensible training increases. Spending $150 on the right shoe won’t do you any good if it doesn’t fit properly. Whether you’re a beginning runner or a seasoned pro, don’t take chances with your feet. Evaluate your stride and your gait and make adjustments to your mechanics as needed, and when it’s time to buy shoes, make sure you buy shoes that feel good.

Ruggero Loda is a triathlete and writes at Running Shoes Guru. He previously worked for some of the largest sports companies and knows a lot about running shoes. Ruggero and his team of runners spend most of their time reviewing the latest running shoes.

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Thanks Ruggero! This is a good reminder to every runner: the most important aspect of your new pair of shoes is that they FEEL GOOD when you try them on. If they don’t fit right, you need a new pair.

Most runners I know buy shoes online so it’s tough to see how a new pair of shoes feels before you commit to them. I go through Road Runner Sports because they have a “90 Day Wear ‘Em and Love ‘Em” guarantee – which means you can wear your shoes for a few runs and then send them back for a full refund, no questions asked. Plus you get 10% off everything and free shipping. Win! Check ‘em out here.

Reminder: I’m giving away a month of 1-on-1, personal coaching to one lucky reader. If you want to work closely with me to help you be a better runner, enter the giveaway here: Free Coaching for a Month. The deadline to enter is Monday, 11/7 at 11:59pm Eastern.

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