When you’re new to running, it makes sense to use whatever sneakers you have on hand to get started. But if you plan to make it a habit, getting a pair of proper running shoes is a good idea. Ideally, they’re the right running shoes for your body.
Your foot is an incredibly complicated mechanism with 33 joints and many muscles and tendons, explains Doug Smiley, the senior product line manager for high-performance run footwear at Under Armour. “Every foot has different biomechanics, which is a generic term for how your body moves as you stride,” Smiley explains. “Some lucky people are super efficient and can run unfettered, regardless of the amount of cushioning or weight in their running shoe. But the vast majority of us have imperfections in our stride, how we land, and in our overall biomechanics.”
This means that unless you’re one of the few people who feels great running in every type of sneaker, there will be some out there that work better than others for you individually. Sneakers range from ultra-plush and cushioned (which provides a marshmallowy feel) to responsive and minimalist (which feels more snappy and efficient).
New runners also often deal with aches and pains. A lot of that is going too fast or doing too much too soon, Smiley says. “But if your footwear isn’t synced up with you, then it’s going to be really tough.” It could even result in running injuries long term.
So, how do you know if what you’re currently running in just isn’t working for you? Below, Smiley outlines the top five signs your running shoes aren’t right for you.
This means you’re overpronating, or your feet’s arches are collapsing inward as you run, and the sneakers you’re wearing aren’t correcting it for you. “Overpronation is natural,” Smiley says. In fact, more runners deal with it than not. “It’s just how the body works once you land, and how it accepts the load of the rest of your weight,” Smiley explains. “But severe overpronation is what causes a lot of knee issues and shin issues, and some of the random pain that runners have.”
So, if you notice the inner edges of your shoes are more worn, you want to look for a sneaker with a studier, more structured midsole. This effectively gives you a “guardrail” to help keep your foot in alignment as you run, according to Smiley. The midsole’s structure isn’t always obvious just from looking at a shoe, so the best way to find one that provides enough support is to do a professional fitting, either in-store or virtually, he adds.
This is a sign your shoes are too small. Shoes that might feel fine at rest but cramp your toes during a run can prevent your feet from properly splaying during the impact of each step, Smiley says. “Splay is when your foot is fully extended at one of the last stages of your gait cycle. You need that full extension and full splay of your forefoot and toes to give you a strong platform to push off of,” he adds. If you don’t have that full splay, you’re putting undue stress on your toes and all your ligaments. The solution? Size up.
This means your shoes are likely too big. “If your shoes are too loose, that affects not only the forefoot but will also cause your heels to slip, so your foot is actually rising out of the shoe,” Smiley notes. This can be subtle, but running sneakers that are slightly too big often feel a little uncomfortable, and it may be hard to put your finger on exactly why.
Let’s say you’ve worked your way up to 20 miles a week, and you’re feeling pretty good. Nothing major in your life, training or nutrition has changed, but you’re feeling more beat up than usual after your runs.
This could be because your shoes are worn out, Simley says. “You’re losing that fundamental benefit that the shoe is meant to give: cushion, support, guidance and/or traction. If you wear a shoe past its useful life, it’s kind of like driving a car with worn-out tires.” In other words, it’ll go, but performance won’t be optimal.
If you’re only going out for leisurely jogs, feel free to ignore this one. But if you’re getting serious about running and are switching it up between slow, long runs, faster-paced days and hills, it’s smart to switch your running shoes based on your training schedule. “There have been studies showing that rotating shoes, and even switching between a highly-cushioned shoe to a more minimal shoe for fast days, lowers the incidence of injury,” Smiley says.
His biggest advice? Keep an open mind and feel free to experiment. “It really helps a runner’s development to be able to try different brands and technologies.”
Check out “Workout Routines” in the app to discover and log a wide variety of routines by UA Performance Specialists, or build your own routine with exercises that fit your goals.