How to Choose Running Shoes: 6 Essential Steps

Choosing running shoes is more complicated than shopping for a regular pair of shoes. They have their own jargon and involve a confusing combination of body mechanics, health concerns, and competitiveness. If anything, the only thing they have in common is the dizzying array of available choices.

But the right pair of running shoes aren’t simply the ones that will make you win the race. Finding the right running shoes also protects your musculoskeletal health.

Why is it so hard to buy running shoes?

To put it simply, there is no single answer to “how to find the perfect running shoe.” There are as many types of feet as there are running styles, and both will impact your ideal shoe. As a result, it is very difficult to look at this topic with any degree of depth without first learning a bit about shoes.

How to Choose Running Shoes

Parts of a good running shoe

We’re not here to learn how to make shoes. However, you will quickly notice that different types of running shoes emphasize special features in specific parts of the shoe – and of course, they all need a name.

Understanding the different parts of the shoe can help understand running shoe jargon.

  • Sole: the bottom of the shoe. This part sits between your feet and the pavement, so it’s important to pick a shoe with the right sole. The shoe’s sole is divided into the outsole, midsole, and insole.
  • Bridge: the arch of the sole.
  • Upper: the fabric on top of the shoe.
  • Eyelets: the reinforced holes for your laces.
  • Tongue: the material that separates your feet from the eyelets.

These parts all play a role in protecting your feet, and may even modify your running gait.

6 steps to pick the right type of running shoes

At the end of the day, running shoes are tools for running. Selecting the best running shoes is all about finding the tool that best adapts to your needs and routine.

So where do we start?

1. Study your foot

It may seem obvious, but far too many people start their quest for the perfect running shoe with a brand or look in mind. In reality, you should start by assessing your feet.

First, take a good look at your overall foot shape. See if your foot is generally thick or thin; check the shape of your toes and the height of your arch.

Flat feet or high arches will affect your gait and posture as you run which can result in damage to your feet, ankles, legs, knees, hips, and even your lower back. Knowing the shape of your foot will help you pick the right shoe for your foot type.

If you are already running regularly, you should also look out for corns or calluses, and take note of the location of past blisters – these will all hint at where your current pair of shoes wasn’t up to the task.

2. Check your gait

Most specialty running stores and gyms have someone on staff who can do an initial gait analysis. If they spot a problem, however, the prudent thing would be to visit a podiatrist.

When examining gait, we want to check pronation — how your foot, leg, and ankle align as your foot rolls. There are three main types of pronation:

  • Supination: Normal pronation associated with a normal foot arch. These people roll their foot outward during the heel strike and naturally roll it inward during mid-stance. This “natural” gait distributes the impact along the foot. If your pronation is normal, the world of running shoes will remain wide open, and you can opt for neutral shoes, or balance your cushioning requirements with other needs.
  • Overpronation: This gait is associated with flat feet or low arches. These people usually keep their foot rolled inward to make up for the lack of flexibility of their arch. Motion-control shoes typically have a firmer bridge or counter to help overpronators keep their foot in the right position.
  • Underpronation: This gait problem affects people with high-arched feet. A high-arched foot functions in a more rigid state, which makes it roll outwards. This puts a lot of pressure on the outer edge of the foot, which raises your risk of stress injuries and hairline fractures. Underpronators can compensate with highly cushioned shoes and should look for “shock absorption” features.

3. Determine where you’ll be running

Gait problems are far from rare, but at the end of the day, most people have a normal gait – so their decision will not come down solely to arch support or stability running shoes. Instead, you’ll want to think about how you like to run.

A major way to classify running shoes is by surface type. Here, we have two main categories.

How to Choose Running Shoes
  • Trail running shoes are usually designed to go on nature trails or uneven terrain such as rocky hills, grass, or even sand. They tend to be heavier and use thicker materials, especially in the outsole, to increase their durability when confronted with rough conditions.
  • Road running shoes are meant for running on asphalt, regular sidewalks, and treadmills. They assume you will be on a paved, even surface. As a result, they tend to be lighter and favor breathability and flexibility. Expect road running shoes to have smoother outsoles and extra cushioning – asphalt can be hard on the joints.

4. Consider your goals and routine

Specialized running shoes are rarely cheap, and the extra investment is not always worth it. If you want to make sure you are paying for the features that matter to you, examine your running schedule:

  • If you’re a “hobby runner” who is just getting started, a pair of “all-around” neutral running shoes will be a good starting point.
  • If you are overweight, very muscular, or on the heavier side, invest a bit more in shock absorption.
  • If you train with short distances (anywhere between 5Ks to high-intensity sprints), look for lightweight materials and extra traction, which will push you forward faster.
  • Long-distance aficionados should prioritize cushioned running shoes to minimize the risk of stress injuries.
  • Competitive runners should invest in a sturdier training shoe and an ultra-lightweight model for race day.

5. Consider the shoe’s toe drop

Heel-toe drop is slightly controversial: many running experts and shoe brands put it at the forefront of their designs. Meanwhile, some podiatrists and orthopedists believe extreme drops do more harm than good. However, the evidence doesn’t back it.

Also known as the “toe to heel drop”, or “shoe offset,” toe drop is the height difference between the toe and heel sections of the shoe.

Standard running shoes have a drop of 10 to 14 mm. This is supposed to encourage a heel strike — meaning your foot lands heel first — and offer a bit of extra cushioning.

Lower drops of between 9 and 1 mm will make you land on your midfoot or forefoot. This is not a very natural foot strike, so most people will end up taking shorter steps at a higher cadence. This may not matter for beginners, but training with a low drop may give you an edge on race day. On the other hand, it will also put extra stress on your ankles and calves – but may protect your knees.

Over the past few years, “zero drop shoes” have become increasingly popular because they share many of the benefits of barefoot running – but without the often painful experience of minimalist shoes.

These different shoe models do bring some benefits for people with knee problems. However, they also put extra work on your calves. It’s better to work your way through mid and low-drop shoes before switching to a zero-drop one.

6. Make sure the running shoes fit

Although it may seem obvious, there’s more to fitting for a new pair of running shoes than just “knowing your size.” Most specialized brands have a proprietary foot model and size parameters – and in some cases, the width may even vary.

And while small inconsistencies in shoe fits are OK when we’re sitting in the office, they’re very different after 10 miles of hitting the pavement. So as much as we all love the convenience of online shopping, this is one area where an in-person purchase will remain unbeatable.

To get the right fit, make sure you:

  • Look at the shoe’s toe box, and compare it to your own foot shape.
  • Try on left and right shoes at the same time.
  • When possible, try each model in at least two different sizes and two different widths.
  • Bring your regular socks and any orthotics you wear with you, to the store.
  • Try shoes on at the end of the day, when your feet are slightly larger.
  • Make sure you have at least a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe.

Looking to invest in your feet’s health? Come to the University Foot & Ankle Institute

Researching your new running shoes is a fabulous way to protect your feet and skeletal health while you train. At the Foot and Ankle Institute, we respect this drive and want to help you get the most out of your program.

Our team consists of experienced podiatrists, sports medicine specialists, and foot and ankle surgeons. We see feet as the precise mechanical marvels that they are and firmly believe that nobody — whether an elite athlete or a parent trying to upgrade their health — should just “endure” foot pain.

Interested in a consultation? Please call (877) 736-6001 or request a consultation online. University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California with podiatry clinics in (or near) Santa Monica (on Wilshire Blvd.), Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, and the San Fernando Valley, Manhattan Beach, and the South Bay, LAX, Westlake Village, Valencia, Santa Clarita, and Santa Barbara.



  1. Please write more on this topic as I go through shoes like fish go through water! 🙂

  2. I have low arches but underpronate. I realize this is opposite of the average, but I’ve been diagnosed by many a doctor and a podiatrist. What type of running shoe do you suggest for me? Also, I have narrow feet… Thanks! 🙂

    • Dr. Jason Morris

      Mindy, thank you for your question.

      Over pronation and low arches/flatfeet tend to coexist together as do high arches and under pronation (supination). All people pronate (roll inwards) to some degree. It is the body’s natural shock absorption. But when you have a low arch the joint mechanics allow for the foot to be more flexible than it should be and that results in excessive pronation. When you have a high arch the joints tend to lock and limit motion. Having a low arch and under pronating is a rare combination. Reasons for these unique biomechanics could come by looking into such things as curvature of the lower leg, knee and hip alignment or structural conditions in the foot limiting motion of the joints.

      A good shoe for a foot that under pronates, thus having limited shock absorption, is a neutral or cushioned running shoe. Each company will have differences in how they fit, but most come in narrow widths. In women’s running shoes this would be designated by an A size (B is standard and D is wide). How the shoe fits in the heel and through the arch are going to be specific for each shoe and will be based on personal comfort. Some of the more popular and highest rated neutral running shoes are Brooks Ghost, Asics Nimbus, Sacony Triumph and Mizuno Wave Creation. Keep in mind there are hundreds of shoes available and how they fit should be equally important to any brand or style recommendation.

      The key to getting the proper running shoe is how the foot functions through gait. A thorough gait analysis and evaluation of wear patterns on your shoes would be extremely helpful in identifying the correct type of shoe given the bio-mechanical opposition of low arches an under pronation.

      Mindy, once again, thank you for reading our blog and asking your question. We trulytry to make it relevant and actionable, and I hope we have done that for you.

      Run safe!

      Dr. Jason Morris

      • Love this. I also am a low arch and under-pronate runner good to know . I always felt that if I addressed the arch the pronation is not as much of a problem

  3. My experience is that all sizing charts mean nothing. There are so many differences as to brand, model, width etc. that there is only one real solution, to try the shoe on. If you can’t, then it is always safer to go for half a size bigger. But I’m only a size 7, so perhaps also widths completely change when going that big because 14 is humongous. Awesome!

  4. I am flat footed and overpronate and find the Brooks Addiction has more cushion than the Asics Kayano or Brooks Adrenaline. Actually it says on their website that the Brooks Addiction/Saucony Omni are specifically for flat feet and moderate to severe pronation.

    • Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your own experiences, that was awesome of you! I hope it helps others with flat feet and pronation.

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