Maybe you’ve just decided to pick up running. Maybe at one time you did plenty of it, but then you went on a lengthy hiatus, and now you’re back at it. Maybe you never intend to run a single step unless being chased, but walking certainly holds appeal. Maybe you’ve started to log some miles, but now your shins, hips, knees, ankle(s), plantar, etc., are protesting every step of the way because your $20 kicks or random internet purchase that initially seemed so perfectly suited for the job are, well, not suited for it at all.
Whatever the case, something convinced you to go get fitted properly, so what can you expect? What makes a running shoe a running shoe? With everything that’s out there, how do you know what you need and, more importantly, why you need it? What makes what’s on our walls far superior to other options out there? What makes a trip here worthwhile?
While it’s certainly easy enough these days to purchase just about anything with the click of a mouse while sitting in your pajama bottoms, when it comes to purchasing running shoes, that’s a huge gamble; running shoes are all designed for varying gaits and foot types, sizing is all over the show, and maybe you’ve got specific questions relating to your own issues that have cropped up throughout your running or walking endeavors that maybe Zappos or Amazon just can’t answer. On top of that, we’re often asked what the difference is between what we sell versus what a local bargain big box store might sell, and the answer is simple: you get what you pay for. While lower-end shoes may be decent for a short time, their lifespan is substantially shorter, they don’t always offer the same support and correction needed (or perhaps not needed) for a given foot, and the quality of materials used is just not the same. Your feet and your running are more important than that. Go into your local running specialty store on the other hand, and you’ll learn precisely what’s needed for your individual mechanics, what those mechanics even are, you may get some running shoe myths debunked, and you’ll likely save yourself a world of grief once you start eeking up the miles. Convenient though internet shopping may be and tempting though it may be to go low-dollar, getting an actual in-store, in-person, shoe-fitting will ensure that you get exactly what you need and you’ll likely learn a lot along the way.
There are a whole host of supposed ways out there to “fit yourself.” For instance, there’s the “wet test,” where you take your wet foot, place it on a dry surface, and look at the print to gauge what sort of arch-type you have. And this is certainly useful if all you want to know is whether you’ve got a high, medium, or low arch, none of which are necessarily indicative of needing a certain type of shoe as the type of arch that you have doesn’t always correlate with the type of shoe that you need. Within magazines there are shoe guides asking you questions regarding your mileage, your foot type, your running pace, your BMI, and how injury-prone you are, in an effort to steer you toward a handful of shoes that could possibly work for you based upon your given answers. But none of the aforementioned ways really beat an actual gait analysis, where we can see, and more importantly show you, the mechanics of your lower leg in action, how the forces may be distributed throughout the lower body, and how your foot interacts with the ground with each step you take. A gait analysis is an invaluable part of assessing a person’s shoe needs that goes beyond that of a simple footprint or answering yes or no questions on a shoe guide.
“Gait analysis,” certainly sounds technical, and perhaps intimidating, but really it’s pretty painless. So what does the process look like? To start, we’ll have you throw on a pair of “neutral” shoes. There are three categories of shoes, neutral being one of them, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Simply put, a neutral shoe has no added features within it to correct your footstrike in any way, hence, your foot will just kind of do whatever it does in a shoe such as this. On the treadmill, we want to see you run a pace that you could go out and do for a significant amount of time, that is to say, we don’t want a full-on sprint. If you’ve never run before or you’re planning on using the shoe for walking instead, no sweat, simply run, or in the case of a walker, walk at a pace that you find most natural for you.
During a gait analysis at its most basic level, we’re primarily focusing on the rear foot, and our video camera will capture from a posterior view what’s going below the knee. Certainly you can get more complex gait assessments that will look at the body’s biomechanics and how they work together from head to toe, but that’s not generally necessary if all you are looking for is a shoe. So on camera when the foot is fully weight bearing, what we look for is the amount of inward rotation–or what’s referred to as “pronation”–of the rear foot. Before we go any further, it should be noted that pronation is not some terrible affliction that should be halted at all costs, on the contrary, it’s the body’s natural way of absorbing shock to the lower leg, you just don’t want pronation beyond a certain degree, that’s called overpronation. Ideally, it’s best if the medial (inside) edge of the ankle meets the treadmill and forms about a 90 degree angle, perhaps not exactly, but within about 15 degrees of that. Sounds complicated, but it’s really not. If you’re at about 90 degrees, you have what’s called a “neutral” footstrike, like this one:
If that angle is less than 90 degrees, you’re what’s called an overpronator–the most common type of footstrike that we see, which looks like this:
And if it’s greater than 90 degrees, you’re the more rare breed, a supinator, who sits on the lateral part of their foot during the entire gait cycle, like this:
As an aside, people occasionally mistake themselves for supinators when they look at the wear pattern on their current shoes and notice that the lateral aspect of the heel counter is often the most worn out part of the sole, but this is rarely the case as nearly everyone during walking and frequently during running strike initially on the outer edge of their heel before rolling through the rest of the footstrike, and it’s what happens during the rest of the gait that matters.
So from here we get into categories of shoes.
Neutral: As mentioned before, these shoes have no added corrective features. They’re generally soft, flexible throughout the entire shoe, and have no second-density foam, or “posting”, along the arch of the foot. People with either a neutral or supinated gait are steered toward shoes within this category. You might wonder why a person with a supinated footstrike necessitates this kind of shoe. It’s because you cannot “correct” supination, you can only accommodate it. Since pronation is the body’s way of absorbing shock, and a supinator cannot pronate, it’s best to put a supinator into a shoe that will allow for as much foot flexibility as possible.
Stability: This is the category of shoe that fits most people that we see, that is to say, people who pronate just beyond what’s considered ideal, but not substantially far beyond. Stability shoes all feature a moderate amount of posting along the medial aspect of the shoe, oftentimes it’s painted gray, though not always. If you feel this foam in relation to the foam throughout the rest of the medial side of the shoe, you’ll notice it is much harder. Because the posting does not give as easily upon weight bearing as does the foam throughout the rest of the medial aspect of the shoe, pronation is effectively reduced by the fact that the arch cannot drop as much (if that is in fact an issue, and it isn’t always) and foot is not permitted to rotate inward as far throughout the weight bearing part of the stance phase.
Motion Control: Think of these bad boys as stability shoes on steroids. They are for the most extreme over-pronators and have substantial posting along the medial side of the shoe, often extending as far back as the medial side of the heel. You can really only bend the forefoot of the shoe as the rest is too rigid.
So based upon how you run, you’ll be steered toward one category of these shoes. Another reason why it is worth your while to get checked out by a professional is because you may not always need the same shoe type. On occasion the gait can change, whether it is because a runner has become more or less efficient over time, maybe they’ve acquired or gotten rid of orthotics, or there may have been substantial weight loss or gain, all of which can certainly affect what’s needed from a shoe. Additionally, while most do quite well with just a shoe, in the instance where one wants a more custom fit to their shoe, or perhaps is dealing with a bit of an injury, leg length descrepency, or some other issue requiring some additional slight alteration of the foot mechanics, it’s often worth looking at various heel lifts or inserts, many of which suitably mimic a custom orthotic at a substantially lower cost.
So there you have it. Whether you’re a beginning runner, walker, or seasoned marathon veteran, there are a lot of shoe options out there, but we’ll help you narrow it down, and rest assured it’ll be hands-down well worth your time and your legs will thank you miles down the road.