What to Know About Your Feet When Buying Running Shoes

by Ashley Lauretta
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What to Know About Your Feet When Buying Running Shoes

The most common question that Josh Brimhall owner of Red Rock Running Company in Nevada gets asked is, “How do I know which shoe is best for me?” That involves in-depth knowledge of your foot and a trained eye to determine how your foot moves in relation to your ankle and hips.


It can be overwhelming to learn there are so many different options when it comes to running shoes, such as neutral, stability, minimal, maximal … the list goes on.


The most important thing you can know about your foot is its mobility so you can determine if you need more stability or a more flexible shoe. In order to do this, Tom Labisch, doctor of physical therapy, of InStep Physical Therapy & Running Center in Wisconsin shares the acronym of FAST: foot, arch, symmetry, technique.

“There’s a preconceived notion among shoe shoppers that if your foot looks a certain way — say you have a flat foot — you need a certain type of shoe,” says Brent James, Product Line Manager, Run Footwear at Under Armour. “But foot type and foot shape is only a fraction of the story because a flexible foot or sensitive one requires a different shoe.” When it comes to your foot, examining its mobility is key. The more stable your foot, the more flexible shoe you need.

“A stiff foot will maintain its posture and arch position when challenged with a squat or a twist through the body down to the feet,” explains Labisch. “A foot that is hyper-flexible will collapse extra far when challenged, which ends up driving extra motion further up the lower extremity and can create overloads at the foot, knee and hip.”



For the arch, Labisch recommends using a wet footprint on the ground or paper bag to determine if you have a high or low arch. “If your footprint is one big blob it is a low arch; if it is disconnected from front to back it is extra high,” he says. But it would be a mistake to fit by arch type. “The arch height is not that accurate at predicting the foot mobility which is the more important factor in shoe selection. For example, some people with high arches actually have extra-flexible feet.”


Symmetry is used to determine if you pronate or supinate, which are terms that explain how your foot hits the ground when it makes contact. Do your feet roll inward or do you land on the outside of your foot? This will determine the type of shoe for you.

“Body symmetry also affects runners. Leg length differences, tightness, weakness, can lead you to create compensations in your stride,” Labisch adds. “If there are differences, or asymmetries, in a runner’s body these compensations often feed into overuse injuries.”


Finally, there is technique, which explains if you are a heel-striker, you land midfoot or you are a forefoot runner. This helps to know what heel-to-toe drop is right for you.



Yes, this is a lot of information. If you’re overwhelmed, gait analysis — which takes all of the above into consideration — is recommended. In most cases, this involves running on a treadmill in a specialty shoe store or having them video your stride to review. From there, you’ll get a few options to try and determine which shoe is most comfortable.

“One of the most beneficial things a runner/walker can do when being fit for a new shoe is to develop a rapport with the person who’s fitting them,” says Brimhall. “We learn just as much information from a runner or prospective runner from a simple conversation about past training, past/current injuries and goals of the runner/walker going forward.”

Bringing in a pair (or pairs) of current running shoes also helps sales staff see what you’ve been running in, to figure out your likes and dislikes. Additionally, it’s great to ask if there is an updated version of your current shoe if you had success in it.

“Typically, manufacturers tend to keep v2’s or subsequent versions as similar as possible to the initial offering. However, we always recommend trying on the updated shoe version whenever possible to ensure the minor updates the manufacturer made will still accommodate the runner’s needs,” adds Brimhall. “More often than not the updates will work, but occasionally they have changed the ‘new’ version too much for the runner who will then need to transfer into another model/manufacturer.”

Though gait analysis isn’t critical, it can help you narrow down your options—as there are many—and help you understand your anatomy and stride better.


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  • MoreSteps

    Personally, I think it is more complicated than this article leads you to believe. Flexibility of shoe is also based upon where it needs to flex in relation to the foot. People have different arch lengths, and this determines where the shoe should flex. In addition, weight and foot strike patterns plus the use of an orthotic change the characteristics of the rear part of the shoe. Not all shoes have the same last, and if you have motion control problems, you want a shoe with a straight last.

  • More complicated way to discuss. You must follow the easier way. Thanks!

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