How To Choose The Perfect Running Shoe

Tips and advice to make sure you have the correct footwear to keep your feet healthy, avoid injury and maximize running performance.

Well-fitting running shoes are critical to any athlete's podiatric health, whether they're a marathon runner or just squeezing in evening jogging sessions three times a week for general health and fitness. Running shoes are designed to protect your feet from the repeated forceful impact of exercise as well as aid your stability, support your arch and help you through your routine.

A running shoe that is well-tailored to your foot will prevent slipping and keep your feet pointed in the right direction to minimize any potential negative impacts of bad posture—and it won't rub against your heel or leave your arches unsupported. Choosing the perfect shoe requires more than just picking  a nice design of something that can slip onto your feet; and it requires more testing than just checking for size in a store. Here are four tips on choosing the perfect running shoe.

1. Match your shoe to your running habits

Different shoes are beneficial for different styles of exercise. Running shoes are particularly lightweight and offer the most amount of cushioning you'll find, perfect for high-impact, low-resistance activity. Walking shoes are heavier and more durable.

Among running shoes, there are three primary categories:

  • Road-running shoes are ideal for pavements and roads, and some packed surfaces. They're flexible and designed for use on even surfaces.
  • Cross-training shoes can be used at the gym for multiple athletic activities, from cardio to weightlifting (which requires stability and ground contact).
  • Trail-running shoes are made for use on natural landscapes; they have thick soles that prevent sticks and rocks from poking through, and offer ample support and protection from the elements.

Picking the right shoe—or the right selection of shoes—for your athletic preference will help you avoid discomfort and inadequate support when you run.

2. Figure out your pronation tendencies

Pronation is when the foot rolls and carries weight throughout a natural step. Most people have neutral pronation, meaning with each step their weight is fairly evenly distributed across their foot. Overpronation means they are likely to roll their foot and weight inward, putting more pressure on the inside of the heel and the inner ball of the foot. Supination, or under pronation, puts pressure on the outer edge of the foot, rolling the ankle outward.

If not corrected, overpronation and supination can lead to injury over time, so your running shoes should accommodate your natural pronation and correct it if necessary. Overpronation can result in tiring easily and experiencing foot spurs, while supination can leave you more susceptible to shock injuries such as shin splints.

3. Check the fit

When trying on a shoe, make sure it leaves an appropriate amount of room for your activity of choice. For running, ensure the shoe fits with enough room to move your foot about. A tight fit will leave you with blisters and make it difficult to run for long periods of time. Your shoe should be as large as it can be without the heel slipping off.

In addition to ensuring that you have ample room during fitting, have your shoe fitted at the end of the day, when your feet are likely to have swelled up a bit. This way, you'll avoid purchasing a pair of shoes that fit in the morning but squeeze by early evening. A well-fitted shoe has about half an inch of space between the big toe and the tip of the shoe.

4. Make sure your shoe's arch matches your foot

The design for the arch of the shoe should match your foot. For example, neutral running shoes  offer medium amounts of arch support for someone with a typical arch, while stability shoes offer reinforced arches for those who are particularly prone to dropping their arches when they run. Minimalist shoes have little to no arch support and are ideal for those with broad or flat feet. In addition, feet with low arches need more room in the center than feet with high arches, which tend to be thinner in the center.

Your athletic shoe of choice should be well fitted to your foot's individual needs, and should prevent you from common and painful injury during exercise. Take the time to research and try on shoes for comfort and support before committing to a pair, and be willing to pay $100 or more for a good pair of shoes.

Photo Credit: kieferpix/iStock/Thinkstock