Finding the right running shoe isn't just important - it's one of the single biggest equipment decisions a runner has to make.
Running puts a lot of strain on the entire mechanics of the foot: from ankle, legs, to 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 it will allow you to benefit from a range of supportive technologies that will minimise injuries and aid performance. Don't go running in your fashion 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 a style of shoe to fit 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 splits, hell 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 patter that under pronators over-rely 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.
3) Over Pronator
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.
Need more advice on pronation and your running style?
Using Wiggle's free Gait Analysis service, you can speak to one of Wiggle's expert Run Specialists who can provide a free one-to-one gait analysis for you online. It's easy and free to do, and uses Facebook chat, so it can be done at any time convenient for you. All you have to provide are a few details about your running style and a quick video taken on your phone of your natural running gait. Find out all the details using the link below.
Now I've found my pronation style, what shoes do I need?
Click on the pictures below to go straight to our up-to-date shoes catering for each style of pronation.
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, allow 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.
Cushioning running shoes
Cushioned Running Shoes are designed to provide a comfortable running experience for those not requiring specific support for their feet. These shoes generally have softer midsoles and the least added stability. They're built on a semicurved or curved last (shoe shape) to encourage foot motion, which is helpful for runners who have rigid, immobile feet (underpronators) and high arches.
Off-road running shoes
Off-road running shoes are armed with rugged out-soles that can dig into mud and unsteady terrain, giving you grip on the trail. Usually light-weight and aggressively styled, look out for water-resistance and durability.
Featuring flat, reactive soles, and super-light uppers, racing running shoes are designed for out-and-out speed and long-distance durability. Their specially-designed soles deliver powerful bounce-back properties to return all your downward force into forward momentum, providing you with bigger, stronger strides. Look out for good ventilation and breathable fabrics to ensure you're kept cool.
Spiked running shoes
The thoroughbred of running shoes, these are designed solely for track use. Super-light materials, highly-sprung soles, and precision designed, spiked shoes can be formidable tools on the feet of powerful runners.
Stability running shoes
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. These shoes are great for the mid-weight overpronating runner.
Training running shoes
This type of running shoe is great if you’re looking for a versatile sports shoe for to support an active lifestyle of diverse disciplines. They offer high quality support for a wide range of movement, but without the specialised features of off-road shoes or racing shoes, for example. Great for those taking part in cross training or running as part of a diverse fitness regime.