Running Shoe Glossary

From “EVA” and “spike” to “pronation” and “upper,” running shoe jargon proliferates. But there’s no need to go cross-eyed when trying to translate sneaker speak: Use this handy running shoe glossary.

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Running Shoe Glossary

“Barefoot” shoe: An extreme type of minimalist shoe, barefoot shoes attempt to replicate the feeling of running completely barefoot. These shoes often have individual “pockets” for each toe and little-to-no cushioning. They are often little more than protection from road debris such as rocks or glass. See also “Minimalist shoe.”

Blown rubber: Used in outersoles, blown rubber has tiny air pockets mixed into the rubber compound. This process makes it lighter than carbon rubber, but also less durable. It is used as a compromise between the durability of carbon rubber and the light weight and softness of the midsole cushioning. Blown rubber is most often found under the forefoot.

Carbon rubber: Used in outersoles to improve durability, especially in high-wear areas such as the heel. Carbon rubber has carbon mixed into a rubber compound (just like car tires) and is heavier and denser than blown rubber.

nike, saucony, brooks, cross country spikes

Cross country spikes

Cross country spike: An extremely lightweight, flexible shoe used for racing cross country. These shoes feature a thin plastic “spikeplate” underneath the toes and ball of the foot, with exposed slots into which 4 – 7 spikes can be screwed into each shoe. Unlike track spikes, the outersole of a cross country spike covers the spikeplate with only the spike holes left exposed. The outersole also includes small waffles or lugs. Depending on the race surface (e.g., hard-packed dirt, grass, mud), runners may choose shorter or longer spikes, as their preference and the conditions dictate.

Cushion: Principally found in the shoe’s midsole and made of a foam material such as EVA, a shoe’s cushion softens the impact of the foot when it lands. Shoes with higher levels of cushioning are generally recommended for heavier runners or runners running high mileage.

EVA: The most common type of cushioning material used in midsoles, EVA is easily molded and is also light, resilient, and durable.

Forefoot striker: A runner whose initial point of contact with the ground is under the ball of the foot, at the base of the toes.

Heel counter: Usually made of lightweight plastic, the heel counter is found in the shoe’s upper and surrounds the heel. It provides durability and assists with stabilizing the foot.

Heel striker: A runner whose initial point of contact with the ground is under the heel. This can easily be seen by the high amount of wear on the shoe’s outersole under the heel. Virtually all heel strikers, including over-pronators, land on the outside of their heels.

Heel-to-toe drop: See “Offset.”

Ilio-tibial Band or ITB: A wide tendon which runs from the outside of the hip to the outside of the knee and attaches at the top of the lower leg (the tibia). The ITB helps to stabilize the knee.

Ilio-tibial Band Syndrome or ITBS: Pain, swelling or tightness in the ITB. The pain is most often felt on the lateral/outside of the knee along with a “snapping” sensation (which is the ITB rubbing against the femur/thighbone), but can be felt at any point along the ITB.

Last: The shape of the shoe. Straighter lasts provide more stability for over-pronators. “Curved” lasts are generally found on racing shoes and spikes. Most training shoes are “semi-curved.” The last is also the foot-shaped form (a block of wood or ceramic) around which each shoe is built.

Lateral: Pointing or situated away from the midline of the body, such as the outer hip.

Lightweight shoe: Generally used for faster-paced runs such as tempo runs or track workouts. They are not as light as racing shoes and provide more cushioning and stability than a racing shoe, but not as much as a training shoe. Nevertheless, many sub-elite runners prefer to use lightweight shoes when racing.

Lugs: Found most often on trail shoes, lugs are particularly large, protruding pieces of rubber on a shoe’s outersole that provide traction on muddy or loose dirt trails.

Medial: Pointing or situated towards the midline of the body, such as the inner thigh.

Medial post: A piece of foam or plastic on the “medial” or inside part of the shoe which is firmer and denser than the cushioning used in the rest of the shoe. Medial posts are used in stability and motion-control shoes to slow or stop over-pronation.

Metatarsals: The long, thin bones of the mid-foot, between the heel and the toes. The distal end of the metatarsals (just before the toes) makes up the ball of the foot.

Mid-foot: The area of the foot between the heel and the ball of the foot, including the arch.

Mid-foot striker: A runner who strikes the ground with the heel and ball of the foot almost simultaneously.

Mid-stance: During running or walking, when the foot is directly underneath the body.

Minimalist shoe: A shoe, including “barefoot” shoes, with a very high degree of flexibility and/or very little cushioning and stability. Minimalist shoes also usually have a low heel-to-toe offset of no more than 6 millimeters.

Motion control shoe: Similar to a stability shoe, but with even more stability. Motion control shoes tend to be heavy, stiff and straight-lasted with pronounced medial posts. Motion control shoes are typically worn by runners with very flat feet (feet without a discernible arch).

Neutral: When the foot is aligned with the lower leg at mid-stance in such a way that there is a (imaginary) straight or nearly-straight line through the ankle when viewed from behind. Ideally, there is a straight or nearly-straight line from the hip through the knee to the ankle, as well.

Neutral shoe: A shoe without a medial post or additional stability. Neutral shoes tend to be more flexible, especially when twisted (like wringing out a wet towel), and have more cushioning. Neutral shoes are typically worn by runners with medium-to-high arches.

Offset: The difference between the thickness or “height” of the midsole under the heel and the height of the midsole under the forefoot. Sometimes also called the “heel-toe drop” or “ramp.” Most training shoes have an offset of approximately 12 mm, but minimalist shoes can have offsets of 4 mm or less.

Outsole or outersole: The portion of the shoe in contact with the ground. Made of rubber and only a few millimeters thick.

Outsole

Outsole

Overlay: A very thin piece of material, usually made of either synthetic leather or nylon, in the upper, which reinforces a high-stress area. Overlays can be either stitched or heat-welded and are added for durability and to reinforce the upper so the foot does not slide too much inside the shoe. See also “Underlay.”

Over-pronation: A medial rotation of the foot (when viewed from behind) where the angle of the foot relative to the lower leg significantly exceeds a “neutral” angle. Over-pronation is most commonly associated with low arches or flat feet. Stability or motion-control shoes are often recommended to help control and limit over-pronation. The risks of not controlling over-pronation include knee, hip and other leg injuries as the leg muscles are forced to do more work to stabilize joints. See also “Pronation.”

Plantar Fascia: A thick fibrous band of tissue made up of muscle and connective tissue that stretches under the foot from the base of the heel to the ball of the foot.

Plantar Fasciitis: A tear or inflammation of the Plantar Fascia. Symptoms range from tired, achy feet in mild cases to sharp, stabbing pain. Symptoms usually appear at the base of the heel (“heel spurs”) or directly under the arch.

Pronation: One of the most misunderstood terms in the runner’s glossary. Pronation is a medial (when viewed from behind) rotation of the foot, although it can also sometimes be seen well after initial impact (this is called “late-stage pronation”). Pronation is normal and healthy and helps the body disperse shock upon impact. See also “Over-pronation” and “Under-pronation.”

Racing flat: A shoe designed specifically for racing, but which does not include any spikes. Racing flats tend to be extremely light with very little cushioning or stability in order to reduce weight, although some racing flats, designed for longer races such as the marathon, may contain more cushioning.

Saddle or mid-foot saddle: The portion of the shoe’s upper that wraps the mid-foot and arch.

Stability shoe: A shoe that includes a medial post or additional stability. Stability shoes tend to be stiffer and less flexible than their neutral siblings, especially when twisted (like wringing out a wet towel). Stability shoes are usually worn by runners with low-to-medium arches.

Supination: The most misunderstood term in the runner’s glossary. Supination is a lateral (when viewed from behind) rotation of the foot. Supination is most often seen in over-pronators as the foot prepares for toe-off and begins to correct its over-pronated position and move back to a neutral position. See also “Over-pronation” and “Under-pronation.”

Support: See “Stability.”

Toe-off: The moment just before the shoe leaves the ground completely, when only the toes are in contact with the ground.

Track spike: An extremely lightweight, flexible shoe used for racing on the track. These shoes feature a thin plastic “spikeplate” underneath the toes and ball of the foot into which 4-7 spikes can be screwed. Unlike cross country spikes, the spikeplate of a track spike is left exposed.

Track spikes differ depending on the event. Sprint spikes are very stiff, both in the upper and in the spikeplate, in order to return more energy to the runner. There will be no cushioning under the heel. Sprint spikes are worn for distances from 100-400 meters. Middle-distance and distance spikes are more flexible and lighter. Middle distance spikes are worn for distances from 400 meters to the mile and include a wedge of cushioning under the heel, but not under the arch. Distance spikes are worn for distances from the mile to the 10,000 meters and include a thin layer of cushioning for the full length of the shoe.

Trail shoe: A shoe designed specifically for trail running. Trail shoes usually have very aggressive outsoles with raised lugs to provide traction on soft surfaces and mud. Trail shoes also tend to have heavier uppers with more overlays to improve durability. Some trail shoes also have waterproof or water-repellant uppers and other design features to protect the laces from becoming snagged on branches.

Vamp: The portion of the upper that covers the toes and forefoot.

Underlay: Similar to an overlay, but attached underneath the upper.

Under-pronation: Sometimes incorrectly described as “Supination,” under-pronation is most often seen in high-arched feet where the foot is too rigid to pronate normally. As a result, the foot does not do a good job of dispersing shock. Under-pronators should look for a very flexible, neutral shoe with plenty of cushioning.

Upper: The portion of the shoe that wraps the foot itself. The upper includes the tongue, laces, heel counter, vamp and saddle, plus any overlays or underlays. Usually made of lightweight nylon with either very thin, lightweight nylon or synthetic leather overlays for durability.

Zero-drop: A shoe with an offset of zero, I.e., the thickness of the midsole is the same under the forefoot as it is under the heel. See “Offset.”

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