Before we go into choosing shoes for optimum gait, I have to note a disclaimer here: how well you run has nothing to do with the shoes you wear. What matters most is how much control, stability, strength a runner has to convert the energy they put in to forward progression. The more energy is wasted on collapsing the knee, foot or hip during a run, the more energy is wasted and NOT going into efficiently contributing to running forward.
Therefore, a runner should consider shoes as merely a tool to assist her body in running. If you want to run better, faster and stronger, the runner should improve one’s own running mechanics and internal strength, and put less priority over their external shoes.
You should consider shoes like tools in your garage: different shoes have different purposes for different tasks. So, for instance if you are running a speed race, you should look for a shoe that would allow you to push through the ground more efficiently with better force and speed. If you are running a long distance race like an ultramarathon, you might want to look for a shoe with more cushioning so the impact on your feet is less over the large amount of time you will be on them.
With that said, these are the things to consider before you shop:
- The type or distance of running you will be doing
- The terrain you will running on and the level of grip you need
- Previous pathology and whether you have a recent history of injuries (if you’re recently recovering from an Achilles rupture for instance, you might not want to start your running training in a minimalist shoes as those tend to bias muscles of the calf and ankle.)
- Try on shoes in the late afternoon when your foot is wider and more collapsed
- The amount of time and effort you want to spend acclimating to a shoe, especially if it is drastically different than what you’re used to wearing. More on this later.
Besides these considerations, here are the Top 5 things you want to aim for when purchasing your next shoe.
- You want to pick a shoe that is light in mass.
Why? They have been found to give better energy economy than heavier shoes. They have less inertia and so lighter for you to move in.
- Minimal drop shoes.
Minimal drop shoes employ less of a quadriceps strategy when running and shifts muscle utilization more to the calf, ankle and foot. For those who suffer from runner’s knee, running in minimalist shoes would reduce patellofemoral knee pain by reducing strain on quadriceps. The effect is quite large. If you are already accustomed to running in heeled shoes, such as those with 8 mm drop traditional shoe, don’t feel pressured to go from 8mm drop to zero right away. Make the transition gradual because your muscles need acclimation and gradual strengthening to get used to this shift in strategy. If this transition is too fast, the runner could experience some strain to the calf, Achilles or plantar fascia.
I have a series of exercises I recommend to runners who want to transition to minimal footwear. These need to be done regularly in order to acclimate appropriately. Sign up for a Gait Analysis with us for a more personalized program. We can hone in your personal dysfunctions and give you exercises to attain your running goals and prevent injury.
- Reach for firmer cushioning.
This makes sense to anyone who is in a sport that involves balance (and by the way, running does involve balance because you are pogo-sticking from one leg to the next in running gait). The firmer the surface your foot is on, the better the foot can “feel” the ground forces and react accordingly. Imagine skateboarding: a sport that requires a lot of balance and “feel” for the ground so the skateboarder can slice and turn around corners accurately. Now imagine if instead of a firm skateboard the skater is standing on a foam pillow. Though it might feel softer, the haptic feedback the skateboarder’s feet feels is no longer as sharp or accurate as when his feet are on a firm board. This is proprioception – the ability to feel cues from the external environment. The more proprioception the better. Your muscles will react more efficiently to the environment.
However, keep in mind the distance you are trying to run! If you are an ultramarathoner running 5+ hours, a thin light shoe with little cushioning may not be ideal for you because of the amount of impact you receive over time. In this particular case, more cushion is necessary. Just reach for the firm kind.
- Make sure you have the right width of shoe for your foot.
Take the insole out of the shoe you are interested in purchasing. Stand on the insole barefoot. If your flesh spills over the boundaries of the insole, your foot is too wide for this shoe and you should go a size or style wider.
The better your toes and feet can move in the shoe, the more strength the muscles and tendons in your foot can translate. A bound foot is a useless paddle.
- Pick a shoe that has ability to have torsion.
Try to twist the shoe like a towel. You want to pick a shoe that has ability to have torsion, for better haptic feedback and proprioception. The better your foot can perceive proprioception, the better it can respond and accommodate for different forces, the more efficiently your muscles and joints can work to push through different cants, different terrains, and different curves in the road.
I know I spoke some length about going into a minimalist shoe. I don’t want to misconstrue people into buying a minimalist shoe right away. Acclimation to it is key to preventing injury. So who can run in a minimalist shoe? The answer is almost everyone can – but the runner has to gradually acclimate to it. In my next vlog I will discuss exercises that you can do to acclimate, so subscribe to our youtube channel, like us on Facebook, or bookmark this blog so you stay tuned if you want to see how you can graduate to a minimalist shoe.