The Science Behind the Perfect Running Shoes, Revealed

Source: iStock

As a runner, you’ve probably been told at some point by orthopedics, coaches, and other runners that your shoe choice is crucial to preventing injury. If you’re a pronator, you need special shoes for that. If you’re a supinator, you need special shoes for that. If you have high arches — you get the idea. However, according to a new study, that long-time theory may be totally false.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, claims that wearing regular running shoes does not increase injury risk in novice runners who pronate.

Researchers at Aarhus University reached this conclusion after conducting a study with 927 healthy novice runners. Among these runners, some supinated (feet roll outward), some pronated (feet roll inward), and others were neutral. Researchers followed these runners for an entire year. In that time, they ran a total of 163,401 kilometers, and 252 participants suffered an injury.

After looking at the type of pronation style associated with each runner who was injured, researchers found there was no connection. In other words, overprotaters didn’t have a higher risk of injury than neutral runners. Obviously these findings are controversial, and contradict what athletes have believed for years. However, the researchers hope that this new information will redirect attention to other possible risk factors for running injuries such as weight, the volume of training, and injury history.

With that said, since the study didn’t specifically look at extreme pronators, this style could still be a major risk factor for injury. The findings are surprising and leave runners everywhere with the same pressing question: If we don’t look for specific support in our running shoes, how do we pick the right pair?

According to the study, it all comes down to one simple factor: comfort. The researchers explained, “a runner intuitively selects a comfortable product using their own comfort filter that allows them to remain in the preferred movement path. This may automatically reduce the injury risk.”

This isn’t the first time a study named comfort as the primary indicator for proper shoes. In 2001, other researchers reached similar conclusions. In this study, researchers had soldiers pick out inserts for their shoes that felt the most comfortable. A separate group was assigned standard footwear. At the end of four months, the soldiers who picked their own inserts had fewer injuries than the control group. This goes to show our bodies have pretty good insight into what we need, which should really come as no surprise.

All of this research may point to comfort as the main factor for finding the right shoe, but that doesn’t necessarily simplify the task of picking the perfect pair. In the midst of trying on countless pairs of sneakers, it can be difficult to determine which really is the ideal choice. To give you a little bit of guidance the next time you’re knee-deep in shoe options, consider some of these tips from Health.com for finding the most “comfortable” pair:

  • Make sure your foot stays securely inside your shoe and be aware of any slippage.
  • Watch out for any points of pressure or pinching on your foot.
  • Be sure that the shoe is adequately flexible and moves seamlessly with your stride.
  • Pick a pair that structurally molds to your foot, including properly positioned arch support.

Bottom line: Rather than choosing a shoe based on your pre-labeled running style, listen to your body. Figure out what feels right and chances are you’ll find yourself on the path to staying injury-free.

More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet: