Matt Phillips writes regularly for Running Fitness magazine and the Running Connect website. He is a Running Performance Analyst at StrideUK based in Brighton, using full body gait analysis to examine your running technique and provide simple training programs to help keep you injury free.
The original version of this article appeared in Running Fitness Magazine, September 2014.
Of the many questions I get asked by runners, one of the most common is, “Do you think these trainers are right for me?”
People look confused when I shrug my shoulders and reply, “you tell me… are they comfortable?”
Although most of us have been sold shoes according to arch height (high, normal or low), the use of this foot type model is not actually based on any scientific evidence.
The origins of this foot type model are unknown but basically it revolves around the wet foot test – depending on the imprint your wet foot leaves on the ground, you’re said to have low arches, normal arches or high arches. The modern equivalent to the test uses a heat sensitive pad.
The first time an image linking this arch height with a shoe type appeared in print was probably The Running Shoe Book by Peter R. Cavanagh (1980).
The theory is that runners with high arches (also referred to oversupination) need a more cushioned shoe, whereas runners with low arches (referred to as overpronation or flat feet) need a motion control shoe.
Runners with a normal arch are said to be neutral and are recommended a stability shoe, designed to provide a middle ground between the technology of a cushioning shoe and a motion control shoe.
But in fact, research shows that selecting a shoe based on this model does not reduce injury any more than choosing a shoe at random.
The model is beautiful in its simplicity and a very efficient way of ‘prescribing’ trainers.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that prescribing running shoes based on arch height either reduces injury or improves performance.
There are probably a couple of reasons for this:
The different types of shoes out there can help (or hinder) runners – we just don’t know how or why.
Researchers are working hard to discover why some runners with, for example, low arches benefit from motion control shoes but others get even more injured.
In the meantime it really is a case of trial and error and ultimately seeing what feels comfortable.
Although this sounds like a very subjective way to select shoes, research has linked comfort with reduced injury, so there’s more scientific evidence for using comfort rather than any other fact – especially the wet foot test!
The best advice when it comes to selecting running shoes, especially if you are new to running, is to try on as many as possible and see what feels comfortable.
I don’t mean just standing in them, I mean having a little run.
Choose a shoe shop that allows you to run around the block and ideally one that gives you 30 days to return the shoes if you are not happy.
Some runners naturally feel more comfortable in a cushioned shoe; others prefer something closer to the ground.
Some runners like a higher drop; others prefer the foot at less of an angle.
By testing a few pairs and listening to your body, you will soon learn what type of shoe suits you.