how to choose running shoes

How to Choose Running Shoes Based on Your Activity

Think of running shoes as specialized tools. Different running shoes will excel in different scenarios–just like a hammer has a much different job than a screwdriver.

The best running shoes for endurance runners will be quite different than the best running shoes for trail runners. The best track running shoes will be much different than the best shoes for jogging down the sidewalk.

Key Point: In this article, we explore how to evaluate different types of running shoes based on your preferred running activity. We’ll teach you the merits of each design style.

Does the surface I run on make a difference for running shoes?

How to Choose Running Shoes Based on Your Activity

Yes, the style of running shoe you purchase should be partially based on which surface you most likely intend to use them on.

If you desire to run on pavements, then road shoes are for you. If you tend to run through trails, then lighter race shoes are the best choice as they absorb shock better, reducing your risk of injury.

If the trails you explore often experience rain and get fairly muddy, it would be wise to get a pair of trail shoes with a deeper tread to get a better grip on what would usually be a slippery situation.

Not only that, but trail shoes offer more security for your ankles, which is very useful for the unpredictable terrain and weather. Don’t use these shoes on pavement though, as the soles will disappear faster than a Turkey at Thanksgiving dinner.

If you intend on mixing it up, then a hybrid running shoe will do that job. Hybrids supply the balance between grip and cushioning, allowing you to switch between terrains effortlessly.

Do Running Shoes Really Help?

Yes, running shoes are imperative whether you’re a casual or a competitive runner! When you think of it, the right running shoes are your only protective equipment against illnesses and injuries caused by running over different terrains. With running being a high-impact activity on your joints, the right running shoes protects them from the repetitive stress and strain.

There are three primary ways that the right running shoes reduce the risk of injuries during high-impact physical activity.

First, running shoes can increase speed performance because of their overall design. Shoe designers consider the anatomy of the foot, its movements during different activities, and the stresses it undergoes when running.

Running shoes are then designed and constructed specifically for running and the high-impact forces generated. The thicker heel absorbs impact, the snug fit decreases the risk of foot issues but increases comfort and flexibility, and the heel-to-toe drop matches your natural running gait.

Second, the materials used in running shoes contribute to feet efficiency and, thus, running speed and power, too. The typical running shoes have nylon mesh, polyester breathable knit, or polyurethane materials that form a smooth curve from their last.

Since these are lightweight materials with stretchable quality, these are excellent for motion control of the feet and legs. This means your feet and legs can move better with little restrictions, thus, resulting in more flex and bend. Your feet and legs are able to maximize their power and push due to the reduced weight of the materials in your running shoes.

Third, running shoes provide maximum cushioning and, thus, support for your feet and joints in your lower limbs. With proper cushioning, the high-impact forces generated by running have decreased impact on your feet and joints. There’s then less risk of injuries, such as sprains or strains, especially when running on hard or uneven surfaces. 

The Benefits of Picking the Right Running Shoe

Taking the time, energy and effort to pick the right running shoes becomes worthwhile when you start to enjoy these benefits.

  • Your feet have greater protection because running shoes are designed to provide extra stability and support. The right running shoes can fix overpronation or supination, boost midsole protection for more impact absorption, and add support to your feet’s arches.
  • Your athletic performance can improve, thanks to the added protection, cushioning and support from the right running shoes. Even if you’re not a competitive runner, you will still love the boost of power and strength that comes from well-protected feet.
  • You will spend less effort yet enjoy more gains in your running power and endurance with the right running shoes. Since running shoes have extra cushioning than regular shoes, your body doesn’t have to compensate by using more leg strength.

Can Shoe Insoles Make my Running Shoes Work Better for Different Activities?

Yes, they can since these are easy ways of customizing the fit of your running shoes to your feet, compensating for natural factors resulting in biomechanical issues, and adding extra cushioning.

But that doesn’t mean you must use them just because you feel like it – if you’re not feeling any pain when using your regular running shoes, then you likely don’t need insoles.

What kind of socks do I need for running shoes?

People often forget that socks can make a big difference in your running experience. I mean, how often do you think of socks?

But when it comes to running, the thickness of your socks greatly affect the rate at which heat is released from your feet. So it would be wise to focus on buying lighter socks.

One quick tip when choosing your shoe is to wear the type of socks you intend to use while running in them.

This way, you get the most accurate depiction of how your fresh pair of running shoes will feel in the long run (pun intended). Ultimately, we recommend a technical running sock, one which offers added arch support and padding across your entire underfoot.

Avoid cotton socks as they just absorb the heat which leads to them soaking up all your sweat and causing blisters, calluses and so on. Dodge the cotton before things get rotten.

Do I need to evaluate my feet? If so, how?

How to Choose Running Shoes Based on Your Activity

It would be incredibly helpful to do a self-evaluation for your feet, but you want to know a secret? Many specialty running shoe stores offer evaluations on the spot, which spares you the possibility of mis-evaluating yourself and getting the wrong pair of shoes.

There are three main foot-types for runners:

  • Neutral: This is when your foot contacts the ground near the center of your foot as you run.
  • Underpronation: When your foot doesn’t roll inward enough as you run. This leads to ineffective impacts, meaning the lateral side of your foot becomes overworked due to overcompensation.
  • Overpronation: When your foot rolls inward too far as you run.

Understanding which category you fall into as a runner can help segregate which pairs of running shoes you need to focus on, and whether or not you need to add something inside the sole to offer more arch support.

Do running shoes fit to size?

How to Choose Running Shoes Based on Your Activity

Not often. This is because, when you run, the amount of force you’re exerting with each step causes the shoe to spread out, like a pastry being rolled out.

To counter this, it’s advisable to get a pair of shoes after being measured at a running shop, as you may have to buy a shoe either a half, or a full size, bigger.

Once you’ve picked out a few pairs to test out, the rule of “thumb” can play as a confirmation tool to see if they are the right size. To measure this, slide your heel all the way to the back of your shoe. Make sure it’s snuggly.

Then, place your thumb between your big toe and the front of the shoe. It may not be 100% accurate, but usually if a decent portion of your thumb is touching your toe, then the pair is likely to be too small for when you start running.

What is a heel-toe drop?

How to Choose Running Shoes Based on Your Activity

A bit confused by this terminology? I was too at first, but it’s quite simple. The “heel-toe drop” is simply referring to the downward “slope” of your running shoes. Ultimately, this is the difference in material under the heel and forefoot of the shoe.

Most running shoes have more material under the heel, as it usually has to take most of the impact. This helps absorb the force your heel undergoes with each landing, doing wonders to prevent you from spraining your ankle or getting shin splints.

But, if you tend to land nearer the center or front of your foot first while running, a pair with a lower heel-toe drop would be beneficial for you as it’s designed to promote a stride that suits your specific gait.

Conclusion: The foot is composed of many different muscles and bones, and they require different kinds of support and flexibility in running shoes depending on your activity. Learning how your foot behaves during different kinds of running activities will help you understand which running shoes are best for you.

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Randy Brangman

Randy Brangman is a Licensed Physical Therapist and Exercise Therapist and a former long distance runner. He is the founder and Lead Exercise Instructor at Trinity of Wellness. Spending more time in running shoes than flip flops, he travels the world while going through pair after pair. He is currently writing a book about joint therapy.