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How to Pick the Right Running Shoes

By Nike Running

How to Pick the Right Running Shoes

There is no best pair of shoes, only the pair that works best for you.

Whether you love to sprint, hit the trails or put in long miles, we've got you covered. These pro pointers will help you find a shoe that fits like a glove, is designed for the workout you're doing and feels great from the first step of your run to the last.

One big sell for running is its low bar to entry. All you need are shoes.

But those shoes can be pretty important. They'll be with you for hundreds of miles, safeguarding your feet and (hopefully) improving your workout. You need a pair you can trust.

To guarantee that, "you should choose a shoe that protects and supports your unique anatomy", says Ian Klein, a specialist in exercise physiology, cross-training and injury prevention at Ohio University. This means you shouldn't put too much stock in the shoes your friends swear by. Finding your ideal match is about what feels amazing to you. Here's how to do it.

Narrow Your Options

With hundreds of choices, it's easy to get overwhelmed looking for great sneakers. One rule to help you get closer to the Perfect Pair: Search for running shoes, not training shoes.

A running shoe is designed for linear movement and should be cushioned and comfortable so it can support you as you run straight ahead, says Nike Run Club Chicago Coach and Master Trainer Emily Hutchins. A training shoe, on the other hand, provides stability for multi-directional movements, like squats, lunges and side shuffles.

Focus on Feel

Just-right running shoes should feel like a natural extension of your body. "If your shoes are uncomfortable, you're going to anticipate that discomfort with every footfall", says Nike Running Global Head Coach Chris Bennett. That causes your body to make compensations in your form, which can affect your natural gait—and, he adds, lead to injuries.

If you have no idea where to start, try a speciality running shop where you can have your gait analysed for specific recommendations, keeping in mind that comfort is paramount. "If someone's recommending a shoe to you that isn't comfortable, go with your gut", says Kate VanDamme, a physiotherapist and orthopaedic clinical specialist at the NYU Langone Health Sports Performance Center.

How to Pick the Right Running Shoes

Make Sure the Shoe Really Fits

Wear a pair of shoes that are too small, and you could wind up with blisters and black toenails. Run in a pair that's too big, and you'll be sliding around, unable to properly absorb impact and maximise your push off the ground.

To know you have a good fit, "You should have some space between your toe and the tip of your shoe", says Lee Welch, a doctor of physiotherapy who specialises in lower-extremity injuries in runners and is the co-owner of The Running PTs. "That's because the shoe is designed to bend underneath the ball of your foot, not further back". You should be able to wiggle your toes, too. If you can't, the shoe is too small, says Welch.

If you try on shoes before a workout or early in the morning, you may end up with a too-tight fit

"Hot spots across the top of the foot, when the lacing feels like it's too tight, can inhibit your foot mobility on a run", says Welch, so ensure there's no pinching. And be mindful of rubbing at the back of your ankle, near your Achilles tendon, or too much or not enough room along the sides.

Whether you're in a shop or you ordered online, make sure you try on shoes after a run or in the evening. Your feet swell over the course of the day the same way they swell during training, says Welch. If you try on shoes before a workout or early in the morning, you may end up with a too-tight fit.

How to Pick the Right Running Shoes

Use the Nike Running Footwear Guide to find your perfect running shoe.

How to Pick the Right Running Shoes

Use the Nike Running Footwear Guide to find your perfect running shoe.

Pair the Right Shoe with the Right Run

"For casual, everyday runs, a somewhat cushioned, neutral shoe can do it all", says Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field–certified coach, the head coach of Strength Running and the host of The Strength Running Podcast. Most running shoes have a mix of cushioning and responsiveness that eases you through long runs but can still give you ample energy return when you want to pick up the pace.

During races or speed workouts, a lighter shoe can help, says Bennett. (When you're gunning for an all-out effort, the less weight your foot has to pick up with each stride, the better.) For track workouts, you might want to consider investing in shoes with spikes, which dig into the turf and help you maintain grip on the ground as you sprint. "Spikes are ideal, but lighter, lower racing flats can also give a runner great track-feel while offering the ability to go off-track", says Nike Run Club Chicago Coach Robyn LaLonde.

If you're going off-road, you'll likely need a pair of trail-running shoes to help you better navigate roots, pebbles and boulders, and softer, uneven surfaces, says LaLonde. These have a durable sole and wider base with a grippy tread for better traction on the ground. You may also want to look for a trail-running shoe that's either water resistant or waterproof and has an ankle collar to keep out debris. If you're going to be running trails that are especially rock-laden or steep, LaLonde recommends a shoe with a rock plate built into the midsole, which helps protect your feet from sudden stubs and awkward landings and makes it easier to run tougher grades.

How to Pick the Right Running Shoes

Consider Any Foot Issues

Your foot anatomy and how you run can make a difference when it comes to choosing the right shoe. Here's how to deal with some common problems.

  1. Overpronation or Underpronation
    Everyone needs some degree of pronation. When a person runs, the foot naturally moves into a pronated position as it hits the ground, then into a supinated position as the runner pushes away from the ground, explains VanDamme. This natural shifting keeps us nimble on our feet and able to navigate uneven terrain, says Welch, and most important, "it's a way for your body to absorb force so you don't hurt yourself".

    The problem is when that amount of pronation is excessive. If your foot overpronates, or collapses excessively inwards, you could be at risk for plantar fasciitis, IT band friction, piriformis syndrome, knee pain or shin splints, says Welch. If your foot underpronates, the joints of your foot do not move to absorb shock and the majority of your weight falls on the outer edge of your foot, which could lead to stress fractures, says VanDamme.

    Overpronators may prefer shoes with stability features to help address this issue, says VanDamme. These shoes have a firmer midsole on the arch side of the foot and a lighter, softer foam on the outside to maximise shock absorption. Underpronators may fare better in neutral shoes, which provide more cushioning and shock absorption.
  2. Flat Feet or High Arches
    If you have flat feet, consider a shoe that has a little bit more support, says Welch. Often people with high arches "can wear whatever they want and do well in a neutral shoe", he says.
  3. Plantar Fasciitis
    Plantar fasciitis is an injury to the plantar fascia, a strong band of tissue that runs down the middle of your foot and supports your arch. It's often caused by excessive stress, like overtraining or a sudden increase in mileage.

    The injury tends to cause a stabbing pain along the bottom of your foot, from your heel to your toes. For plantar fasciitis, "typically, the more supportive the shoe, the better", says VanDamme. A more stable shoe that provides extra cushioning at the heel can help.
How to Pick the Right Running Shoes

Know When to Upgrade

Retiring a beloved shoe is tough. And you may be able to safely wear the same shoes for three hundred to five hundred miles, depending on how you run. But overstriding, excessive pronation and landing too far forwards or too far back on the shoe can all cause the outsole to wear out faster, says Welch.

"When a shoe gets fatigued or worn out, it loses its structural integrity and can no longer perform its function"

Ian Klein, Specialist in Exercise Physiology, Cross-training and Injury Prevention at Ohio University

A simple way to determine when to replace your shoes is to pay attention to the feel, says Fitzgerald. "Ask yourself, are they still giving your feet and your lower legs the support and cushion that they used to give you?" he says. If not, or if you can see visible signs of wear in the sole, he adds, it's time for a new pair.

That's the when. Now for the why: "A shoe is kind of like a muscle", explains Klein. "When a muscle gets fatigued, it loses its function. So when a shoe gets fatigued or worn out, it loses its structural integrity and can no longer perform its function", whether that's helping you rip through 200-metre repeats or providing cloud-like cushion to float through a 20-miler.

How to Pick the Right Running Shoes

Nike Run Club

Your perfect running partner.

How to Pick the Right Running Shoes

Nike Run Club

Your perfect running partner.