If you were fitted for running shoes sometime in the past decade, you likely ran on a treadmill as a salesperson watched for signs of overpronation, an excessive inward rolling of the foot upon landing that’s often linked to low or flat arches. Based on your gait, you were probably recommended a stability shoe (which has a dense piece of foam, called a medial post, underneath the arch to prevent your foot from collapsing inward) if you did overpronate or a neutral shoe if not. The process was based on the thought that uncorrected overpronation would lead to injuries, but two large-scale studies have failed to prove that hypothesis. Among the thousands of participants in these studies, there was no link between injury risk and wearing the “correct” type of shoe.
So how should you choose your running shoes? Benno Nigg, a professor emeritus of kinesiology at the University of Calgary, says it all comes down to one word: comfort. One study has shown that participants who ran in footwear that they ranked the most comfortable experienced far fewer injuries than those who ran in a control shoe. “Everybody’s got their own preferred movement pathway, and their footwear should support that,” says Ben Langley, a lecturer in sport and exercise biomechanics at Edge Hill University in the U.K. “Something that you find more comfortable should be enabling you to move in that way.”
Comfort can be hard to quantify, though. JJ Hannigan, an assistant professor in the physical-therapy doctorate program at Oregon State University-Cascades, explains that along with getting a shoe that fits right (you should have a full thumb’s width between the tip of your big toe and the end of the shoe because feet swell and tend to move forward in a shoe as you run), you’ll want to pay attention to how a shoe feels when you’re actually running. The right shoe should feel like an extension of your foot, allowing you to run naturally and not forcing you into a certain posture or form. Watch out for any spots where the shoe pokes or rubs up against your foot. Any mild discomfort will only be amplified as you take thousands of steps on your run.
You’ll also want to think about the type of running you’ll be doing in the shoe. For easy, long-distance, recovery-type runs, you might prefer something with marshmallowlike cushioning in the midsole. For tempo runs or intervals at a fast clip, consider something a bit firmer — with lighter, bouncier foam. And if you’re looking for something to help you shave a few seconds off your 5K time, there are performance shoes, which come decked out with propelling carbon-fiber plates and extra-responsive foam. Use the categories below to determine which type of shoe you’re looking for and then try on a few within that category to see which one is most comfortable for you. So if you’re shopping online, make sure you choose a retailer with a generous return policy.
Daily training shoes
If you don’t want to think too much about your running shoes, start here: Don’t be too soft or too hard, these reliable anchors are suitable for most runners, whether you are jumping on a treadmill a few times a week or training for a marathon.
Since its launch 40 years ago, Pegasus has been a reliable part of Nike’s running series. Its cushioning comes from a thick layer of Nike’s proprietary React foam in the midsole. Olivia Young, founder and owner of Soho fitness studio Box + Flow, said when Pegasus was running: “They have enough support, and they have a balance between softness and structure, allowing me to run like the wind.”
Like Pegasus, Asics Gel-Cumulus has been around for decades and is still a runner’s favorite. In addition to lightweight foam, Gel-Cumulus also uses Asics’s signature gel capsule on the heel for shock absorption. If you tend to land with your heels (most people do) and like the slightly firm feel of the gel (compared to straight foaming), this might be a good match.
Although Asics shoes stand out for their gel composition, Mizuno shoes can be easily identified by their wave plates. The wave plate is inserted into the midfoot below the heel and is designed to spread the impact to the entire foot. The old version was made of hard plastic, but today’s board is made of Pebax, a thermoplastic elastomer, which is becoming more and more popular in running shoes because it is very light and helps in energy recovery.
Hannigan said that a study shows that some runners with excessive pronation do have a lower risk of injury when running in stable shoes-even if they have been overused in the past. If you know you like shoes with this structure, Brooks Adrenaline is equipped with guide rails or provides additional support on the two edges of the shoe to keep the foot aligned without forcing it to move in a specific direction. Compared with the stable shoes of the past, it is much less restrictive, with a large amount of ethylene-vinyl acetate foam cushioning.