What does Goldilocks and the Three Bears have to do with running shoes? Well, you’re going to find out because today we’re talking about running shoe selection basics and your foot type on the Doc on the Run podcast.
This morning I was doing an interview for a television program and they were asking me to explain some of the basics about running shoe selection and your foot type. And there are really three things you need to think about. When I was explaining this, it’s a lot like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You don’t want it to be too hard. You don’t want it to be too soft. You want it to be just right for you and that depends upon your foot type. So the ground is as hard as it’s going to be. If you’re running on concrete, if you’re running on asphalt, if you’re running on a trail, the ground is what it is underneath you.
The only thing that’s different is the amount of cushioning or support between you and the ground and your foot type. And so there are really three basic foot types that you need to think about that will help you decide whether or not you’ve got the right running shoes for you.
Now, the first thing is what we call neutral running shoes, which is I think a little bit of a misnomer, because you would think neutral would be in the middle, like a normal arch, but it’s not. Neutral running shoes are cushioning running shoes. They are for people who need cushioning. So if you have very high arches, you will have a very rigid foot type. If you think about an arch, it’s what holds up bridges and tunnels. And that arch shape is very, very strong and very, very stable.
That stability translates to rigidity or pounding when you’re running. And so if you have high arches, you need more cushioning and you need cushioning type running shoes to absorb some of that force, particularly if you’re a new runner who’s just learning about running form and trying to figure out just how to get fit and you’re not really thinking that much about your actual foot strike and all this other stuff that runners like to talk about.
Now the second kind of foot type is the opposite end of that spectrum and that’s somebody who has very low arches, very flat feet, or no arches at all. And so for those people who have flat feet, you tend to be fully protonated and that means your foot is collapsed. It’s flexible. It’s like a floppy bag of bones when it’s completely protonated. And so if you have a fully pronated foot, you have a very low arch, you need some stability to help you to maintain your foot as a lever when you’re pushing off and you’re running. And so for people who don’t have enough stability in the foot, and you have too much motion in the foot, you need motion control shoes or stability shoes. And that’s the same thing. So you may see them labeled as stability or motion control shoes. But those are shoes that are very stable and have more material to actually support you.
Then in between is for people who have a normal arch. And if you have a normal arch, you have a good balance of pronation and supination in most cases. And in that situation, you need a combination of both cushioning and structure. So you would use structured cushioning shoes. Now, when you go to the running shoe store, you don’t have to remember this. They’ll guide you through this process of selecting the best running shoes for you. And of course, the people at the running shoe stores are experts on the materials and the types of different running shoes for your particular foot type. So you need to think about your foot type, and then when you go and you try some shoes, if they feel too stiff, you could try something that’s a little softer. And if they feel too soft then you could try something that’s a little stiffer. But you’ve got to try them out and you’ve got to try them on and see what feels right for you.
The next part is to talk about the three broad categories of running shoes.
Now, a conventional running shoe is something like this. A conventional running shoe basically has a couple of characteristics. One is that it has a normal heel to toe drop. That’s the first thing. So when you look at them and you look at the heel, a normal heel drop on a conventional running shoe is about 10 or 12 millimeters. And when you compare that to the height at the fore foot, the difference in the height, that’s the drop of the shoe. So a heel to toe drop of about 12 millimeters or so is a normal conventional running shoe. Normal running shoes also have lots of material to provide support around the heel. So there’s a stiff heel counter that you can see that this is angled to tilt you over a little bit. And then there’s material in the arch that actually prevents the shoe from bending in the middle.
And so that combination of materials, both the heel counter or what we call medial posting, where there’s material inside the arch and on the inside of the heel that actually holds you on the medial side of your foot up is what we call medial posting. And the fact that it doesn’t really bend that much at the arch, but just bends in the toes, that’s a conventional running shoe.
A minimalist running shoe of course, is minimal. It has very little material, very little support, very little cushioning. And it’s like the equivalent of a glove for your foot that actually lets you run with normal, natural biomechanics without any support or protection. So this is a tool for advanced runners, and in particular, a tool for advanced barefoot runners. If you’re somebody who’s really well conditioned and you go out and run a long way in minimalist shoes the very first time out you might get injured. It’s a thing you have to learn. We’ll talk about that in another episode.
Maximalist running shoes look like something like this, except they’re very, very thick souls, front and rear. But they also have a very low drop in most cases. So maximalist running shoes, they function like minimalist running shoes, but in a protected environment. They’re not exactly the polar opposite of minimalist running shoes, but because of the name, a lot of people think so. We’ll talk about that in another episode as well.
But when you go to the running shoe store, if you’re a new runner and you’re looking for shoes, you’re probably best to begin with something like a conventional type running shoe. Start with something that is recommended by the people at the running shoe store. Make a decision based on your foot type and what feels good to you. And lots of running shoe stores will have a treadmill in the store where you can put them on. You jog a little bit. See what it feels like. Walk around store. And then just make sure that you’re really paying attention after you get the running shoes to see, does it feel good? Does it feel too soft? Does it feel too stiff?
Then you can make a decision the next time you go back and pick something that might be a little harder, a little more cushiony. Whatever you might need to make sure that you stay out there and you’re just as comfortable as Goldilocks when you’re out on your run.
So we’ll talk about some of these other things in another episode. But hopefully this helps you understand a little bit more about your particular foot type and what to look for when you’re getting some new running shoes.
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