What makes a running shoe a running shoe?

This text provides tips for sorting out which shoes to buy based on expert opinions.

What makes a running shoe a running shoe?


Geoff Burns is a sport physiologist with the U.S. Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee, located in Colorado Springs.

Humans have been running for thousands of years without any comfort or color. Take a look at a sporting good store or browse through a


You'll be overwhelmed by the number of choices available on our website. Many promise speed and comfort, while others claim to reduce injury. But they all come with hefty prices.

Sorting out your life is easy with this guide

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We consulted experts and research to find out what shoes are best for stability and fads.

What is a running shoes?

The Traditional Method

Running Shoes

Geoff Burns is a sports physiologist with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Paralympic Committee

Running sneakers, like other athletic footwear, are made from fabric, rubber and foam, but they have been engineered for the demands of running. Running shoes are lighter and more flexible, for example, than basketball sneakers, which protect your feet during stop-and-start, lateral movements.

Most people are surprised by the biggest differences in their lives.

Running shoes

The midsole is made up of a soft foam. Burns explained that midsole foam is also found in other types of athletic shoes, but it's more common in running sneakers. Manufacturers claim the foam is tapered towards the front to help with forward movement.

Matthew Klein, physical therapist and assistant professor at West Coast University's Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, as well as the founder of "Doctors of Running", a podcast and website, explained that most running shoes also have features built into the uppers. These are meant to secure your foot. For example, you might see a piece of stiff cardboard or plastic at the heel of the shoe called a "heel counter" or additional fabric strips called overlays that run along the upper.

Are specialized running shoe really as good as they claim to be?

Allison Gruber is an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington and a biomechanics research. She said that shoe companies spend a lot of money on biomechanical research. Klein and Kevin Vincent, Dr. Kevin Vincent is a physiatrist at the University of Florida Health Running Medicine Clinic and a director of its Physiatrist Clinic. They both believe that marketing departments oversell certain features to new runners. For example, stability and motion control footwear is popular with runners. They are claimed to reduce injury risk by correcting over-pronation, which occurs when the ankle collapses inward while you are walking or running. Klein explained that some models use rigid posts to reduce side-toside motion. However, many of the newer releases have subtler systems such as widening the shoe on the bottom compared to the top. However, current research does not support their protection benefits. Running is not possible without pronation. Vincent explained that this is how the body dissipates its force. It can cause hip and knee pain and stop you from using your leg and foot muscles properly. Gruber says that excessive pronation is also a problem, but the definition of it is unclear: "What may be excessive for someone else, might not necessarily be excessive for another." Vincent explained that the shoes could be a solution for a problem a runner may not have. Most people, however, would benefit from letting their foot move naturally. Another popular category is minimalist shoes. These have thick soles that are supposed to cushion the foot better from impact. Some shoes have rocker soles that are curved in front and back to guide your foot forward. Vincent says that while foam can cushion the impact, it is not always better to use more. Vincent explained that a thicker layer of foam can obscure the information your brain receives about your body's interaction with the ground. You may wobble more or strike the ground harder in this shoe than you would with a shoe that is less cushioned. The foam absorbs some of the impact, but it can also travel to other parts, such as the hip and knee, which could worsen any existing pain. The idea that a running shoe will prevent injury is not true. The rates of running-related injury, like shin splints or stress fractures, are still high despite the evolution in shoe technology. A Cochrane Review, published in 2022, assessed 11,240 runners over 12 controlled randomized trials. The majority of these compared different types running shoes against each other. The analysis did not find any evidence that prescribing specific shoes or running shoes has the ability to prevent injury. Super shoes are trendy racing sneakers that have carbon-fiber plates with stiffness and ultralight and responsive foam. According to several studies, wearing super shoes can help serious athletes improve their running economy, or the amount oxygen needed to maintain a specific pace. Super shoes are not for everyone. In a small, Burns-led study, some runners who run at slower speeds found that super shoes improved their running economy, while about a third had deteriorated running economy. Klein says that there is not much research on super shoes and injuries. However, many experts think they may not increase the risk of injury compared to other types of footwear, but they could change how runners are injured. It's for this reason that he and other experts recommend avoiding super shoes as you begin your running journey.

What features should you look out for when buying running shoes?

Klein suggested that most runners, including those lacing up their shoes for the first-time, should opt for what is known as a "neutral daily trainer". These shoes do not attempt to alter the way that your foot interacts the ground. They simply add some cushioning. There are some reasons to look at other options. Although specialized shoes like maximalist or stability sneakers don't seem able to prevent running injuries, Klein and Vincent say they recommend them for patients with specific types of pain and injury. For example, if you suffer from arthritis, plantar faciitis, or any other type of foot pain, rocker-bottomed maximalist shoes may be helpful. There is evidence to suggest that these shoes can reduce the pressure placed on your feet as well as the demands made on your Achilles tendon and ankles. Consider consulting a sports medicine specialist who can provide you with advice on prevention and treatment. Klein says that if you are a regular runner on steep, rocky, or muddy terrain, then trail shoes will provide better traction, particularly on downhills. Some shoes have a rigid plate built into the midsole that protects your feet from sharp stones. He added that you should make sure the shoes are comfortable. He said that comfort, rather than matching the shoe to your foot type or gait, will help you run for a long time.

Running shoes can be expensive. How often should they be replaced?

Name-brand shoes are usually more expensive than $100. Specialty super shoes can cost up to $200. Burns says that you can find other trainers at sporting goods or discount stores for $50. However, many runners report that these shoes are not as comfortable or cushioned. This is likely due to the lower quality or less quantity of foam used. Running shoes lose significant shock absorption after 300-500 miles of use, according to lab and real-world studies. Hiruni Wijayaratne is a certified running coach and an elite marathoner. She said that it takes about three to five weeks for a serious runner to lose significant amounts of shock absorption. Burns says it's not clear at what point this breakdown starts to cause problems with your legs or feet. He said that the shoe and runner are both important factors. Super shoes break down more quickly than neutral trainers, especially for runners who run a lot, train on hard surfaces or have an uneven gait pattern. You may feel your shoes are nearing their end if you run regularly. Perhaps your arch, shins, knees, or heels become sore. Vincent says visible signs of wear, like cracks and worn-out rubber, are also a sign that it's time for a new shoe. Burns says that you can prolong the life of a shoe by only wearing it for running, and not other exercises or to the grocery store. If you can afford it, you may also benefit from alternating pairs, giving the foam at least 24 hour to recover its shape. Some evidence suggests that wearing more than one pair of shoes, whether they are in a new category or the same style but from different brands, can reduce injury risk. This is because you're putting your body under different repetitive stress. Burns says that finding the perfect sneaker may seem daunting. However, don't worry about it too much. Recognize that there are likely to be a variety of shoes for you, and that the search itself is part of your running journey.