Fit, Form and Injury: How to Choose the Perfect Pair of Running Shoes

Finding a pair of running shoes that fit—and that you love—can feel like you’re chasing a mirage. How do you choose among the hundreds of brands styles and features? Do you need Nike or Newton?

In search of an answer, many runners will go to a specialty running store and get a gait analysis and an “expert” running form evaluation. The runner will perform a wet-foot test. Based on arch height, they will receive a recommendation for a neutral, stability or motion-control shoe.

But is that the best way to choose among the ever-growing options of running shoes? Hardly. And the stakes are high: The wrong pair of shoes can lead to injury among otherwise healthy runners. Or you could just wind up hating your shoes, and who wants to run in shoes you hate?

Instead of relying on the wet-foot test or technology like “impact guidance systems,” there’s a far more effective way of choosing the right pair of shoes for trails, roads and even racing.

But first, you have to get your form right.

Form over Footwear

Shoes are important, but not as helpful as good running form. If you don’t have the basics of a neutral, relaxed stride, your particular type of running shoe won’t even matter.

So, how do you run properly? I like to simplify and give you only a few small changes to make in your form that will automatically take care of most bad habits. Stick to these basics:

  • Increase your cadence to 170-180 steps per minute. This will ensure you’re not over-striding and “reaching” out in front of your body.
  • Land with your foot underneath your body. Practice the cue to “put your foot down” underneath you. This helps prevent aggressive heel-striking that’s common in many runners.

These two simple changes to your running form will dramatically improve your efficiency and help you to run more relaxed. You’ll probably also experience fewer injuries with a more neutral stride!

The One-Question Test

Stop debating the minutiae of the shoe-buying process: gel vs. air, springs vs. lugs, or memory foam vs. biomorphic sock liner. There’s a better way—just ask yourself one question:

How does the shoe feel?

If a shoe fits well and feels good when you run, then you’ve found the right shoe! You can read a few shoe reviews to see how it performs, but you’ll never really know about a shoe unless you wear it.

Fit matters more than the shoe’s technology or its characteristics—one that’s too tight won’t allow your foot to expand, or a shoe that’s too big will cause slipping and uncomfortable blisters. The width of your shoe can also keep your foot from striking the ground the way it should.

Ill-fitting shoes—those that feel uncomfortable when you run in them—can also lead to injuries. Make sure you’re taking the right injury prevention steps in your training to stay healthy. Finding shoes that make your feet healthy is just part of the solution!

Many runners also are keen to try minimalist or “barefoot” running shoes. Relying less on technology—and more on your own body—is a great idea, but just remember that they put a lot more stress on your feet and lower legs. Before you make the full transition, gradually wear shoes that weigh slightly less than your last pair. In a few months, you’ll be wearing minimalist trainers!

When buying shoes online, be sure to choose a company that allows you to return running shoes even if you’ve worn them for a test run (like!). Ensuring a good fit is critical to staying healthy and reaching your big goals.

Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner and USATF-certified running coach at Strength Running. Get his latest coaching advice and free injury prevention course here. Follow him on Google+.

5 Comments on “Fit, Form and Injury: How to Choose the Perfect Pair of Running Shoes

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  3. I’ve trained and run 2 half marathons in Nike free’s. I was advised to get a more structured shoe for my first marathon because the Frees could cause injury. Is this true? Your comment about barefoot type running shoes got me thinking maybe I’d be ok in Frees.

  4. I have very wide, flat feet and severely (possibly moderately) overpronate when I run. What is your advice for selecting a good running shoe? Thank you.

    • Hi Leonard,
      Thanks for the comment. We would suggest you check out one of the following styles:

      If a selection for a wide version of the shoe isn’t available online, we would be happy to see if we could special order it for you. Just call our customer relations department at 800-390-1256, and we will help you out!

      Let us know if you have any additional questions. Thanks!

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