Choosing the Right Running Shoes

Walking into the store to shop for a new pair of running shoes can be downright intimidating. For each individual brand, there are scores of colors, shapes, and models to cover the entire spectrum of runners, from the beginner to the professional.

As a person buying their first pair of serious running shoes, the task can seem monumental. What are the differences between the models and which would be good for my specific feet?  Here are a few tips to get you pointed in the right direction:

See a Physical Therapist

I’m always going to stress getting a biomechanical evaluation from a Physical Therapist.  As a Physical Therapist, I can easily use your biomechanical evaluation to help lessen your confusion and really help you zone in on specific models that would be best for your feet.  As I stated in my previous article, some view visiting your local Physical Therapy office for a biomechanical evaluation related to running as an unnecessary extra step, but I’ll always go with skilled preventative medical care when it comes to the health of my feet.

Don’t Purchase The Shoes That Are On Sale

For a lot of other products, the mindset has always been to wait until it goes on sale.  For running shoes; however, it’s best to stick to newly released models, even if that means taking the full-priced hit on your wallet.  But why is this the case?

Basically, running shoes have a shelf life once they come off the production line.  The second that the running shoes are produced and the foams used to construct the shoe are exposed to oxygen, the shoe begins to degrade.  Now, I’m not saying that a shoe that has been on the shelf for a couple of months is going to completely collapse.  But if you’re thinking about buying last year’s model that is now on sale for 60% off, I’d skip it.  It might be great for strolling around town, but it’s not going to be reliably supportive for regular to heavy running usage anymore.

Swap Out The Stock Inserts

This basically falls into the category of “One Size Does NOT Fit All.”  Every person’s foot is biomechanically different, so you should not expect that the stock insert in your running shoe is going to be perfect for your unique foot.  Swapping out the stock inserts for custom inserts will ensure that you have support that is perfectly tailored to your individual foot.  And running shoe companies know that consumers are swapping out the inserts anyway, which is why they usually feel cheap and thin.

If you can’t afford the initial investment for custom inserts, there are a host of off the rack inserts that you can purchase that cost much less initially.  Although these are much better than stock inserts, for my clients that are really serious about running, I always suggest for them to let me cast their feet and have a pair of custom inserts constructed for them.  Good custom inserts can last you a couple of years and possibly beyond, depending on your usage, whereas non-custom, off the rack inserts usually need to be replaced every 3-6 months.  The long term costs usually end up either being equivalent, or possibly less if you went the custom insert route.  And also, as with stock inserts, over the counter inserts are not perfectly tailored to your unique, individual foot.

When To Buy New Running Shoes

Getting a new pair or running shoes is a combination of usage and shoe age. In general, if you are a regular runner, the rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes every 3 to 4 months or every 3 to 4 hundred miles.  This is all also dependent upon body weight and running style, which is why, once again, the biomechanical evaluation from a Physical Therapist is so handy.  Your Physical Therapist can also give you a good estimate on when to replace your running shoes.

Stick To These Brands

When it comes to running shoes, I’ll always recommend sticking to Asics, Brooks, New Balance, and Saucony.  All of these companies have essentially been the top proven running specialty brands for years, and are historically the best constructed running shoes on the market, period.

In addition, as running has become popular again, these companies have stylistically improved their product lines, offering any number of styles and color combinations for each model.  If you ask any Sports Physical Therapist, other runners, or personal trainers, they’d all point you to these brands as well.

Dr. James Pumarada is a Physical Therapist and co-owner of Complete Physical Rehabilitation, a Physical Therapy practice based in Elizabeth and Jersey City, NJ.  As a Sports Therapy Certified Specialist, he has been specifically guiding and training runners of all experience levels for over 15+ years.