Training Shoe Selection

(5 mins read time – grab a drink!!!)

In this article I will address the area of shoe selection for runners and discuss some of the misconceptions that continue to be published despite research evidence to the contrary. So prepare to read this article with an open mind which will probably challenge your belief system and some of the information you may have previously been provided with.  But be re-assured that all the information contained within this article is evidence based and not anecdote and bro-science!!!

How many times have you been told you ‘over-pronate’ and because of this ‘over-pronation’ you need a specific form of motion control or stability type trainer? Well the evidence actually informs us that pronation is an entirely normal part of the gait cycle and’ over-pronation’ has never been shown to be strongly predictive of injury and cannot be accurately defined and pronation rate (the metric of interest to us) can’t even be measured by treadmill analysis.  So why would we want to control it?

Well this all seems to have started historically in the 1940’s with the ‘Wet foot test’ outlined by Harris & Beath which was then used as the basis for shoe selection in the 1980’s and continues to be utilised by many running store retailers and running magazines.   This system assumes that if you have a ‘flat/pronated’ foot   you need a motion control shoe and if you have a ‘high/supinated’ foot you need a neutral/cushioned shoe. We know that research actually suggests that selecting your shoes based upon this analysis system is not evidence based and potentially injurious (Richards et al 2010 & Ryan et al 2010). This system also assumes that ‘aligning’ the lower limb would in some way reduce your injury risk and again there is no evidence which supports this to date!

There is a high degree of variation between us all and mild/moderate pronation is commonly observed.  The key question is not if you ‘over-pronate’ it is more can you CONTROL the tissue loading forces associated with this… And we know that ‘motion control’ shoes don’t actually CONTROL or REDUCE pronation rate (the variable of interest).  In addition most of the key variables which might be of interest cannot be accurately analysed by a running store retailer….

So…… Where does this leave you when you are selecting shoes for running?

Well there are some key points below which may be helpful and that are aligned with current best evidence to assist you in shoe selection.

  1. Comfort – Research does suggest that selecting shoes on the basis of comfort may reduce injury risk but also leads to customer satisfaction and comfortable running! Go for shoes with adequate toe box height and width to allow your foot to function and also ensure you have adequate shoe length to avoid black toe nails! Shoes often feel slightly too big when the foot is ‘cold’ but as you run most feet flatten and broaden so allow for this.
  2. Lightest you can tolerate – Research suggests that for every 100g you reduce your shoe weight you reduce oxygen consumption by nearly 1%. That can equate to 15-20 mins time reduction over the course of a marathon. However you have to ‘earn the right’ to be in a lighter shoe and transition steadily over several weeks (see below).  In most situation you have to progressively transition between footwear when you make significant alteration to their characteristics.
  3. Transition steadily – When changing shoe type then transition slowly. I generally advise 1-2 minutes more per run in new shoes i.e start run in new shoes and swap back and gradually add minutes. I know this might sound fiddly but it will reduce your risk of overload and therefore reduce injury risk.
  4. Only change shoes for good reason – If you want to perform better, you are injured or have a history of recurrent injury then these are good reason to alter your footwear type. If you are happy with your performance and not injured then stick with the shoes you are running in!
  5. Shoe rotation – research evidence suggests that variation of footwear for different types of runs can help reduce injury risk. So for example lighter racer style shoe for shorter/faster/interval runs or track work and SLIGHTLY more supportive shoe for longer runs for example. But try not to make huge variations for example Vibram 5 fingers (minimalist) to Asics Gel Kayano (pronation control/cushioned shoe)

I hope you have found this article useful and informative. Any queries then please send us an email and look out for my next article in December…

Active Therapy is a specialized clinic of The Running Clinic who are world leaders in the field of injury risk reduction and treatment of running injury. We have completed intensive training over several years and we are experts in running injury assessment and treatment. We have a high level of clinical competence and serve as a reference to other health professionals and contribute to advancing knowledge through scientific research and education.

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