Let’s be honest, when it comes to shopping our first step in the process is to google what we are looking for. It can be helpful but also overwhelming, because there is no shortage of options. If you search “running shoes” there are thousands of options that show up. But how do you choose based on something other than style and looks?
There are many parts to a running shoe, each contributing to overall fit and function of the shoe. This article from Running Shoes Guru does a really good job of breaking down each detail so that you can become familiar with the jargon. After some googling of our own we realized that knowing the parts of running shoes can be helpful but the depth of that information is not always given when shopping for shoes online. Companies usually don’t break down their products and describe each part of the running shoe anatomy in detail. They typically choose only a handful of the features to spotlight.
To make it more difficult, it can be hard to discern how those chosen features apply to your needs specifically. In effort to make your google searches more efficient and helpful we have identified the top features that companies typically include in their specs for running shoes. With each feature we will give you insight into why those things are important so you can decide what is going to be a good fit for you.
Heel drop or midsole drop is referring to the difference between height of the sole at the heel versus the height of the soul at the toes. It is usually measured in millimeters. This difference or drop tells us if the foot sits with a relative lift on the heel or the foot is laying near flat without a heel elevation. The significance of this can be big depending on your foot strike pattern. Individuals who run with a heel strike pattern, meaning they run with their heels hitting the ground first, feel more comfortable with higher heel drop. You will want to look at something in the 6 mm or higher range. This will provide more support and cushion for your heel when it hits the ground. Conversely for someone who is a forefoot striker, meaning the ball of the foot or toes hit the ground first, would be more comfortable with a lower heel drop profile. A range between 1-5 mm would be what you want to look for when looking at the details of the shoe. For more details on heel drop checkout this great blog from RunRepeat.com that will give you a deep dive into the topic and how heel drop specifically affects your running.
The midsole material is what is sandwiched between the top layer of the sole which your foot is in contact with and the bottom layer which makes contact with the ground. This is often the shoes stability and energy return system, so it is a material that helps your foot spring off the ground and propel you forward. When it comes to midsole material the term you will hear frequently is EVA which stands for Ethylene Vinyl Acetate, it is just a commonly used material for this midsole component. Companies are frequently trying to come up with new and innovative ways to create unique designs here with different functions. Things to consider when comparing different shoes is what kind of feel do you want to have in the shoe? Do you want more of a bouncing feel that is going to help propel you forward or do you need more cushion and comfort. For individuals looking for a good shoe to both walk and run in you might be more comfortable with a cushioned midsole. This kind of support will have a cushion for you regardless of surface and create a comfortable landing pad for your foot when you cycle into your running. Each company will describe it differently but they will use words synonymous with cushion or padding. If you find yourself wanting to up your weekly mileage and maybe start training for a race, gravitating towards a midsole that creates some bounce in your run will help you propel your foot forward and spend less time with your foot on the ground. Having that extra support from the midsole helps improve your running efficiency and increase your speed. Look for descriptions synonymous with bounce or spring when they are describing the midsole technology.
Over the past few years it has become rather common for running shoes to be super lightweight due to the development in materials like EVA. It is usually measured in ounces. When looking at shoe selection and considering the importance of the weight there is no magic it can just give you some hints as to what kind material was used for construction of the sole of the shoe. In general, a higher weight assumes either there is more material used for construction of the sole which makes the sole thicker and has extensive cushioning or they used a denser material that is more rigid and durable. The answer to that will often lie in the description of the midsole. On the other end of that spectrum are the super lightweight shoes, those are the minimalist shoes. They will be very light weight and perfect for people who want to feel more of the reaction of their feet on the ground. Typically forefoot runners gravitate towards these light shoes to get more the barefoot running feel.
Typically when you see the type of support provided in the shoe it is talking about the amount of structure or influence that sole of the shoe has on your heel and arch. Most shoes are neutral support meaning that they don’t have much rigid arch support or heel support so that your foot can move naturally as you run. From our perspective we like to encourage people to buy shoes that will allow your foot to move in its natural pattern so we can create patterns that are conducive to your body’s needs. Most people will be able to do that with this type of neutral support. Those who might benefit from structural support are individuals that have feet which fall in when you run or also known as “over-pronating”. To know if you over-pronate, check out this video from Runners World for an easy explanation and to see typical signs of over-pronation. Finding shoes that provide more structure while running can take stress off the inside of the foot and offset the constant impact to the inside of your foot. Usually companies will use work such as support or stability when describing this aspect of the shoe.
This was a light review of common shoe specs seen when shopping for running shoes online and how to apply that information to your specific needs. If you find yourself still lost, we encourage going to your local running shoe store. They do an amazing job of analyzing your running and helping you find the perfect fit so to take the guessing game out of it. And for you over-pronators out there, if you find yourself having continued problems or pain with running, find a physical therapist to help teach you how to create support in your foot intrinsically instead of relying solely on the support from your shoe.
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