Physical Therapists Using Clinical Analysis To Discuss The Art And Science Behind Running and The Stuff We Put On Our Feet

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The Beginner's Guide to Running Shoes: How to Choose Your First Running Shoe
By the Doctors of Running Editorial Team

At Doctors of Running, we frequently get questions from new runners or those who are interested in starting running about footwear. There are so many companies and shoes that looking for a place to start can be overwhelming. Additionally, the amount of marketing jargon and advertising that is immediately thrown at any new runners can either lead to decision paralysis or choosing an inappropriate shoe that causes the person to end up in one of our offices.

Covered in this Feature
Introduction to Running
Introduction to Choosing the Right Running Shoes
Running Shoes for a New Runner
Stability for a New Runner
Shoe Suggestions for a Variety of Runners


There are many things to get used to as a new runner. How much to run, what to do before and after, dealing with soreness and the inevitable aches in different places (these are normal), figuring out how to fit running into an already busy lifestyle and more. Footwear is a major part of this as it is one of the most important pieces of equipment for this sport. Like many things in life, starting out simple is key, but we have a few guidelines that may make your transition a little easier.


Introduction to Running


Put simply, running is a series of single leg hops over longer distances. It has much higher levels of impact forces compared to walking and requires good single leg strength and endurance. New runners are often very sore as a result of learning to deal with the increased demand on their muscles from both producing and absorbing these new levels of forces. We often encourage new runners to ease into training, either with a run/walk program or with slow mileage changes to let their bodies adapt and get used to this. Our bodies can adapt to an amazing variety of things, but you have to give it time to do this. That means not overdoing it, being patient, and allowing your body to recover enough for the next effort.


Introduction to Choosing Running Shoes


With the higher forces that the new runner must deal with, having a comfortable, up-to-date pair of shoes is key. Many people have anecdotes about how best to fit shoes. However, we know from extensive research that static standing arch shape is not effective in choosing the right shoes (Knapkik et al., 2009) and that most of what is used to prescribe shoes is not evidence based at all (Richards et al., 2009). What we do know from initial evidence that comfort is one of the key factors in choosing a shoe and potentially reducing running related injuries (Nigg et al., 2015).

Based on research from a validated scale on running shoe comfort (Bishop et al., 2020), there are five things to consider when trying on a shoe:

How comfortable the heel (back) AND forefoot (front) feel under your foot,
How stable the shoe feels,
How flexible the front of the shoe is and
How comfortable the overall shoe feels on your foot (especially the top).
These are from a scale called the "RUN-CAT" that was developed recently to help people figure out what shoe may be appropriate for them. These factors are important to consider and can only be determined by actually trying on the shoes! If possible we suggest going to a local running store that carries these to try on some shoes to see which one fits all five criteria for you! This takes some practice, particularly as a new runner, to understand what each of these mean for you as a unique individual. It is best to assess comfort not only from standing or walking in the shoe, but also taking the shoe for a quick jog (around the store or outside if they let you).

As mentioned, what exactly these things will look like in a shoe will depend completely on the individual. There is extensive evidence to suggest that different people need different things. That is why we also tell people that there is no such thing as a "best shoe." There are many different shoes that will work for different people. Even for the same person, the shoes that work best for them may change over time!


Running Shoes for the New Runner

As mentioned, different people are going to prefer different things. Due to new runners having to get used to new levels of impact forces, we generally suggest that those who are just starting find a shoe with a little more cushioning than less. Although a ton of cushioning is not necessarily more protective, it may feel more comfortable for certain people. As you progress in strength, endurance and experience, experimentation with other types of shoes is great as long as you transition slowly. Ultimately, a shoe that is most similar to your current pair of shoes that you use for casual wear, working out, or work may be the most appropriate.

We do suggest that new runners avoid extreme types of running shoes. New runners who are getting used to this new activity should stay away from carbon fiber plated super shoes, spikes, racing shoes (ie Nike Vaporfly, Adios Pro, etc) or any other extreme type of shoe. These are not bad shoes, but they are not designed for new runners and daily/recreational running. Most new runners need to get used to just running by itself and should not worry about hard workouts yet. These new shoe types are not designed for easy running. While they are cool, exciting, and have certain benefits, they also have significant risks. The carbon fiber plates stiffen the sole up ad can place a great deal of stress in certain areas a new runner might not be ready for. The foams are often extremely soft, which can be too much a new runner that is simply trying to start and finish a run. These are more advanced shoes that new runners may consider when they have gotten used to the act of simply running and are ready to try some faster paces, NOT when you are just starting.

There is also evidence to suggest that having multiple pairs of shoes is better than one, particular when it comes to reducing injury risk (Malisoux et al., 2015). Putting on different shoes each run changes the way your body interacts with the ground and places forces in different areas. This is somewhat similar to cross training as each shoe will make small changes so there is less of a chance of certain tissues being overworked. New runners doing this should still be cautious with overtraining, as shoes can only do so much. Having multiple shoes is not always a financially viable option for many runners. If you can only afford to have one pair of running shoes, make sure not to put too many miles on them. The running industry standard is that shoes will last for about 300-500 miles. There is no evidence behind that, although from clinical experience we generally suggest suggest new runners change their shoes at least every 3-6 months. These foams do break down and in many people can change or increase stresses into certain parts of the body. Thus, making sure your shoes are up to date is important.




Stability for the New Runner

We referenced above that a new runner should consider how stable a shoe is underfoot while running to help determine their comfort. Stability is a topic that is currently shifting drastically in run shoe design as well as in our understanding of who may or may not benefit from stability.

Traditionally, stability was placed in shoes with the goal of stopping or preventing a motion called pronation, which historically has been thought of as an unnecessary and injury-inducing motion. However, it is now clear that pronation is a normal and necessary part of running mechanics to help absorb shock. This is why, as we mentioned above, that matching standing foot type to a particular shoe or saying someone with a flat arch requires a stability shoe simply hasn't worked out. Traditionally, it has also been recommended that newer runners should start with stability shoes to give them extra support to help them adjust to running. However, this also is not the case and could actually lead to more bad than good for certain runners.

Instead, new runners should be open to trying a myriad of shoes in the shop when finding their first pair. Try a neutral shoe, try a shoe with stability built in through a post, try a shoe with stability built in through a wide base and geometry. If you haven't ran before and don't have a remarkable injury history, don't limit yourself to what you "think" you need or even what someone may say to you based on your foot type. Best case scenario you go to a store and try on shoes with varying levels of stability to see what is most comfortable for you. Remember, comfort is key. Your assessment of comfort may lead you to a neutral shoe, maybe a shoe with mild stability, maybe one with maximal stability. It's all okay. Just find what works for you. Remember, over time this may change.

One group of new runners that may want to consider trying a shoe that has stability built in to slow the motion of pronation is those who have a particular history of pronation-related injuries. This includes people who have a history of recurrent plantar fascia pain, tibialis posterior pain, and certain cases of achilles tendinopathy -- among others (Willems et al 2021). If you fall into one of those categories, we'd recommend including at least one stability shoe in the shoes you try out and possibly finding one to add to your running shoe rotation. That said, there are many different methods of incorporating stability into a shoe, and for more details check out our Stability Guide.

Our Advice on Orthotics in Running Shoes



We often get questions about orthotics use. Please visit the brief two minute video for a summary on orthotics in running shoes, and how we recommend using - and not using - them.


Shoe Suggestions for the New Runner

As mentioned, going to a local running store and trying on shoes to find what is most comfortable based on the factors listed above is the best place to start. However, many people do not have access to a good local running store, so we have compiled a list of great entry level shoes. As we mentioned, there is no perfect shoe, but different people may be interested in different things. Whether it is shoes that are more affordable, classic/tried and true training shoes or even minimal/natural shoes.

Looking for Budget running shoes?
Check out our Guide to Affordable Running Shoes Under $100 here.


Classic Neutral Daily Trainers for New Runners
The following are a series of solid, basic, neutral daily trainers - shoes for logging the majority to all of your miles. Neutral shoes do not have any major stability mechanism like a post or significant guidance tool that interrupts your stride. Some neutral shoes we label as "stable neutral," meaning they do have some minor stable elements like a wide base to help  make it stable without being intrusive. The majority of the shoes recommended in this guide we consider stable neutral.


Saucony Ride 15 | Review | Shop ($139.95 at Running Warehouse) Men | Women

The Ride 15 is a no-frills neutral trainer that nails a simple upper with a solid, slightly more cushioned midsole to create a balanced ride that will last many miles. It's mostly wide platform and well-fitting upper provides some good inherent stability.

Brooks Ghost 14 | Review | Shop ($139.95 at Running Warehouse) Men | Women

Often touted as the first shoe for new runners, the Brooks has been a reliable go-to trainer for many over the years. The Brooks and Ride share some DNA as far as basics go, with the biggest difference being the Ghost and it's higher 12 mm drop.

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39
| Review | Shop ($139.95 at Running Warehouse) Men | Women

The Pegasus has been a first shoe for many runners over the years. While the last two versions were a bit more aggressive and less beginner-friendly than past versions, the Pegasus 39 rekindles a lot of what makes the Peg a favorite. For those with medium to narrow width feet, it's an easy shoe to pick up and do just about any run in, along with take to the store for errands or pull out for the occasional alternative sporting activity.

Mizuno Wave Rider 25 | Review | Shop ($139.95 at Running Warehouse)

The Wave Rider is perfect for someone who wants a very stable heel and a soft, flexible forefoot. It has a really stable rearfoot that provides good support for what we typically call a "neutral" shoe.

New Balance Fresh Foam X 880v12 | Review
| Shop ($134.95 from Running Warehouse) Men | Women

Thanks to the more traditional features offered in the 880v12, it makes it a great shoe for beginner runners as it offers a smooth and responsive ride without being over the top. The shoe additionally features a very accommodating upper that is known to fit runners well.

Reebok Floatride Energy 4 | Review | Shop ($110 at Reebok)

A simple neutral daily trainer series that we've enjoyed over the years. The shoe features a very good bevel which allows for an elegant ride. Additionally at $110 full price (often far less online), it's an incredible deal and easy way to step into running. This shoe does lean more neutral than stable neutral.

Puma Velocity Nitro 2 | Review | Shop ($120 at Puma) Men | Women

The Velocity Nitro features a great fitting shoe that's protective and versatile enough to do some strides or tackle big mileage. The base is just wide enough to keep runner's decently stable, while PumaGrip offers great traction.

Asics Dynablast 2 | Review | Shop ($99.95 at Running Warehouse)

One of the best daily trainers of 2021 for the price, the Dynablast offers a nicely balanced ride that can do a little bit of everything. Plus, a huge bargain at $100 flat.

Stability Shoes for New Runners
The following shoes are full stability shoes, meaning they have a mechanism meant to adjust your running form, typically to prevent you from greatly "overpronating" or "supinating." Please see our
Guide to Stability Shoes to learn more.

On Cloudrunner | Review | Shop ($139.98 at Running Warehouse) Men | Women

A very mild stability mechanic makes the Cloudrunner a very accessible shoe for both runners who need mild stability and neutral runners who are interested in a more stable platform. Slightly denser medial midsole and On's Speedboard helps provide enough substance to help runner's roll through.

Mizuno Horizon 6 | Review | Shop ($169.95 at Running Warehouse) Men | Women

The Horizon 5 utilizes a unique wave pattern through the shoe, mixing a firmer bottom midsole with a soft topsole to create a stable platfrom. This is a great stability shoe in that it will likely work for a much broader audience compared to posted shoes like the Vongo. This is a good option for both pronation and supination issues.

Asics GT-2000 10 | Review | Shop ($129.95 at Running Warehouse) Men | Women

A moderate stability shoe, the GT-2000 10 runs very basically with stability elements like a full ground contact outsole and trusstic (a firm piece embedded into the medial (inner) side of the shoe to help provide support. This results in a very accommodating stability trainer that may work for many neutral runners as well.

Great Shoes for New Runners Looking to Start Natural
Shoes today tend to be more higher off the ground as it's become a major trend. For those interested in more natural shoes, ie ones with lower heels and that are closer to the ground, there are some prerequisites. You need to have good calf strength (be able to do 25 single leg heel raises), have good ankle motion/flexibility and have good balance.

Topo Athletic Magnify 4 | Review | Shop ($130 at Running Warehouse) Men | Women

The Magnifly is a well-cushioned zero drop trainer from Topo. That means the height of the shoe is completely the same throughout. Most shoes have at least some kind of drop, anywhere from 4 mm to 12 mm. The Magnifly is a brand new update with a slight rocker, ample toebox, and comfort throughout of this model.

Saucony Kinvara 13 | Review | Shop ($109.95 at Running Warehouse)

Known for it's lightness and ground feel, the Kinvara is a lower stacked, everyday trainer that can handle a variety of runs. By today's standards, the Kinvara sits low to the ground, but still offering enough cushioning to feel protected for short to medium distance runs.

Altra Escalante 2.5
| Shop ($129.95 at Running Warehouse)

The Escalante is Altra's zero drop, moderately cushioned trainer. Similar to the Kinvara, it can handle a variety of efforts. The Altra Escalante, however, is a bit more accommodating in the toebox, making it a more comfortable shoe for daily miles while the Kinvara runs a touch faster.

*Note: Links to Running Warehouse are affiliate links that help support Doctors of Running. Thanks so much for your support.

Conclusion

Running is such a wonderful sport and habit that can be an avenue for improving overall wellness, mental health, and scratching that competitive itch. It also has the potential to be a way to find a new community of friends and challenge your mind as you learn more about what it takes to run well. Running shoes are the primary apparel that runners should consider investing in to help them have the most pleasant and pain free experience in running. That said, being a healthy runner is about so much more than shoes. Your training, your nutrition, your strength, and your mechanics all play an even more significant role. So buddy up, find an experienced running friend, find a coach, find a good physical therapist, and start building toward your healthiest running experience.

References

Bishop, C., Buckley, J. D., Esterman, A. E., & Arnold, J. B. (2020). The running shoe comfort assessment tool (RUN-CAT): Development and evaluation of a new multi-item assessment tool for evaluating the comfort of running footwear. Journal of sports sciences38(18), 2100-2107.

Knapik, J. J., Swedler, D. I., Grier, T. L., Hauret, K. G., Bullock, S. H., Williams, K. W., ... & Jones, B. H. (2009). Injury reduction effectiveness of selecting running shoes based on plantar shape. 
The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research23(3), 685-697.

Malisoux, L., Chambon, N., Urhausen, A., & Theisen, D. (2016). Influence of the heel-to-toe drop of standard cushioned running shoes on injury risk in leisure-time runners: a randomized controlled trial with 6-month follow-up. 
The American journal of sports medicine44(11), 2933-2940.

Malisoux, L., Ramesh, J., Mann, R., Seil, R., Urhausen, A., & Theisen, D. (2015). Can parallel use of different running shoes decrease running‐related injury risk?. 
Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports25(1), 110-115.

Nigg, B. M., Baltich, J., Hoerzer, S., & Enders, H. (2015). Running shoes and running injuries: mythbusting and a proposal for two new paradigms:‘preferred movement path’and ‘comfort filter’. 
British journal of sports medicine49(20), 1290-1294.

Richards, C. E., Magin, P. J., & Callister, R. (2009). Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based?. 
British journal of sports medicine43(3), 159-162.

Willems, T. M., Ley, C., Goetghebeur, E., Theisen, D., & Malisoux, L. (2021). Motion-Control Shoes Reduce the Risk of Pronation-Related Pathologies in Recreational Runners: A Secondary Analysis of a Randomized Controlled Trial. 
journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy51(3), 135-143.

Further Reading at Doctors of Running

Guide to Stability Shoes

Shoe Reviews at Doctors of Running
Running Science and Rehab Center at Doctors of Running
More on Getting the Right Fit
Footwear Science | Outsoles, Rockers, Zero Drop, and More

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