First some background, I’m a runner. I’m also the president of a local running club in Central Ohio. I also help organize several local races. I own a store that specializes in running and walking shoes, apparel, and accessories. If you are a serious runner or walker you may have been in a store similar to mine. If you’re new to fitness there is a good chance that you haven’t been in a store like mine.
People often ask me “what’s the best running or walking shoe?”. The answer is the same one that you might get if you asked an eye doctor “what’s the best eye glasses prescription?”. The answer is that it depends on your unique needs. That’s what makes a running and walking specialty store different. We don’t focus on style, color, or anything like that — we focus on the customer’s unique needs as described below. Our goal is both comfort and injury prevention. So what do we do that’s so special? We take the time to evaluate each customer’s unique needs. These needs include a shoe that’s the right size, width, intended usage (will the customer be doing their training on a treadmill, roads, trails, local track), injury history, and wearing of orthotics. Even more important, however, is to ensure that the shoe is in the appropriate category for the customer’s biomechanics.
You may need some background. People’s feet are different, not only in size and width, but in the level of pronation. Pronation is a natural inward (medial) movement of the foot, and in particular the heel and arch, during foot strike. This is the body’s built-in shock absorber. However, some feet tend to over-pronate resulting in misalignment of the foot and lower leg. Other feet, tend to under-pronate or even supinate (roll outward but this is a small percentage of people). This misalignment increases stress on various parts of your body including the heel, arch (plantar fascia tendon), knee, and hips. You can see this yourself if you intentionally roll your feet inward and see how this changes the alignment of your knees and hips. A simple test is to look at your arch height. Higher arched feet tend to under-pronate while very low arches tend to over-pronate.
Another test is to step on the floor with a wet foot. The footprint of a high arched foot will show very little of the mid-foot contacting the ground while a low arched foot will show most of the mid-foot contacting the ground. These tests are simply guidelines and there are exceptions where some high arched feet over-pronate and some low arched feet under-pronate but these are the rare exceptions to the rule. In order to help reduce the risk of injury, running and walking shoe manufacturers make shoes in different categories ranging from no stability or neutral (the shoes ability to prevent over-pronation) to stability (a normal and moderate amount of ability to prevent over-pronation) to motion-control (a shoe designed for a severe over-pronator).
Manufacturers use a denser material on the medial side of the shoe that does not compress as easily as the soft cushioning material in the rest of the midsole. The amount and density of this “posting” varies depending on the level of pronation that the shoe is intended for. Hence, neutral shoes offer no posting and therefore no ability to prevent over-pronation while motion-control shoes offer the most posting and therefore a great deal of ability to prevent over-pronation. Keep in mind that the price of the shoe is no indication of the level of support or stability. In fact, there are some pricey running and walking shoes that tend to focus more on style and fashion than on proper support. Also, don’t purchase shoes based solely on brand since each of the major running and walking shoe manufacturers tend to make shoes in the different categories that I described above.
Shoes sold in most discount or department stores are neutral and offer no stability; however, the vast majority (roughly 85-90%) of people need some level of pronation control. The inexpensive shoes at the discount or department store may be soft and comfy when you first put them on but later in the day your feet will likely hurt due to the lack of support. There are other differences between the shoes in addition to the level of stability. For example, some people are heavy heal strikers while others tend to land on their midfoot or forefoot. To address these needs, some shoes add additional cushioning in the heel and/or forefoot of the shoe. Another difference is the quality of the midsole material in durability, weight, resistance to compression set and many other criteria. It’s not too hard to tell a more cheaply made running or walking shoe from a better quality shoe if you know what you’re looking for.
Another way to reduce over-pronation is to get an orthotic device to put into your shoe. Over the counter orthotics tend to be reasonably priced (ranging from $20-$50) and work well for some people. However, if your needs are more unique or if you’ve gone too long and now have plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the plantar fascia which runs from the heel to forefoot and provided the rigidity of the arch) you may need to go to a podiatrist and get custom made orthotics which cost several hundred dollars. Don’t skimp on good quality shoes designed for your needs.
It’s cheaper to spend a little more on a shoe with the appropriate amount of support, cushioning, and stability than just one trip to a doctor’s office to address an injury that could have been prevented. My store, like other running and walking stores, takes great pride in helping to ensure that we get our customers in the correct shoe for their needs. If you have questions regarding your feet and the selecting the appropriate shoe for your needs go to a local running and walking store so that they can look at your foot type and make some educated recommendations.
After all, if we don’t make a good recommendation for your needs then you probably won’t come back to our store. If you don’t have a store near your home feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to help you plus you’ll save 10% on any order.
Special Offer: To receive a 10% discount on athletic shoes, apparel, and accessories, contact Dan Distelhorst of Second Soul Delaware. Just be sure to mention that you are a reader of LifeTrek Provisions! To learn more, visit their store online, sign up for their electronic newsletter, write Dan an email, or give him a call at (740) 369-0622.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com 2010-2011
President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
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