All About Running Shoes

Running is a cheap and easy exercise to undertake.  Although the actual running part isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, running is easy in the sense that you don’t need much equipment and you can run pretty much anywhere.  Running has a high calorie burn per hour and it gets your heart pumping.  

The major equipment you need for running is running shoes.  Many people may start their new running regimen in their old athletic shoes dug out from the back of the closet.  However, I caution you against this.  Running shoes are made specifically for running.  It will be better for you and your lower limbs if you run in purposefully built shoes.  

For the new runner, the choices and vocabulary surrounding running shoes can be a bit intimidating.  Here are the basics of running shoes.  

An overwhelming selection of shoes–Which shoe is best for you? / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Running Shoes Basics

Each brand (Nike, Adidas, Brooks, Under Armour, Saucony, etc) has about three main types of shoe: neutral, stability, and motion control, each with standard cushioning or high cushioning.  The type of shoe will promote a more neutral foot strike (more on that later), which hopefully will lead to more comfort and lower risk of injury.  

The majority of running shoes are for running on even surfaces like roads, or smooth trails.  Some brands also make “trail shoes” which are good if you plan on doing lots of trail running.  Trail shoes have firmer foam and sometimes have a rock plate under the forefoot which helps prevent bruising from landing on hard or pointed rocks and roots.  Trail shoes also have a tighter mesh on the top of the foot (called the upper) and aggressive, super grippy tread.  Hybrid shoes are about halfway in between trail shoes and regular road shoes.  Hybrid shoes will have the aggressive tread and tight mesh, but no rock plate under the forefoot.  

Foot strike is a term used to describe how your foot hits the ground.  Many people “pronate” or “overpronate” which is how shoe people describe runners that run on the insides of their feet.  People with flat feet typically are pronators.  The opposite of pronate and overpronate is “supinate” or “underpronate.”  Runners that underpronate run along the outsides of their feet.  Underpronaters typically have high arches.  An underpronator will wear a neutral shoe and an overpronator will need to look for a stability shoe.  Severe overpronators will need to look for motion control shoes.  Not sure how your feet strike?  Check the bottom of your old worn out shoes, or got to a running shoe store and have the salesperson watch you run.  

The best brand shoe for you is the shoe that fits the best–not the color of the shoe, the cool new cushioning technology of the shoe, and definitely not the brand of the shoe.  Your foot shape may fit better in a Nike than an Adidas shoe of the same type.  Some shoes have a wider toe box or a narrower heel.  I am a supinator with a forefoot strike, so Asics work the best for me as they have lots of cushioning, especially under the forefoot.  

Find the shoe that fits your foot the best. / Photo available via CC0.

Vocabulary

Minimalist footwear was recently popular perhaps due to the book “Born to Run,” which caused a small shake up of the running shoe industry by positing that humans were born to run barefoot, or close to it.  The theory behind minimalist footwear is that the more minimal the footwear, the more your foot, ankle, lower leg and core have to work to support and stabilize your body.  The minimalist footwear has less interference with your body’s natural mechanics.  However, if you are used to motion control shoes, switching to barefoot running is going to wreak havoc on your body.  Use caution if you want to switch to minimalist footwear.  Transitioning to a minimalist shoe can take 6 months to a year, so don’t rush into it.  It takes time to build up the necessary strength in the previously underutilized muscles.  That being said, the more efficient you are at running, the easier it is to convert to minimalist shoes and barefoot running.  

Heel drop has recently become colloquial vocabulary for the regular runner.  Heel drop describes the difference in height of the shoe where your heel rests versus height of the shoe where the ball of your foot rests, measured in millimeters.  With the recent fad in minimalist footwear, many manufacturers are pushing towards zero or even negative heel drop.  If you are used to a higher heel drop and suddenly switch to a significantly lower heel drop, you may notice new pains in your back, hips, knees and especially lower calf and Achilles tendon pain.  If you do feel pain after switching, reduce the amount of time and miles you are spending in the lower heel drop shoe.  The advantage of a lower heel drop would be a more natural stride and use of the full range of your Achilles tendon.  Alternatively, the advantage of having a higher heel drop (probably no more than 10-12 mm) is the shoe puts you on your toes which can help you to run faster.  

Heel drop is the measurement “H” in mm minus the measurement “T” in mm. Shoe manufacturers will commonly state the heel drop designed for their shoe, so you don’t have to measure it yourself. Asics stats this shoe has a 10 mm drop. / Image by Bodymybody.com

Hoka One One is a shoe brand that answered the minimalist footwear movement with maximalism–extra thick cushioning on the shoe while preserving a low heel drop.  When I first saw them, I laughed as it looked like my friend was running with some sort of bloated clown shoes.  She was using them to help heal her feet after a severe case of plantar fasciitis.  The extra cushioning, in theory, protects your body from the pounding so that you can run longer distances pain free.  However, the extra cushioning can also create what is called “foot blindness.”  Your feet become blind and can’t interpret the ground appropriately. This could potentially lead to an increased risk of injuries due to not feeling the pain that provides feedback and would otherwise correct an improper, harmful running technique.

Maximalism shoe leader, Hoka One One / Photo by Bodymybody.com

How to Take Off Your Shoes

Always untie your shoes when taking them off.  Otherwise the heel counter breaks down when you push against it repeatedly taking your shoes off with your other foot.  The heel counter is a hard cardboard-type material in the heel of your shoe.  In shoes, but especially in stability shoes, the heel counter is as important as the shoe sole.  The heel counter holds your shoe in place on your foot.  When the heel counter breaks, it reduces the effectiveness of the stability of your shoe and can cause blisters on your heels.  

The heel counter is the white semicircular line indicated by the red arrow. This is what you are damaging when you take your shoes off by stepping on the heels of your shoes. / Photo by Bodymybody.com

Tying Your Shoes

Did you know there are multiple ways to lace and tie your shoes?  Lacing your shoes in a variety of ways can help adjust the pressure of the laces on the top of your foot.  It can also take advantage of that wtf-am-i-supposed-to-do-with-this shoelace hole (aka the seventh hole) to help hold your shoe securely on your heel.  A study on shoe lacing showed that how you lace your shoes and how tightly you tie your shoes matters [1].  By utilizing the seventh hole, you can significantly reduce impact pressure and the amount of pronation.  Basically more lacing helps hold the shoe on your foot better and more comfortably in addition to leading to a more effective use of the running shoe features, which is postulated to reduce the amount and severity of running shoe injuries.  

The seventh hole. What are you supposed to do with it? / Image by Bodymybody.com

One of the ways to tie your shoe with the seventh holes is called a “heel lock.”  To make the heel lock, create a loop between the sixth and seventh hole.  Feed the end of the shoelace through the loop and then tighten it.  Tie your shoe as normal.

To use the seventh hole, create a loop and feed the end of the shoelace through. Tighten and tie your shoe like normal. / Image by Bodymybody.bom

Alternatively, a shoe lacing method called “Lydiard Lacing” has become quite popular among runners.  This way of lacing is supposed to hold the shoe securely on your foot, but relieve the pressure across the top of your foot that you might feel using the “regular” lacing.  I tried this lacing method on my left shoe during my run today and it was way more comfortable than my right shoe (I didn’t even realize my feet were uncomfortable, and I have had my shoes laced that way since middle school).  The Lydiard lacing initially felt loose, so I threw in the heel lock and went for my run.  I can confidently say that now all my shoes will be laced with Lydiard lacing and a heel lock.  It is crazy how that small change made the previous 15 years of running seem uncomfortable.

Lydiard lacing (with a heel lock!) / Photo by Bodymybody.com

My Conclusions

Running is a great endurance activity that you can do anywhere.  It really only requires a good pair of proper running shoes that fit your foot strike.  Proper running shoes for your foot strike will promote a more neutral foot strike and hopefully a more natural running form.  Understanding how to buy a good pair of running shoes, what you are buying, and how to use your new shoes will significantly help your running routine and minimize injury.  


References

[1] Hagen, M., and E. M. Hennig. “Effects of Different Shoe-lacing Patterns on the Biomechanics of Running Shoes.” Journal of Sports Sciences. 27.3 (2009): 267-75. PubMed. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 06 Jan. 2017.

 

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5 Comments

  1. This is a really great read. I’ve paid little attention to the importance of the way I run, and, typically, I assume that if something hurts after a run that it is just part of the advancement of my goals. I never thought there was a better way. I especially appreciate the section about the explanation of the seventh hole and the Lydiard Lacing.

    Being a Fedex driver, briskly walking is a normal pace, and the lacing adds much less pressure on the bridge and even the pinch on the ankle from how I used to lace my shoes. So, I am curious of my result after working the entire week. Even changing the lacing after one exercise has improved the over comfort, and that is only from one exercise. I look forward to the difference at the end of the week. Thanks for sharing. Great post.

  2. What a great article! These are the small things that matters and most people overlook it. The small details of choosing the right running shoes, how to use them properly and how to take good care of them is very important. Aside from that, it is important that you lace your running shoes properly because accidents might happen if you neglect that part. Keep sharing!

  3. This article has got some great guidance for choosing running shoes from the myriad available on the wall when you go to buy. The bit about lacing up did it for me……never even considered that the way i laced up could potentially cause injuries. Going to try lacing the lydiard way tonight….

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