The insiders guide to buying running shoes

Running, whether outside or on the treadmill is a fundamental part of a training program and provides an excellent aerobic workout. Moreover, it is not expensive; most of the cost of running involves buying a pair of good running shoes. If you train intelligently and have the right gear, you can continue to enjoy the fitness and general sense of well being that accompanies running while avoiding running injuries.

How to know which running shoes to buy

In this article, we provide basic information on the type of shoes to buy for running according to your foot type

Running shoes

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A good pair of running shoes will provide shock absorption, cushioning, motion control, durability and ultimately help prevent injuries. Under no circumstance should you buy shoes if they do not fit correctly.

Running magazines usually have a yearly review of various running shoes, the newest models of shoes and the type of runner the shoes are most suited to. It is wise to try on several different shoes at a sporting goods store to determine which one might be best for you.


While running, the outside of the heel strikes the ground first. Next, the foot rotates inward and downwards; this process is called pronation. It is important to understand this term because the type of running shoe you buy depends on whether you are normal, over or under pronator.

Everyone pronates to some degree and pronation helps the foot absorb the shock of the impact. However, some runners overpronate; their feet roll too far inwards. To check for overpronation, put your running shoes together and look at their heels/backs; if they lean inward, you are probably overpronating.

Another way to check for overpronation is to have a friend run behind you and have them watch the back of your heel as it makes contact with the ground; the greater the inward roll of your heel, the more you pronate. Excessive pronation can lead to injuries of the lower leg and knee.

Other runners under pronate, meaning their feet do not have enough inward roll after striking the surface. Such individuals are considered to have rigid feet or feet that absorb shock poorly. There are shoes available to correct for either overpronation or under pronation.

Shoe terminologies

When buying running shoes, it is helpful to be familiar with some common terms-

Parts of a running shoe

1 Parts of a Running Shoe - Pregnancy and Fitness

  • The outsole is the material on the bottom of the shoe that comes in direct contact with the running surface
  • The midsole is the layer of cushioning that is placed between the upper and outer soles
  • Lateral is the outer edge of the shoe
  • Medial is the inner or arch side of the shoe
  • Upper is the part of the sole that is above the midsole
  • Achilles notch is the U or V-shaped cut at the top of the heel collar which prevents irritation of the Achilles tendon
  • The heel counter is a frim cup usually made of plastic that is encased in the upper and surrounds the heel to control excessive rearfoot motion
  • The external heel counter is a rigid plastic collar that wraps around the hell of the shoe to provide support and control excessive pronation
  • Motion control designs or devices control the inward rolling or pronation of the foot. Some amount of pronation is normal: corrective measures are necessary only if there is excessive rolling or under pronation

Terms related to cushioning

  • Cushioning is provided by midsoles and is needed for shock absorption
  • The cantilever is a concave outsole design in which the outer edges flare out during footstrike to provide better shock absorption
  • EVA is a foam-like material which is used in midsoles to provide cushioning
  • Polyurethane(PU) is a synthetic rubber that is used with EVA in midsoles. It is more durable than EVA but provides less cushioning. PU is used in the rear foot for firmness and EVA in the forefoot for flexibility and lightness in many shoe models
  • Metatarsal pads are a soft wedge of EVA that is placed under the ball of the foot  to increase cushioning and shock absorption for runners who are forefoot strikers

Terms related to the shape

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  • Last is a foot-shaped piece of wood, plastic or metal which is used as a frame for building a shoe. Lasts can be straight or curved
  • Straight lasted shoes are relatively straight shaped on the inner or medial side and provide support and stability and are recommended for runners who overpronate
  • Curve lasted shoes are shaped to curve inward. This shape allows for greater foot motion and such shoes can be won by runners with normal pronation and arches

Pointers for buying running shoes

  • Maximum emphasis on shock-absorbing characteristics
  • Know your foot type
  • Look for shoes that come in widths

Do you have normal arches, high arches or are you flat-footed? You can access your foot type by what is known as the wet test.  Simply wet your feet and briefly stand on a piece of paper or on a dark bare floor; look at the imprint left by your feet. Determine your foot toe.

foot arch types - how to know which running shoes to buy

If you have high arches you will need  a shoe with more cushioning  for shock absorption whereas if you are flat-footed, you will need a shoe with more support and heel control

Know whether you over or under pronate

If you overpronate, you need shoes that provide stability whereas if you under pronate you need shoes that provide shock absorption and cushioning

Know if you are prone to running injuries

See a sports medicine doctor if you are predisposed to training or overuse injuries to determine if your injuries are related to biomechanics. Biomechanical conditions such as being an over or under pronator, or having one leg shorter than the other often result in running injuries. In so many cases, you may benefit from using orthotics in your running shoes. Also, take your running shoes with you when you go to see the doctor.

Try on shoes towards the end of the day

Feet are the smallest first thing in the morning and swell slightly as the day progresses. Also, wear running socks while trying on shoes since they are generally thicker than bare legs. Walk around the store in the shoes to check the fit, cushioning and stability of the shoe. If you are using orthotics, lifts or other inserts, bring them with you when you try on shoes

Do not buy shoes based on their brand name

Buy shoes that suit your biomechanical needs and work for your foot type, not shoes that a friend highly recommended or shoes you have seen a good runner wear. If you have trouble, consider going to a specialty shoe store where a knowledgeable salesperson can evaluate your running style and biomechanical needs and recommend a shoe.

Replace worn-out shoes in a timely manner

Wearing worn-out shoes can eventually lead to injuries and can cause knee or hip pain. It is a good idea to replace running shoes sooner if they wear down quickly. One way to keep track of your running mileage is to establish a running log. A running log will not only help in keeping track of your running distance but it will also help in tracking factors such as sudden increases in mileage or the onset of injury.

Recommendations on the right shoe for your foot type

Below are recommendations for all the three types of foot arches-

Merrell shoes - how to know which shoes to buy

flat feet

  • Go for motion control or stability shoes with firm midsoles.
  • Straight lasted shoe.
  • Avoid highly cushioned curve lasted shoes.
  • Orthotic soles may be needed to correct overpronation
  • Firm midsole
  • External heel counter recommended

normal feet

  • Go for stability shoes with moderate control features such as two density midsole
  • Semi-curved lasted shoes
  • No orthotic soles needed
  • Either soft or firm midsole
  • No need for the external heel counter

high arched feet

  • Go for cushioned shoes to provide lots of flexibility and promote foot motion
  • Curved lasted shoes
  • No orthotic soles needed
  • Soft midsole
  • If need be, external heel counter
  • Avoid motion control or stability shoes




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