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How To Pick The Perfect Running Shoe

Updated on February 27, 2010

When jogging first became popular, back in the 1960s and early '70s, running shoes came in a boringly limited range of styles, and women often had to buy men's shoes because few models were designed especially for them. Boy, have things changed. Now scores of companies vie for your dollars, with literally hundreds of choices and a bewildering array of bells and whistles, in models costing $80 to $150 or more. But the most expensive shoes aren't necessarily the best, and you shouldn't buy on the basis of marketing gimmicks unless you want to court injuries, from the humble blister, corn or callus to stress fractures and nerve impingement.

A properly fitted and properly selected running shoe makes the difference between injury and success in training. It can be the fundamental factor. But selecting the right shoe can be a daunting task: Running shoes are designed to compensate for excessive inward or outward foot motion, and unless you know which kind of shoe to get, you could end up with a model that exaggerates your problem. To help clear up the confusion, here's a brief primer on the various kinds of running shoes and how to find models that will protect, not injure, your health.

Most running shoes can be sorted into three categories: motion control, stability and cushioned. Motion-control shoes are the most rigid and durable choice, built to compensate for overpronation, or excessive inward rolling of the feet. Probably 50 percent of runners would benefit from motion-control characteristics. These shoes are often the best option for large-framed or heavy runners too, men who exceed 180 pounds and women who weigh 150 pounds or more. Heavier runners need to be in as firm and stable a shoe as possible.

Stability shoes combine cushioning, support and durability and are well-suited to runners with neutral feet and of average body weight. Cushioned shoes offer the least support and are the most flexible. They may be the best choice for runners whose feet supinate, or roll outward. However, heavy runners should avoid them: Heavier individuals should not wear cushioned shoes, even if they're supinators, because they need a firm midsole under that heel. Otherwise they'll crush through the midsole and have problems due to the shoes breaking down quickly.

I'm considerably heavier than 180 pounds and I recently bought a fairly inexpensive set of running shoes. They looked great and fit great and I walked out of the store very happy with having saved some significant money over a pair of Nikes or Reeboks. I was certainly not anywhere near as smug about a week later as the outside sole of my right shoe had effectively collapsed on itself tilting my right leg painfully outwards. Into the trash they went!

Some runners' magazines and Web sites advise doing a wet-footprint test to determine the height of your arches and thus your ideal shoe, based on the assumption that people with low arches need motion-control shoes, those with high arches require cushioned shoes, and those with normal arches fare best in stability shoes. But this recommendation can lead to trouble. It's easy to find feet that look like one type when a person's standing but a completely different type when he or she runs.

Continued In How To Pick The Perfect Running Shoe Part 2

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