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Why Having the Perfect Shoes Makes Perfect Sense

August 15, 2013
Running shoes

Runners may not realize that each foot strike during a run shocks the legs with pressure equal to four or five times his or her body weight. For a 170 pound man, that's 680 to 850 pounds of pressure on each leg every stride. Running shoes are the only thing between a runner's body and the ground, absorbing some of that shock and pressure.

The body absorbs everything that gets through the shoes. Shoes should feel great from the day you buy them, and should also match your biomechanics to take pressure off your feet and reduce the strain your joints and body bear. When it comes to your feet, knees, back, and overall body healthy, the difference between a random pair of shoes and the perfect pair can be measured not just in aches and pains, but in days of running missed and trips to the doctor.

Here are some tips for finding the perfect running shoe:

1. Find your foot type.

Use a "wet test" to identify your foot shape. Fill a shallow pan with about two inches of water, just enough so that when you step in it gets your arch wet. Step into the pan with one foot, then onto a blank piece of heavy paper such as a shopping bag. Then step off to leave a clear footprint.

If you can only see roughly the outside half of your arch, this means you have a medium arch and probably neutral pronation. You can wear a wide range of shoes , but will benefit from a shoe that provides stability control and supports your natural arch.

If you can see most of your arch, you have flatter feet, and probably “over­pronate.” This is when your foot rolls inward and your arch collapses too much as your foot strikes the ground. Over-pronation increases your risk of shin splints and runner's knee. Choose a shoe that with adequate motion control. This type of shoe provides the necessary support and prevents your foot from flattening too much on each strike.

If you see almost no arch, you have a high arch and may “under­pronate.” This means your arch doesn't collapse enough to absorb the pounding, and too much of the pressure and force travels into your legs. A neutral cushioned shoe, which has a soft midsole and no added stability devices, will encourage you to pronate more so your arches can do their job absorbing shock.

2. Think about where you train.

If you train on trails and do other off-road runs or racers, heavier running shoes protect your ankles and the bones on the bottom of your feet. They are also feature sturdier, heavier construction so they don't get worn out by the sticks and other elements found on trails. On the other hand, if you do all your running on roads – concrete and asphalt – a lighter trainer can reduce the amount of weight you carry so you can focus more on your feet's pronation needs.

3. Shop at specialty stores.

If there is a specialty store that has trained staff to help you with the mechanics of your feet, it is worth taking the time to find it. These experienced runners will ascertain exactly how much you pronate based on watching you jog in the office for a few strides, and then help you find shoes with the right amount of arch support and mobility control. And they usually know how different brands wear as you break them in so you can get a good fit that will still be comfortable in 200 miles.

4. Bring a well-worn pair of shoes to show the salesperson.

Experts can glean information about your foot strike and stride from your shoe's sole. It helps clarify how you pronate, but also reveals if you are a shuffler or have a high, bouncy stride, and can even tell the staff how much force you exert during turnover. More information means they can identify the shoe technology you need with more accuracy.

5. Test the shoes out in the store.

Try some light walking and jogging to make sure the shoe is comfortable. Pay attention to the weight, the lateral space in the heel and toe box, and how the shoe contacts your arch.

6. Go shoe shopping late in the day.

Your feet swell over the course of the day, so shopping late ensures that the shoe that fits well and feels good has plenty of room.

7. Wear training socks to shop.

Athletic socks are unique and they affect the fit of a shoe. This is especially important for flats and lightweight trainers that should fit more snugly, because an extra 1/2 centimeter of sock can change the way your foot sits in the shoe. Many running socks are also a little slippery, which can help you identify shoes that are too wide or a half size too big, both of which could lead to foot strike problems.

8. Get familiar with new shoes before a race.

Whether you're buying trainers, workout flats, or racing shoes, you need to break them in and get used to how they feel. Log a few runs on new trainers over the course of a week. Or get in a speed or track workout in your new racing shoes or spikes. This ensures that the shoes have time to properly adjust to your feet and gives you the opportunity to figure out if the shoes are right for you. If you develop blisters, don't race in those shoes. If they hurt your feet, return them and try a different pair.

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Brandon Briggs Retrofit Exercise Physiologist

Mr. Briggs earned his B.S. in Exercise Physiology from East Carolina University and an M.S. in Rehabilitation Science from California University of PA. He began his career working with clients for weight loss and lifestyle change, starting in Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation in North Carolina. He then moved to Virginia to work with Cardiac Rehab patients and head up a weight-loss program. He has been in the fitness industry for 10 years and holds certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine as a Clinical Exercise Specialist and from the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist. He wants to make a positive impact on the world by teaching others how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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