Friday, October 25, 2013

Its All In The Shoes

One of the easiest ways to start a fitness activity is to take up running. It doesn’t require any specialized machines, no gym memberships, can be done anywhere and anyone can do it. In fact it is nearly the perfect activity to burn calories, improve cardiovascular health and improve your emotional and mental health.  It simply requires appropriate clothing and a pair of running shoes.

So why do so many first time runners have injuries and unnecessary leg, foot and hip pain?  The answer could lie in the shoes.  Making the right choice in foot ware for running can make all the difference between an enjoyable or miserable experience.

Most any running shoes you try on in the store will feel good while standing in them, but the true test comes after you start to put some miles and impact on your feet while running.  You will soon realize that the “perfect” shoe has more to do with the shape of your foot and your running style than it does with the logo or colors. Here are some tips on how to choose the best shoe for you.

First determine if you run mainly on the roads or trails.  Road running shoes should be chosen for more pavement running while trail shoes should be used for more hard core trails in wooded areas.

Next it is important to know your foot size.  I highly recommend going into a local store that specializes in running and have them measure you for a proper fit. They are the experts and will take time to ask you questions look at your stride and find your perfect size.

Determining your arch shape is also important.  As you get out of the bath, shower or pool, look at your footprint.  If you have a high arch the space between the ball of your foot and your heel will be very narrow. A normal arch will show a bit more of your arch and if you are flat footed the base between the ball and your heel (arch) will be nearly one size. A running store can examine your arches and provide the right support.

Maybe the most important element is to determine how you run on your feet.  A neutral stride is indicated by shoe wear centralized to the ball of the foot and a small portion of the heel. Over pronation is indicated by wear patters along the inside edge of the shoe while supination (under pronation) is marked by wear along the outer edge of your shoe.

Now it’s time to pick the best shoe for you.  Cushioned shoes add more shock absorption and are best for runners who are mild pronators and supinators. Stability shoes help decelerate basic pronation and they are good for neutral runners or those that exhibit mild to moderate over pronation.  Finally, motion control shoes have stiffer heels and are best for runners who have moderate to severe over pronation.
Saucony ProGrid Mirage - Stability Shoe

Saucony Triumph Neutral Cushioned Shoe

While cushioning in a shoe is important, there are those that believe that a minimalist shoe is best for most runners as it most closely mimics the natural movement of the foot. Dr. Steven Gangemi, a doctor of applied Kinesiology and endurance athlete strongly encourages the use of minimalist shoes. “Running in minimalist shoes and being barefoot clearly helps the entire body. Improvements in nervous system function, muscular function and balance, proprioception, and overall health can be seen in those who keep their feet close to the ground and out of motion-altering footwear.”

Asics Speed Star 6
New Balance Minimus
Brooks Pure Grit

Identifying your foot and stride type is critical to getting the best shoe to make your running experience enjoyable and keep you injury free. Most shoe brands produce models for all types of runners.  Just remember, it’s not the color of the shoe that’s important but how it works and supports your stride that will make all the difference.

If you are looking for a shoe that comes closest to matching the natural movement of your foot, a minimalist shoe does just that. But what is a minimalist shoe?  According to the, if we view running footwear as a spectrum, on one end you have no shoe at all, or barefoot. In the barefoot condition cushioning and stability are provided by the inherent strength and control of the feet and legs, proprioception/ground feel are maximized, there is no added weight on the lower extremity, the heel and forefoot are placed at the same level on the ground, the splay of the foot is not restricted when it contacts the ground, and flexibility is limited only by the structural limitations of an individual’s feet.

    Saucony Virrata

    Saucony Kinvara 4

    There are other factors that could be included here, but these are the most critical.
    Picking the correct shoe to run or walk in for your gait is important and takes a little research on your part to know what is right for you.  You need to know if you need a neutral shoe or a stability shoe then the amount of cushioning you feel comfortable with.

    Many people will start in a more cushioned shoe and move to a lighter and more minimalist shoe. This is the path I took. I started in the Adidas Response Cushion and now run in the Saucony Kinvara 3 and 4 and the Saucony Virrata.  If you move to a minimalist shoe or start out in a minimalist shoe, do so gradually to give you legs and feet a chance to adapt.  After all for thousands of years humans did not wear shoes so it stands to reason a minimalist shoe will work.  That said, we have trained our feet to move away from our barefoot roots so caution, patience and a ramp up is in order.

    Additionally, foot health is very critical. I have shared some information below from Dr. Gangemi regarding foot health.

    Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and Groups Exercise Instructor, exercise, health and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.