I often get asked "what makes a good running shoe?" Or "what do I look for when buying a shoe to help stop pain?" Sometimes running shoe shopping can be confusing and difficult, especially when shop online. Here are some of the recommendations I give when helping people transition from a heel strike (slow & tough on the knees) to a midfoot to forefoot (fast & easier on the body) strike pattern.
Asics has a great breakdown, listing a ton of detail about the specific anatomy of a shoe if you're interested. Though, when looking for shoes, you begin to see some general trends in style and build, but start by looking for the following design characteristics: Heel Drop, Weight, Flexibility, Stack Height, and Motion Control/Technologies. If you are not able to get the information from the website or sales person, then move on to another store or shoe because more than likely you won’t find what you are looking for in a shoe. If you have any questions or wonder if you have found the right shoe but are unsure, just reach out to me me with the make and model of the shoe and I can take a look at it for you.
Here’s an explanation of each component in more detail and what I recommend for a mid to forefoot running style:
1. Heel Drop
This is describing how much of an incline or heel your shoe has. The greater the size, the more your heel is raised off the ground. You want to look for a shoe that has a 4-6mm heel drop.
The materials the shoe is made out of will dramatically impact the shoe’s weight. Minimalist shoes tend to be very light weight and this works to your advantage in being able to run faster. This is usually represented in grams or ounces and typically will have the weight of both shoes combined; i.e. 205g or 8 oz for one shoe but represented as 410g or 16 oz. Look for a shoe that is around 205 g or 8 oz.
A good minimalist shoe is one that is very flexible and able to bend in multiple directions. If you notice a shoe can only flex but not twist, then you are detecting some part of the shoe that is helping to support your foot and control foot movement (more on that in #5). Look for a shoe that will roll up on itself and twists about 75-50%.
4. Stack Height
This measurement is determining how much material is in the contact portion, or sole, of the shoe. There are two measurements done on a shoe, one at the heel and another at the toe box of the shoe. It is usually represented by two numbers, i.e. 22mm/16mm. This isn’t as crucial as the other components but try finding a shoe near the 10-12mm range.
5. Technologies/Motion Control
Each shoe company attempts to come out with a new and fancy technology that is designed to control and/or move your foot when you run. Minimalist shoes tend to have very little of technology in the shoe and instead allow your foot to move more freely. The most important component is to be looking at the size of the toe box. This is how much space your toes have to move in the shoe and will be more of a visual guide. Don’t specifically be looking for shoes designated as “wide” or are sized as “9W.” Instead, look at the shoe from the top and if the shoe tends to angle toward a point, that would be too narrow. The shoe should look more rounded at the toes. You want to be looking for a shoe that has a wide toe box.
If you're looking to change your strike pattern make sure you reach out to a sports physical therapist. The transition is something to not take lightly, especially if you want to avoid injury. I often build 4-6 month programs for my runners to make the transition successfully and pain free. You should expect the same kind of time frame. Check out future blog posts where I'll go over some of the exercises and movements you can do to help change your strike pattern.