Photo Credit: eugenemartin
Are you considering buying a pair of running shoes?
You probably already know that barefoot is best. Perhaps you simply need a pair for those times that barefoot isn’t the best choice — work, the gym, a first date, you get the picture.
So, you head out to your local big box sporting retailer or specialty running shop to find the right pair. There you are, faced with a selection of shoes that are all over-cushioned and over-protective. Big heavy boots. A simple purchase just became a seemingly impossible maze.
Running shoes or trainers are designed to minimize heel strike and maximize toe spring. What actually ends up happening is we slam our heels on the pavement harder than necessary because we want to feel the feedback that is, ironically, cushioned by the shoes on our feet.
Okay, so now you’re thinking “What should I look for when purchasing shoes will allow me to run as naturally as possible?”
Recently, a friend asked me:
“Running barefoot does make sense, but sometimes I prefer to wear shoes. When I travel for business I like to take evening runs, but since I don’t know what to expect on the ground I want to protect my feet, what should I look for when buying running shoes?”
That’s a tough question! There really isn’t any one best shoe on the market that will protect the foot minimally without interfering with mid/forefoot strike — or at least, not a single alternative footwear option that fits everyone’s needs or tastes.
There are a number of structural factors that one needs to consider when looking for shoes. Whether you’re for multi-sport shoes or kicks to wear to work, remember less is more. Consider that shoes ought not as purely a fashion statement, but instead, a healthy 2nd skin only to be worn when it’s an absolute must — all the while not damaging your health.
With that, here are 5 key things to look for when considering new shoes:
- Thin. Look for shoes that have the thinnest midsole (bottom) you can find. This will allow your feet to feel the ground beneath them. This will aid the thousands of nerves in your feet send feedback to your brain. Need more? How about a better posture thanks to a natural stride.
- Flat. Make sure the shoes do not have a positive (raised) heel. The midsole should not only be thin but the same thinness from toe to heel. This is difficult to find, certain minimal Puma and women’s Nike’s do a decent job. However the models I’ve seen in stores (US) are typically not wide enough for a normal foot. The higher the heel the more prone you’ll be to heel-strike, potential injury and weakened arches.
- Wide. Find a shoes that has the widest toe box you can find. Your toes need room to move around. Look at your bare feet when standing upright, see how the foot and toes fan out naturally? Your shoes must allow for this natural foot shape. Besides, it will feel really good!
- Light. The lighter the shoe the more naturally your feet and body will move. Heavy shoes tend to cause excessive pronation or heel drag. Simple designs and natural materials help in lighter shoes. Oddly enough, more expensive shoes are typically lighter, but this as an investment in your health don’t skimp here.
- Flexible. Look for a pair that is as flexible and foldable as possible. Try to twist, bend, fold and reverse-fold. Imagine what a slipper or aqua-shoe can do — the closer to that, the better. The old gimmick of bending a shoe in half does not prove it’s flexible — our feet don’t bend in half like Gumby.Natural fitting shoes aren’t as widely available as we would like, but with some patience and added effort you can find a pair that will help (not harm) your feet.