Finding the best running shoe for you is incredibly important. This comprehensive guide details some of the latest running trainers available and considers many different running styles to ensure you find the best sports shoes for your technique and training goals.
Running puts a lot of strain on the entire mechanics of the foot, ankle, legs, and hips. The impact is felt throughout as you complete each stride, yet it affects everyone differently. But don't worry, the right shoe is waiting for you and we're just about to find it.
Your first decision is to choose a shoe specifically designed for runners. This is important as you'll benefit from a range of supportive technologies minimising injury and aiding performance. Don't go running in your fashion-focused trainers - your body will not thank you for it. A good running shoe is an investment that will keep you running and bring you closer to your fitness goals - not further away.
Next, you have to choose the right style of shoe for your needs - are you running on a track, on the trails, on the road, or on a treadmill as a gym warm-up? There are specialised shoes for all these scenarios, and we'll discuss these in full later.
But before you start delving into the various exciting design features modern shoes possess, you need to establish an important part of your running technique - pronation.
What is pronation?
A key part of finding the correct running shoe is to understand the anatomy of your foot as it strikes the ground. If you already know your pronation type, then skip on to the section entitled 'What are the other features of a running shoe?'
Pronation refers to the way your foot rolls inwards or outwards when landing during each stride. It is completely natural for everyone to experience some form of pronation, but understanding how your body moves will help you find the right style of support for you.
There are three types of pronation:
- Neutral – Neutral runners have a wide selection of shoes to choose from. The most important thing is finding what you feel most comfortable in.
- Under pronation – Extra support is essential for this type of stride, with extra cushioning needed to prevent injuries.
- Over-pronation – Similar to under-pronators, over-pronators need support and structure to avoid the inward roll leading to long-term problems. Your cushioning and support will cover a slightly different area to under-pronators.
How to find out your type of pronation
So are you neutral, an under or an over-pronator? While there is a range of professional services available on the high street, it's quite possible and easy to work it out for yourself.
Below, we've put together a succinct guide to help you find your type of pronation, looking at how the foot strike differs for each of the three main pronation styles.
Check out the below video for a quick technique to deducing your foot strike, and see the diagrams below for yet more information on how you can find your pronation type. Better still, use Wiggle's completely free gait analysis service for guidance from run experts. More details below...
If you are a neutral runner, your foot will land on the outside of the heel then roll in ever so slightly upon impact with the ground. When pushing off into a stride, you will feel an even distribution of weight across the front of the foot. Neutal pronation is characterised by a slight inward movement of the ankle-bone when the foot is on the ground. Around 25% of runners have neutral pronation.
If this is your pronation type, you're best suited for neutral running shoes, although you can also have some success wearing mildly supported shoes.
Under pronation (also known as supination) runners feel the outer heel hitting the ground at an increased angle. This causes a large amount of shock through the lower leg and pressure on the smaller toes on the outside of the foot. Under pronators tend to have high arches and common injuries including ankle strain, shin splints and heel pain.
Over-pronators land on the outside of their heel but then roll excessively inwards, transferring weight to the inner edge of the foot instead of the ball of the foot. Over-pronators tend to let their big toes do all the work, and have low or flat arches. Common injuries include shin splints, heel spurs and bunions.
Other ways to find if you over-pronate, under-pronate or are neutral
One of the major giveaways that reveal your style of pronation is the wear pattern on your existing shoes. It's not scientific, but it can give a strong indication that you should look more closely at your pronation style. The wear patterns on your shoes will show how your foot strikes the ground and where you may need support.
Take a look at the wear patterns below and compare these to your own shoes to see if there are signs of over or under pronation.
You can see from a neutral pronation wear pattern that a wide section of the toe is used to push off from the ground, especially the powerful area around the crucial MTP joint (otherwise known as the hallux metatarsal-phalangeal). The foot's main impact area, meanwhile, is concentrated on the reinforced bone in the heel, called the calcaneus.
2) Under Pronator
You can see from the above wear pattern that under-pronation (also sometimes called supination) over-relies on the outside of the foot to push off, almost completely eliminating the powerful MTP joint which can generate a lot of power. Meanwhile, the heel strike is focused on the outside edge of the heel, causing more shock to travel through the leg that would have otherwise been absorbed by the heel bone. The surprising pattern is caused by the rolling of the foot inward as it makes contact with the ground.
Over-pronators have the opposite problem. You can see how it's the inside of the toe that takes the strain of pushing off as the foot rolls outward. Again, the outside of the heel takes the impact, which can cause the issues mentioned earlier in the article.
What are the other features of running shoes?
The repetitive movement involved in running puts a lot of pressure on the foot as it constantly strikes the ground from heel to toe while absorbing your entire body weight (and more when you add the acceleration from impact). Good running shoes will also have strong grip and traction, helping your foot to breathe and feel comfortable over long distances.
Apart from pronation support, as above, running shoes split into a number of classes - cushioned, off-road, racing, spiked, stability, and training.
Combating shin splints
Now you have an understanding of your pronation needs, it's time to address another issue runners often encounter - shin splints.
Shin pain can kick-in soon after you start running, feeling initially like a dull and achy pain along the length of the shin. But it can quickly become increasingly sharp or severe.
The cause of shin splints isn't fully understood, but it's believed the repetitive stress on the lower part of the legs can cause swelling and inflammation of the muscle attached to the tibia (shin bone).
Medical advice from the NHS in the UK suggests your first strategy for dealing with shin splints is to wear "trainers with appropriate cushioning and support. Cushioning running soles could prove an effective way of ridding yourself of shin splints, reducing the impact force and helping to reduce swelling.
Other advice from the NHS states:
- Run and train on flat, soft surfaces, such as a recreation ground or playing field, whenever possible
- Introduce any changes to your activity level gradually
- Mix high-impact exercises like running with low-impact exercises like swimming
- Lose weight if you're overweight
- Improve your overall strength and flexibility
- Warm-up before exercising and stretch after exercising – in particular, stretching your calves and the front of your legs may help
If your shin splints persist, or you experience knee pain from running, it may be necessary to seek medical advice.
Shoes for neutral runners
When you have a normal pronation pattern you can run in a wide variety of shoes, but specialized neutral running shoes offering cushioning and support are most suitable. Neutral cushioned shoes promote natural foot motion, so beginners might want to choose a cushioning shoe for support as they build muscle strength. Some runners may like natural running shoes that provide a feeling of more ground contact.
The Gel-Nimbus is one of the most popular neutral shoes out there, with boosted energising cushioning for superior bounce and a cool jacquard mesh upper.
Shoes for under-pronators
Cushioned Running Shoes are designed to provide a comfortable running experience for under pronators. These shoes generally have softer midsoles for extra shock absorption. They're built on a semi-curved or curved last (shoe shape) to encourage foot motion, which is helpful for runners who have rigid, immobile feet (under-pronators) and high arches.
A long-standing favourite with runners, the latest edition of the Asics Gel-Cumulus is built to go the distance. The FlyteFoam Propel provides cushioning and energy return to propel you towards your next PB in unparalleled comfort.
Shoes for over-pronators
Stability running shoes provide medial support to prevent your feet from rolling inwards and cushioning to keep you protected. Ideal if you need a medial post or dual-density midsole to provide a firmer footing. Stability running shoes help distribute the impact of running more effectively to minimise pronation. For severe overpronators, you may want to consider a motion control shoe with extra cushioning