Are you confused about which running shoes to buy? Do you need neutral or support shoes? What do different shoe types offer? And how does the technology do this? I’m going to try and give you the answers!
The running shoe market has never had so much diversity. ‘This is great for customer choice and for ensuring you can get something that is exactly right for you. However, knowing what that is has become increasingly challenging,’ says Richard Fenton, an ultra-marathon runner, fitness coach and footwear manager at Profeet (www.profeet.co.uk).
Challenging it may be, but Richard says this should not deter you from trying to find your perfect shoe. ‘Running shoes are generally designed to achieve one or more of three things: improve performance, improve comfort and reduce injuries,’ he explains. ‘Comfort is the easiest here; multiple studies have reported that we have a lower oxygen consumption when we select shoes based purely on comfort, so if you’re not injured and just looking for something to feel good then simply try on multiple shoes and go from there. The confusion can come when we start to look at performance or reduce injuries.’
Every shoe will not only interact differently with your foot but also with the rest of your body so it’s important to get an understanding of how you’re moving, and what you need. The two biggest shoe categories are neutral and support, with support being the biggest. It’s likely you’ll fall into one of these two categories, though as your running progresses, you may want to experiment with other shoe types. ‘If in doubt with anything I would always recommend seeing a specialist that looks at you running and takes into consideration your knees and hips as well as your feet,’ advises Richard.
In need of support?
Support shoes are for runners who need medial support (think support on the arch side) and a good level of cushioning. They are best suited for people who over-pronate (think of your knees bending inwards as you run and your feet having to overcompensate for this). These shoes are generally categorised by having a medial post, which is a harder piece of material in the mid-foot, that stops the foot from rolling in – correcting the pronation.
‘Very loosely speaking supportive shoes will tend to be slightly harder/firmer under foot, particularly useful for runners who have issues with their feet spending too much time on the ground or who are unstable,’ states Richard. ‘The firmer materials will help to speed up the foot gait cycle and get things off the ground and moving faster; this can be a common problem with people that have excessive joint/muscle mobility.’
Motion control shoes are for people who may be heavier and need extra support; you may be a bigger runner with low arches. The Brooks Ariel 12 comes under this category; you get comfort and stability as well as the right level of support you need.
Shoe: Wave Inspire 11
The description: A smooth run is enhanced with Mizuno Running’s keynote technologies: SmoothRide; plus its revolutionary weight-saving U4iC midsole material.
The price: £105
Neutral shoes offer maximum midsole cushioning with minimum medial (arch side) support. They are best suited to more efficient runners and mid-foot strikers. You’re more likely to have a moderate to high arch if you wear a shoe in this category.
‘The sole of neutral shoes tends to (but not exclusively) be made with softer materials that are great for slowing down movement. Runners that suffer from stiffness issues or have feet that seem to slap to the ground too quickly can benefit hugely from having something softer underfoot,’ says Richard.
‘A flat foot does not necessarily mean it needs supportive shoes though. The same can be said with high arches and neutral shoes. In the past we have treated shoe fitting as “arch fitting”, where wet footprint tests and arch height evaluations determined the shoe we chose. This has started to become outdated as we begin to appreciate there is a lot more to the foot than one arch.’
Steve Wales, tech rep manager at Brooks Running adds: ‘Neutral shoes are aimed at runners of any calibre who have little to no biomechanical inefficiencies. Neutral shoes are so-called because they don’t try to coerce the foot in to behaving in any given way. This means that a neutral shoe doesn’t need to include components which are designed to guide the foot in a certain direction, making them more flexible and allowing much more freedom of movement than a shoe designed to have more control over the foot. Not having stabilising components also reduces the weight of a shoe, which means that a shoe like the Glycerin can have plenty of cushioning without being heavy. In comparison to other styles, a neutral shoe has an absence of technology, because the runners that wear them do not require the shoe to provide any interference.
‘Readers should consider wearing a neutral shoe if a gait assessment at their local specialist running store shows no need to interfere with what their feet do naturally,’ says Steve, ‘or if they’ve been running injury-free in a neutral shoe for a period of time which makes them feel confident that they do not need any extra support from a shoe.’
Shoe: Ghost 7
Description: BioMoGo DNA in the midsole offers adaptive cushioning while staying more flexible.
Natural shoes have followed in the wake of the minimalist revolution – they are not necessarily minimal, though they are categorised by a low drop (the height from the forefoot to the rear foot) of generally around four millimetres. They’re still a shoe built for speed, but they offer more support than a minimal shoe. Often the goal is to enable the foot to work harder than in conventional shoes – but offer reasonable support and cushioning.
On shoes are a classic natural ride. David Allemann, founder of On, says: ‘Each model of On shoes has a unique set of hollow pods on the sole called Clouds that, on impact, stretch back on impact to cushion the landing and then lock to form the solid foundation required for a powerful push-off. This technology provides runners with the best of both worlds – uniquely combining the soft landing of a cushioned training shoe with the explosive push-off of a fast racing flat.
‘The Clouds act to stabilise your foot strike and activate your postural muscles, putting you in control. On give wearers all the benefits of a natural running style, while still providing optimum comfort, and runners can expect a light, soft yet fast running sensation.’
Shoe: On Cloudsurfer
Description: The CloudTec system is excellent at transforming running energy into forward momentum.
Generally categorised by having a zero millimetre drop, these shoes don’t have a cushioned heel like conventional shoes, where the front tends to be lower than the back. Essentially these shoes are providing protection against ground content – damage from what is below your feet.
‘Running speed and increasing it comes from good skill and appropriate strength,’ says Jamie Page, from Vivobarefoot. ‘Skill can be perfected through practice. It is essential that enough sensory information reaches the athlete’s brain so they can effectively increase their skill level and know what shapes to put their body into whilst moving, and master the correct biomechanics of running.
‘Strength comes from utilising the feet, legs and whole body in the correct fashion (skillfully and completely) on a regular basis. Our shoes are made for anyone who regards full foot functionality as a paramount feature of shoes. The technology is all in your feet. Vivobarefoot shoes allow that “technology” to thrive. How? The shoes are super flexible and light so your big toe can engage rapidly with the ground and be the body’s anchor and provide natural motion control. We make them flat and wide so the foot can splay on impact and recoil on lift off and so the muscles and tendons can provide the natural shock absorption. Lastly the shoes are ultra-thin but with puncture-resistant soles so your brain gets all the information it need to be able to run skillfully. We add terrain specific grip and different uppers depending on the environment and activity.’
If this appeals to you, it’s an idea to slowly get used to minimalist shoes. ‘It will take time to rehabilitate, regain the skill of natural movement (that you once had as an uncompromised child) and gain innate strength,’ says Jamie. ‘This can be done with patience and ease, it involves walking before you run, doing the deep “campfire” squat little and often and practising straight jumps at 90bpm.’
Shoe: Trail Freak
Description: The Trail Freak has a lightweight natural fit, duo 3M mesh and laminated structured that gives a comfortable and secure second skin fit.
Is bigger better? Try the HOKA ONE ONE
These shoes use a wider platform than normal underfoot – particularly at the forefoot and heel. This helps to provide a stable running experience. They also use a meta-rocker (the curvature of the outsole at the metatarsal heads). The idea behind this is that when your foot strikes the ground the geometry of the sole unit pushes you forward into the next step – conserving energy and ensuring a fluid stride transition.
‘The shoes themselves are based on two fundamental principles: performance and protection,’ says Jean-Luc Diard, founder of HOKA ONE ONE. ‘Performance refers to the unique geometry of the shoes and the really smooth stride transition this provides. Protection comes via the cushioning volume of the shoes. Running is a high-impact sport, and depending on a variety of factors, you can exert up to four times your body weight in downward pressure. With that in mind it stands to reason that a higher volume of cushioning is important if you’re going to be running regularly or over longer distances.’
Shoe: HOKA Conquest 2
Description: A suspension midsole built with an EVA top-layer provides the signature HOKA cushioning, while the RMAT body provides a perfect blend of underfoot support and a responsive ride.
What is your “natural”?
Richard advises everyone to: ‘Look at the wear pattern on the bottom of your shoe to understand how you have been using it. In an ideal world we would see fairly even wear in most parts except for the heel where we would have slightly more just off centre of the heel towards the outside. If you notice a lot of wear on the inside of the heel then this can suggest that a shoe with supportive features on the inside can help to even out that wear. At the front end we want even wear but most commonly you may see extra wear on the part where the ball of your big toe would be; in this case it can help to have a firmer shoe in this area. Excessive wear on the outside of the forefoot can suggest that you have too much support in your shoes so selecting more neutral shoes would be a better option.
If you need a boost…
At the top end of the neutral market is the new adidas Ultra BOOST. Previously, adidas BOOST shoes would have comprised 80 per cent BOOST with an EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) rim. However, new technology has enabled adidas to remove the EVA rim and create a shoe with 100 per cent BOOST. John Stewart, adidas running merchandising manager, says: ‘Boost material is more cushioned and more propulsive than EVA, it’s also more flexible, more durable and less temperature dependent than EVA.
‘What this shoe gives every runner when they put on the shoe on, is it feels secure, it feels comfortable and it feels cushioned in the heel. Those feelings are relevant for an absolute beginner and also a marathon runner.’