Training

When the shoe fits, or doesn’t, why?

Jun 9, 2020

Running shoe types | Run Life

How do I know which type of running shoe to buy?

This is a very valid question especially when one is often paying over R2000 for a pair of shoes. You want to get the RIGHT shoe for you!

A shoe that fits.

Is comfortable.

Has the right grip or cushioning for the terrain that you run in.

So where do you start with all the modern day choices?

I have spoken with shoe guru, Grant Bryant, to help me understand more about what effect the different properties of shoes have on running technique and the runner. I have included what type of injuries may be exacerbated and irritated by a certain style of shoe, and what shoe may better suit certain runners who have specific injuries that they are susceptible to.

This is a guideline.

It is not for a specific MAKE of shoe. But rather to understand what TYPE of shoe may better suit you…and no, the best one doesn’t always come in purple!! Sorry!

Understanding terminology

Running style

There are a number of running styles out there. The main 2 that I am going to focus on is heel strike and forefoot strike runner.

Heel strike running is when your shoe/ foot impacts on the ground with your HEEL first. This is usually followed by toe off – with the majority of the foot coming into contact with the ground.

Forefoot strike running is when the front of your foot lands on the ground first. Usually this is the only contact onto the ground with your foot.

Some runners can also have a combination depending on how they run and I have also seen left and right leg having different running styles.

Shoe terms

Stack height – is known as the amount of foam underneath the shoe/ sole. This is also known as the cushioning of the shoe.

Running shoe stack | Run Life

Drop – is the difference between the rear and the forefoot angle of the shoe. This is measured in millimetres. Eg 4 mm drop (which is a low drop) compared with a 12 mm (high).

Running shoe drop | Run Life

Muscle slings in the body

The posterior sling in the lower body describes the muscles/ fascia etc that are at the back of the leg. Examples are your hamstrings, calf and Achilles tendon.

The anterior sling in the lower body is the front muscles/ fascia etc that are at the front of the leg. Example the quadriceps/ thigh and tibialis anterior muscles.

I am just going to focus on the lower body and not include the trunk and the upper body when talking about body muscle slings.

Running style and slings

This table shows what impact the different running styles have on the muscle slings in our body. It shows what sling/ muscles will be more likely “worked” more in that running style.

Running style Posterior Muscle Sling

Hamstring, Calf, Achilles, Ankles

Anterior Muscle Sling

Hip, Quadriceps, Knee, Anterior Tibialis

Heel strike Decrease Increase
Fore foot strike Increase Decrease

 

Calf and Achilles Pain

If you struggle with continual calf and Achilles problems, a shoe which encourages a heel strike running style may be of benefit. Additionally, if this is not your running style, this may be something worth trying – gradually – to change. This can be done through a thorough Running Analysis with advice from a Physiotherapist who knows and understands running. A full musculoskeletal screening should also be done for any weak areas which need addressing before transitioning.

Knee, Shin and Hip Pain

With constant knee and shin pain, a fore foot strike may alleviate pressure on this area. What is important to remember is that one cannot “get rid” of the force that is needed to run but rather it would TRANSFER from one area to another. This is important to understand if one is trying to change running style or shoe mechanics – to know the impact it will have on your body and prepare your body through strengthening the correct muscles.

Stack Height

The greater the stack height the more cushioned the shoe. If you suffer from metatarsalgia (pain in the balls of your feet), neuromas (pain when the nerve gets compressed in your foot) or you are a “heavy” runner, a more cushioned shoe may benefit you. This will also offer you a greater sweet spot.

If you prefer to “feel” the ground – like in technical trail running – and want your foot to work a bit harder, then a less cushioned shoe may be a better choice.

Drop of the shoe

A small drop facilitates a fore foot running style while large drops in the shoe, a heel strike style. The drop in shoes has a large range and one must be cautious if changing from one extreme to the other, rather do it gradually over time.

Transition Suggestions

A hybrid approach may be best if transitioning a running style or different shoe type. A 10 % daily run volume or up to 10 minutes may be increased with an overall increase of 5 – 10 % per week. Always consider the risk of injury worth the expected benefit to decide whether worthwhile.

If the shoe fits…

…don’t change it!

Look at what shoe you use and if it feels good, is supportive enough and ideal for the running terrain you use it for – keep it!

If you have found that since changing shoes you have experienced problems, have a look at your current shoe and how it may differ from previous ones you have had.

There is no ONE shoe that is right for everyone. Find one that suits your feet and your running needs.

Dawn Nunes


Dawn Nunes is an enthusiastic Physiotherapist with over 15 years experience. Her passion is to help everyone lead an Active lifestyle preventing and rehabilitating injuries. She is also known as “Physiotrailrunner” and enjoys blogging about the local trails. Find out more about Dawn here.

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