Have you decided to start running? Or are you looking for new running shoes to improve your performance? Whatever the reason, searching for the best running shoes to purchase can be a daunting task.
If you have searched the web for information on what kind of shoes could be suitable, you have probably felt overwhelmed at some point by all the resources available. Sometimes contradictory, often based on anecdotes rather than empirical evidence, running shoe articles may be more confusing than actually helping.
First, we need to ask ourselves: why do we need running shoes? To run, evidently, but what else? To run and keep injuries at bay, of course! The truth is that every year up to 80% of runners get injured. As pointed out by Christopher McDougall in his bestseller Born to Run, the running shoe companies would like to make you believe that their latest technologies can keep you safe from running injuries but to date none of them can claim that their shoes can achieve that much.
So where does that leave us? Below are 5 tips to find the best running shoe based on actual scientific research.
1. Comfort is important
In this 2009 study published in Footwear Science, researchers Geng Luo et al. examined the relation between comfort and running economy—how much oxygen is consumed to maintain a certain pace. They found a significant improvement of 0.7% in running economy in the most comfortable shoe condition.
Therefore, before buying a new running shoe, make sure to give it a test run, even if that’s just around the corner of the running shoe shop.
2. Ignore the jargon
Overpronation, supination, minimalist, maximalist, cushioning, stability, motion control…etc. how to not be confused when walking into a store and hearing these technical terms from the running shoe seller. The worst thing about it is that to date not one single running shoe company can claim that their running shoes can decrease the risk of injuries or improve performance. So why bother?
Arthur Lydiard, one of the most respected running coaches of all time, said:
‘We used to run in canvas shoes. We didn’t get plantar fasciitis; we didn’t pronate or supinate; we might have lost a bit of skin from the rough canvas when we were running marathons, but generally we didn’t have foot problems.’
Of course, there may be some logic behind those technical running concepts and some of it may be applicable to your situation. However, always consider whether it is backed by any scientific evidence. If not, proceed with caution and only trust your personal experience.
3. Cushioning does not matter
The impact on the legs from running can be up to 12 times our weight. Nothing will stop that and certainly not any fancy cushioning technology.
Barefoot running advocates like Christopher McDougall argue that running with little cushioning gives us instant feedback on our form. Pain is an ally. It’s our body’s natural alarm to tell us we are doing something wrong like banging our heels on the pavement. Cushioning deprives us of this very valuable information.
Cushioning can help to feel more comfortable but it shouldn’t alter our running form. Beware of shoes that feel too bouncy and soft.
4. Higher price does not mean better shoes
This is the best part. Thinking that paying a premium will get you better running shoes? Think again.
In a 1989 study by Dr Bernard Marti, over 4,000 runners were asked after a race to fill in a questionnaire with questions about their training regimen and shoes for the previous year. 45% of them had been injured in that time. Can you guess what was the most common variable among these injured runners? It was the price of the shoe. Not the intensity of the training or bodyweight, not even the surface of the injury history of the runner. The price. The more expensive the shoe, the more likely the runner was to be injured.
This definitely puts things into perspective, especially when there are shoes priced at over £150 like the Asics Gel-Quantum or the Adidas Ultra Boost.
5. Read reviews from other runners with similar profile and experience as yourself
With so little scientific evidence to find the most suitable running shoe, it’s important rely on personal experience but also on reviews from other runners. Personally, having dealt with a nagging injury like Achilles tendonitis, I have found it useful to read reviews from runners with the same condition. This helped me to narrow down a few pairs that could be a good fit and eventually pick one!
The good news is that once you have found a running shoe that matches your running form and does not cause injuries, you can stick to it and purchase the same shoe again in the future. It can be a good idea to alternate with shoes built differently. Also, why not give a try to barefoot running once in a while to strengthen your feet (e.g. 1/2 mile every other week and build it up from there)?
Do you have any comments on these tips? Or would you like some help to find the perfect running shoe? Please use the comment section below.