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5 Key Factors to Consider when Buying Running Shoes

13 Sep 5 Key Factors to Consider when Buying Running Shoes

Running footwear is a multi billion pound industry and the choices available to the runner are mesmerising.

The science behind the marketing campaigns can be hard to find but there are some features inherent to running footwear that need consideration when making your purchase of your shiny new trainers and this guide is aimed at making your final decision a little more specific to you.

Before we get to the 5 key factors it’s worthwhile considering other factors outside of the trainer selection that are essential.

Running trainers in isolation will rarely provide the solution to an injury once its occurred, but can minimise some of the factors that could lead to the development of an injury.

Training errors such as consecutive running days and a high running volume are the biggest risk factors in running injury… can either over train or under recover!

Gradual increases in mileage are vital in allowing the body to adapt to the increasing mechanical stresses placed upon it.

The choice of your trainers will be based on 2 main factors (other than cosmetics!):

Minimise Injury Risk

Improve Performance

The running trainer purchase by itself is not going to cut your 10km time to a sub 40 minute session from 50 minutes

To improve performance you need to be able to gradually increase your training load and allow the body to adapt to the mechanical demands and the running shoe can be one variable in minimising injury risk.

When looking at the wealth of running footwear options I would recommend considering the following components in running shoe design:

  • Fit

It sounds basic but one of the key features in running shoe selection is fit. This is where the trip to the running shop in the first instance is important. The last fitting or upper fit needs to be relatively snug, a running shoe that is too big will allow the foot to shear (slide) in the trainer which will increase the risk of blistering on the foot and in a similar fashion a trainer that is too small will add compression (squeezing) force on the foot and increase the risk of bone injury.

Those dreaded toenail problems with bleeding or bruising underneath the nail plate can also be caused by poor fit so it’s worthwhile seeking advice from a healthcare professional with a special interest in foot problems if this is occurring.

Fit and therefore comfort is a big part of running footwear selection, if you have a choice between 2 trainers and one feels more comfortable than the other (assuming the other variables below are similar) then go with the comfortable one.

  • Heel Height (pitch)

The running shoe industry has been through a culture shift over the last few years with an explosion in minimalism.

Lack of ankle joint movement in an upward direction (dorsiflexion) is a risk factor for injury.

It is relatively simple to screen for with a lunge test (bending knee over the foot and measuring the angle of the shin bone) and this provides useful information for choosing a shoe with an appropriate heel height or drop.

It is recommended that the Lunge test is performed in the presence of a healthcare professional that is familiar with this test as you would be surprised how people unknowingly cheat!

The heel height, referred to as pitch or drop in the footwear world can range from 0-14 (for the purposes of illustration) and is measured in mm. As a rule of thumb the stiffer the ankle joint (closer to the wall your toe is on the Lunge test) the more relevant a running trainer with a higher heel drop.

  • Cushioning

There is no straight forward answer here but any material that absorbs impact force that sits between you and the floor has to be a good thing right?

The industry is constantly looking at these type of materials and Nike have developed their Lunarlon range and Adidas their Boost midsole as examples.

The main question is how much is too much as this could add to instability (picture landing on a pillow!) and what is the minimum required. This is one area that needs consideration and is related to factors such as your biomechanics and body weight and would benefit from advice from a specialist.

In my experience there are very few runners out there that fit the minimalist running shoe model and these would tend to more toward the elite end of the spectrum. For those of us who run to a moderate or reasonable level then we would need to consider an element of cushioning in the midsole along with the other factors such as heel drop and fit.

  • Outsole

As simple as it sounds it’s important to consider the type of surface you run on and the compatibility of the outsole.

There are key differences in the type of outsole for road trainers and all terrain or off road trainers.

Those of you that have run on a surface with the wrong outsole may recall sliding around and the risk of soft tissue injury is increased.

Remember it’s the outsole that is different, invariably the midsole factors should be consistent from the road version to the all terrain version.

  • Motion Control

Welcome to the contentious world of motion control! Bottom line is that footwear can be overly engineered but there are some design features that contribute to reducing the mechanical forces on the foot and lower limb and therefore reduce injury risk.

The concept of bad pronation is oversimplifying the foot contribution to injury risk but it does highlight how foot position can be a factor in the spectrum of mechanical forces that will lead to lower limb symptoms.

There is no question that in my clinical practice foot position is a component part of the runners injury risk factor.

If you run on a regular basis and have any niggling joint or soft tissue problems or you are looking to make a new investment in running footwear, then it might be worth looking at a foot and movement screen to be more informed about your mechanical make up.

In a similar fashion if you are new to running or are considering adding running into your exercise regime then it’s a great time to look at your structural risk factors for injury and minimise these to progress in your running program.


Blog compiled by expert Podiatrist Mark Gallagher

Find out more about Podiatry at Halo here

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