Whether you’ve taken up the occasional jog, long-distance running, or brisk walking, one constant exists across all three activities: Without the proper running shoe, your whole body could suffer.
“Wearing a shoe not suited to your foot could exacerbate what may be ailing you currently,” says Ellen Brenner, co-owner, CFO, and vice president of Fleet Feet in Rochester and Buffalo, New York. “Also, your foot is the platform; it’s the foundation for your body to stand on. If the platform is unstable, so is your body.”
Think about it: When your foot lacks proper support, this instability travels up your legs and can negatively impact your ankles, knees, hips, and back — and you don’t have to be jogging to feel these effects; running daily errands in ill-fitting shoes can stress your body, too.
If you’re in the market for new sneakers, you might have to change the way you think about selecting running shoes. Here, Brenner offers tips to help you buy the right fit for the foundation your body deserves.
Tip #1: Forget About Looks
Who thinks about a solid foundation when selecting a running shoe? Neon hues, light mesh, and cool patterns are what catches our eyes when we set foot in a running shoe store. This fashion-first mentality is the biggest pitfall for shoppers who are trying to choose sneakers, says Brenner. “Color does not equal comfort and support. You should always go by comfort and support first and foremost,” she says. This might not be the sexiest option, Brenner notes, but foregoing trends and instead working with a professional who understands feet, how feet function, and how shoes function with feet helps ensure you make an informed purchase that will serve your whole body.
Tip #2: Be Open-Minded
Not only are we attracted by good looks, but we also tend to be creatures of habit. “We often work with customers who claim preferences, such as, ‘I only wear XYZ brand,’ or they choose based on word-of-mouth, like, ‘My friend recommended this because it works for them,’” says Brenner. Ditch this mindset and come in with a clear, open mind. “Allow the expert to fit you and your foot. Your foot is not like another person’s, so you may require something different,” she reasons.
Tip #3: Seek Professional Help
We mentioned experts, and they will be the guiding light in your shoe shopping experience. Visiting a running store with a staff versed not only in feet — think: arches, toes, and heels — but also gait makes a difference.
“Your fit expert should look at the length of the shoe, so that your toes don’t jam; the width, so that your foot can fit comfortably in a shoe; and the support your foot requires based on how your foot performs,” Brenner explains. That last factor, performance, can be examined through gait analysis.
Some companies, like Fleet Feet, have customers walk and run on a treadmill and examine their stride to understand how the foot falls with each step. Fleet Feet goes even further by taking a 3D scan of shoppers’ feet to examine foot biomechanics. “This allows the fitter to see a full picture of the foot’s size, width, heel shape, foot shape, and function. Moreover, it also allows the wearer to see it, too,” says Brenner, which gives shoppers the ability to make more informed buying decisions — and feel confident about those decisions.
Tip #4: Listen to the Experts
Even when all is said and done, when the fit expert brings you a pair of running shoes that you deem ugly, you need to go back to tip No. 2 (keep an open mind) and also listen. This tip particularly comes in handy when your fit expert sizes you up — the most common issue for older feet. Yes, as we age our feet tend to grow; what once was a size 7 may now be size 8. “With customers, I joke that our feet have nowhere to go but out,” Brenner laughs. Listen to your fit specialist, and divorce your old shoe size if needed. Brenner notes that you shouldn’t feel alone — all runners should size up, no matter what age. “Our feet swell, plus we often wear socks, so a fitter will typically recommend a larger size shoe anyway.” she says.
Tip #5: Listen to Your Feet and Body
Once you get home with your new running shoes, don’t ignore signs of discomfort. It’s true that new shoes can take getting used to or need to be broken in, but if you find that your new pair is exacerbating existing aches or causing new ones, return it. Most running shoe stores offer a return policy that allows you time to figure out whether the shoe works for you. “The key is to make sure the customer is in the shoe they like,” Brenner says — and that may take some trial and error until you find the foundation that supports you best.