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A running shoe is designed to cradle the foot, and not just protect it from the pounding, but to optimize a runner’s gait in such a way that a person can run longer and faster without worrying about injury. At its most basic, a running shoe is made up of an outsole, midsole and upper. The outsole is the bottom of the shoe, that durable slab of rubber providing traction throughout the gait cycle. The midsole rests atop the outsole, and provides cushioning and stability. The upper is generally made of mesh, synthetic fabrics or leather, and cocoons the foot.
Just as every run is unique, so every running shoe is designed for a specific type of runner. When selecting a running shoe, take into account the frequency of your training and your performance level. A shoe should fit comfortably and snug, but should not be so tight that your toes press against the front of the shoe or the top of your foot aches from the laces being too tight.
Also, be aware of your gait. The three broad categories that define running shoes — Cushioning, Structured Cushioning, and Maximum Support — enhance gait by working with the natural movement of your foot, providing a more efficient stride. How you pronate plays a great part in a shoe’s ability to enhance your running experience. Pronation is a normal, natural rolling motion that helps to attenuate shock. Some runners find that their foot does not roll all the way in, making the foot work harder to push off properly. This is known as underpronation (or supination). Conversely, a foot that rolls inward too much in known as overpronation. Runners who underpronate (or, supinate) would feel more comfortable with a Cushioning shoe. Overpronators do better with Maximum Support, and those with a more neutral stride would do well with Structured Cushioning.
Pronation is the term used to describe the normal motion of the foot rolling slightly inward through the foot strike. Pronation is essential to shock absorption and forward propulsion. It’s when you overpronate or underpronate (supinate) that you need to be particular about the running shoe you choose.
The Wet Test
This basic test will provide you with a look at your foot imprint. You can use this print to determine your arch shape which guides you in finding a suitable pronation range.
Note: Another way to determine arch type is to look at the outsoles of your old running shoes, although this method is less reliable than the Wet Foot Test. If the sole is worn equally on both sides, you most likely have a normal arch. If you have a flat arch, the sole will show excessive wear on the inside. A high arch usually produces a sole with noticeable wear on the outside.
Quick Tip: You cannot determine arch type by looking at the wear pattern on the heel alone, although this is a common misconception.
Find Your Arch Type / PronationNormal Arch
The most common arch type, the normal arch, leaves a wet print with a flare and a broad band connecting the heel and the forefoot. This foot type is a normal pronator and rolls inward slightly to absorb shock. If you have a normal arch, you’re considered bio-mechanically efficient and don’t need motion control features. The best part about having a normal arch is that you have more freedom when picking a running shoe.
The shoe for you:
Runners with normal arches typically experience minimal biomechanical problems and should select those shoes from the Structured Cushioning Category, or those shoes that meet the needs of the Neutral to Over Pronating runners. Cushion shoes are the most flexible and encourage natural pronation, with added cushioning and extra shock absorption. These shoes do not have stability or motion control features. Or, Stability shoes have light support features on the medial side and well-cushioned midsoles to help guide mild-to-moderate overpronation. Runners with a normal arch can also benefit from light stability features.
Flat Arch / Flat Foot
If you see a complete or nearly complete imprint, then you have a Flat Arch. This type of foot is associated with overpronation or an excessive inward roll after heel strike, which generally result in poor natural shock absorption. The flatter the arch, the more support and motion control you need. You’ll need shoes with firm midsoles, flatter soles and pronation-control features. Steer clear of highly-cushioned shoes that lack stability features.
The shoe for you:
Flat footed runners should pick shoes from the Maximum Support Category, Motion Control shoes or those shoes that meet the needs of Over Pronating to Severe Over Pronating runners. Stability shoes have light support features on the medial side and well-cushioned midsoles to help guide mild-to-moderate overpronation. Or, Motion Control shoes incorporate extra stability features on the medial side to help control severe overpronation.
The least common arch type, the High Arch, also known as an under-pronated foot, will produce an imprint showing the heel and forefoot connected by only a thin band. This foot type usually doesn’t absorb shock well because it rolls outward or underpronates (also known as supinating).
The shoe for you: A runner with under-pronating feet is more likely to experience shock transmission through the lower legs, and should choose shoes from the Cushioning Category or those shoes that meet the needs of Under Pronating to Neutral runners. Cushion shoes are the most flexible and encourage pronation. They incorporate extra cushioning and shock absorption, and do not have stability or motion control features.
Choose Your Category Type For Your Running Style
All running shoes are not created equal. You’ll want to choose from one the following three categories according to your arch type and degree of pronation.
Structured Cushioning / Stability (neutral to mild overpronators)
Shoes with Structured Cushioning are designed for runners who pronate slightly more than normal and generally have a normal arch. Their foot strike takes place in a neutral to slightly pronated position, using the body’s natural pronation to attenuate shock. Structured Cushioning runners need their shoes to help control a small degree of overpronation, but they don’t need all the shock attenuation attributes of a Cushion segment shoe. Stability shoes have light support features on the medial side and well-cushioned midsoles to help guide mild-to-moderate overpronation. Stability shoes are great for feet with a moderately flat arch and for those with a normal arch.
Cushioning (Underpronaters and mild overpronators)
The Cushioning segment is designed to meet the needs of underpronators to mild overpronators and tend to have a high arch. This type of runner needs a great deal of shock attenuation because they don’t absorb shock naturally through pronation. Their foot either does not pronate at all, or pronates such a small amount that the body can’t attenuate shock in its natural manner. Instead of the body’s connective tissue absorbing shock through pronation, bones and joints take the brunt of the shock. It’s vital that shoes in the Cushioning segment attenuate as much initial impact shock as possible. Cushion shoes are the most flexible and encourage natural pronation, with added cushioning and extra shock absorption. These shoes do not have stability or motion control features. Cushion shoes are best for people with a high arch and also those with a normal arch.
Maximum Support / Motion Control (Mild To Severe Overpronators)
Maximum Support running shoes designed for runners who tend to land in an overtly pronated position with a flat foot. Like the Cushion segment, these runners are not using all their body’s natural shock attenuation mechanisms. What makes them different is that these runners exhibit a large degree of pronation beginning with landing in a pronated state, then continuing past normal. Like the Structured Cushion segment, these runners need help to control the degree of pronation. Motion Control shoes incorporate extra stability features on the medial side to help control severe overpronation. Runners with flat to severely flat arches need the extra support and stability of motion control shoes.
These shoes are designed to cater for the needs of marathon runners and longer distance runners, as well as everyone who needs a little more support for their feet.
Shorter distance runners, i.e. 5 or 10km runners who want to go really fast prefer running with racing flats. These shoes are lightweight and offer less support than distance runners.
Designed to meet the needs of runners who prefer to take their run off-road. This category offers a range to suit most pronation ranges. Shoes may offer additional features such as water resistant uppers and special tongue construction to help keep debris out.
Cross Training Shoes
Cross training shoes are the most versatile athletic shoe, but aren’t recommended for distance running. Designed for low-impact activities that require lateral support, they’re excellent for the gym, aerobics or step class, etc.
Triathlon shoes are designed with the demands of multiple disciplines in mind. These shoes usually provide excellent fluid dispensation.
Walking shoes are heavier and less flexible than running shoes, usually with leather uppers for easy cleaning. While it’s beneficial to walk in a running shoe, never run in a walking shoe.
Court shoes are designed with better traction for tennis, basketball and netball. The sole is sewn to the upper for durability and support. Great for high-impact, side to side motion.