Looking for the best running shoe for you?
If you’re looking to boost your running game, you’ll need a good pair of shoes to protect and support your feet. But not all feet are built the same, and you’ll need to find the right pair for you.
Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, a board-certified spinal and orthopedic surgeon and director of the Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care in New York and New Jersey, says that “we all have different shapes to our feet, and we all have different mechanisms in terms of how we walk and run. And if you don’t have the proper shoe, then you can exacerbate underlying problems the more steps you take.”
If your shoes aren’t right for your body, that can set in motion a range of potential problems, that “begins at the feet themselves,” Okubadejo says. Foot pain can lead to ankle or shin pain, knee or hip pain, even back and neck pain, because “when your biomechanics are off and you start compensating,” that can cause too much stress to be placed on another part of the body.
Where to start
There are so many different shoe options out there, it can be hard to know where to start. But Marcella MacDonald, a podiatrist in private practice in Manchester, Connecticut, recommends thinking about how many miles you’ll be putting in as a great place to start. The more you’re running, the more important it becomes to get shoes that fit you just right.
You should also consider what kind of feet you have and what your mechanics are like. Dr. Oluseun Olufade, a sports medicine physician and team doctor for the Atlanta Hawks NBA team says that “specialty running stores have trained staff on-site to help identify shoe styles that are best for your body.”
Okubadejo also recommends having one of these specialists perform a “gait analysis. They’ll look at your feet, the shape of your feet and observe how you walk and run and then make suggestions based on the way you run.”
Olufade adds that while it’s best to try on shoes before you buy to see if they’ll work for your unique feet and running style, there are some generalities that often hold true. The first among these is that you should “replace your running shoes every 300 miles.” The “300 mile rule” typically is about every 6 months for moderate to average runners.
Low arches or flat feet
People with low arches tend to overpronate, or roll the foot inward when running. For them, motion-control shoes tend to work better “because they prevent the foot from rolling too far, which can cause more pain,” Olufade says.
Thomas Roe, a fitness trainer and endurance athlete who competes in 5Ks and 10Ks as training runs for his true passion, triathlons, says that “after logging over 1,500 miles per year on short run training, I know a thing or two about shoes. Especially since I have flat — and I mean pancake-flat feet — I’ve tried them all.” He recommends the Asics Gel-Kayano 27 or Adidas Ultraboost for people with flat feet like him.
“Stability shoes are best for people who have neutral arches as they provide cushion and comfort,” Olufade says.
Roe recommends the Hoka One One Arahi 5 and New Balance Fresh Foam 860v11 or 1080v11 for people looking for a stability shoe.
MacDonald notes that people who are “heavy pounders typically have high arches, so you need something that has some cushion.”
Okubadejo also recommends shoes that offer more stability and cushioning for high arches. He likes Asics Gel-Kayano Lite for people with high arches because of its stability. More generally, he says that Asics offers a lot of good options for a variety of feet and that he’s used them for the past five to seven years because they work for him. “The feature of Asics that I like is that I have more stability and it gives me more cushion. They have a little more bounce” than the Nike shoes he’d worn previously for running.
If you have high arches, Olufade recommends looking for neutral shoes that provide “the proper amount of support to the toes, preventing the toes from rolling too much inside or outside.”
Roe recommends the Brooks Ghost and Saucony Triumph 18 for people with high arches.
Bunions, toe pain or wide feet
If you have bunions or toe pain, Olufade recommends Hoka One One Bondi shoes because they have “a wider toe box, which helps minimize irritation of the joint.“
Roe also recommends the Hoka One One Bondi 7 and New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v11 for people with wide feet because these shoes are a bit roomier than some other brands.
If you have arthritis in the mid-foot, “try shoes that give good support around the midfoot because it decreases the motion of the midfoot joint, resulting in less pain,” Olufade says. Stabilization of the midfoot during the biomechanics of running is the most important thing to reduce pain. Oftentimes, shoes that are more rigid and have stiffer arch support can be beneficial. Intrinsic foot muscle strengthening has also been shown to be effective in reducing pain for patients that suffer from arthritis related pain.
Roe recommends the Asics Glideride 2 and Mizuno Wave Rider 25 for long distances.
Okubadejo notes that for running longer distances, you want a combination of lightweight shoes with good support that are also breathable. “Asics has some distance running shoes that have more of a curved sole, and has mesh on the top,” he says. “That allows your feet to breathe, and the curved sole helps you keep going for long distances.”
Over the last decade-plus, so-called “minimalist” or “barefoot” running shoes that provide virtually no cushioning have become popular because they provide greater feel for the terrain and don’t alter the natural movement of the foot. However, Olufade notes “this style can increase the risk of fracture and other injuries, especially if a runner has weak foot intrinsic muscles, due to poor support.”
By contrast, shoes with good support have begun to see a resurgence as some runners have found that minimalist running shoes don’t really work for them. If you need more cushioning, Roe says the Nike React Infinity Run and Brooks Glycerin 19 are good options.
Men versus women
Your sex may also play into your choice of shoe.
Okubadejo says that generally speaking, men will likely need more stability while women should seek a lighter shoe. “Stability matters more for men because men tend to be heavier and the risk of ankle rolls will be higher. For women, it’s more about support and breathability.” This is a broad generalization, though, so some women may prefer a heavier, more stable shoe while some men might need the lighter, more breathable option.
Think beyond your feet
While for many people, these generalizations hold true, it’s not the case for everyone. Thomas Mikkelsen, an avid runner based in Holliston, Massachusetts, says that for him, the standard advice offered by running store gait analysis doesn’t work because often, the individual doing the assessment is focusing just on the feet, rather than how his body moves as a whole.
For example in Mikkelsen’s case, he’s knock-kneed (knees bent toward each other) and when he runs, he overpronates a lot. That’s immediately obvious, so many running store staff will recommend motion-control shoes that prevent the foot from rolling in.
“In a theoretically perfect gait, you should not see the knee or not have any more pressure on one side or the other. My foot rolls in quite a bit, and you need motion control to correct that” because that’s believed to cause damage to the ankles and knees.
However, in Mikkelsen’s case, motion-control shoes “act against my natural body dynamics” and led to iliotibial band issues, knee problems and shin splints. Those problems disappeared for him when he started using a neutral shoe, which means “no structure, no posting, no guidance of the foot movements.” He’s found a lot of success with Inov-8, a U.K.-based brand of shoes designed for trail running.
To prevent this sort of issue when you go shopping, he recommends “making sure that the person who’s evaluating you is evaluating not just what your feet are doing, but what your hips and upper body and shoulders are doing relative to the position of the feet.”
Try them out
Across all these recommendations, a simple directive keeps coming up: Find what works for your body and your running mechanics. “Trust me, your feet will let you know within 10 to 20 miles if the shoe is a good fit or not,” Roe says.
For this reason, he recommends checking on the store’s return or exchange policy before making the purchase, and “get it in writing. I’ve returned half a dozen shoes in my time because a shoe will mold to your foot over a few days and weeks,” and you’ll soon know whether the fit works for your needs.
MacDonald also cautions that there’s a lot of marketing and sales involved in shoe shopping, and ultimately, you’ll have to try shoes on for yourself to see what works best, regardless of what the salesperson might be telling you.
Some podiatrists recommend custom orthotics, or shoe inserts made specifically for your feet that can help support you exactly where you need it. MacDonald says she only prescribes these tools for people who have a very specific need for it. “There are some really good over-the-counter ones now,” she says. And with those, trying different ones to find the best fit is still your best bet.
Roe also suggests getting custom orthotics as an option if you can afford them and if your running warrants that expenditure. “It’s expensive (ranging from $100 to $300 depending on the type of orthotic) but it’s so worth it, especially if you’re logging over 25 miles per week.”
Okubadejo notes that if you’re going to use orthotics, consider opting for a roomier shoe, as you’ll be adding some bulk when you add the insert. “Brooks has many shoes that are a little wider that can accommodate orthotics a little better.”
Consider walking instead
MacDonald also asks whether you need to run at all. “I really wish adults would think about walking fast (instead of running), because for some people, running puts a lot of stress on their bodies.”
If you’re determined to run, she suggests run-walking — where you’ll run for 10 minutes then walk for 10 minutes — or to cross train with a low-impact exercise like swimming so as to lessen the impact on the lower joints.
If the shoe fits …
Ultimately, MacDonald says to buy whichever shoe “you can afford that fits you and is comfortable,” whether it’s specifically intended for your activity or not. For example, she wears a pair of Clarks to golf in because she can stand and walk for hours in them without pain.
The bottom line is: If it works for you, enjoy the ride.
Qualities to consider when looking for a running shoe
— Low arches or flat feet.
— Neutral arches.
— High arches.
— Bunions, toe pain or wide feet.
— Distance running.
— Men versus women.
— Body mechanics or injuries.
More from U.S. News
Update 05/20/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.