How to buy running trainers online, according to an expert

Posted by for Strong Women

Spongey, cushioned, stable… how do you know what you need in a running trainer?

I have a confession: I’m a fitness writer and I own one pair of workout shoes. The same pair of trainers take me from lifting weights to HIIT circuits and, most recently, out on my lockdown runs

The truth is, I know that the trainers I bought a year ago to see me through my gym sessions won’t do for running if I want to remain injury free and keep my form correct. But as a cardio-phobe pre-quarantine, I never bothered going for a gait test. Now that I am mixing up my workouts more, I regret that. 

“A trainer that’s not designed for running isn’t going to be able to take the shock from your body. That can lead to shin splints, fractures, Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis, where the fascia under the heel becomes torn” says Steven Paterson, learning and development adviser for running specialist store Runners Need

That might explain why so many of us (read: me) who have now begun running are feeling slightly sore and achy in our muscles and joints. 

The first error we might be making is not having a cushioned midsole, says Steve. So, once you’ve rid your running kit of your old Converse, Stan Smiths and other flat-soled shoes, you need to get more specific with your feet.

What is pronation? 

Your pronation is arguably the most important part of choosing a running shoe. It refers to the natural inward roll of your foot after your heel hits the ground. If your heel, ankle, calf and knee are all in a straight line, then you have a neutral pronation. If your foot rolls further inwards, you overpronate, and if you roll the other way then you underpronate.

“This can have a massive effect on physical health, especially if you run in an unsuitable shoe,” explains Steve. “Someone who is underpronating needs a shoe to lessen the shock whereas somebody who’s rolling past the neutral point (overpronating) would need some stabilisation.”

What is pronation?

One way to work out whether a shoe is suitable for you is to look at the two ‘buzzwords’ used by manufacturers: stable and neutral. “Neutral shoes are designed for neutral or underpronators, so someone who is overpronating might get some aches and pains in them, but anyone can technically run in a neutral shoe,” says Steve. “But you should not go anywhere near a stability shoe unless you’ve had advice to do so. Putting someone who is neutral or underpronating in a stability shoe that’s designed specifically to reduce pronation will introduce a whole raft of issues and pain.”

How to work out your pronation

The obvious answer is to get a gait analysis. Unfortunately, popping into a store right now isn’t exactly an option. You can, to some extent, work out some information about your foot doing a ‘wet foot test’. This means getting your feet wet and walking on a hard surface where you can see your footprint. From this, you’ll be able to work out the height of your arch. This can be important when it comes to understanding how much cushioning you need, but can sometimes also correlate with pronation. 

“It’s likely that someone with a normal arch is going to have a neutral pronation and someone with a flat foot is likely to overpronate. But you can’t just base it solely off of that. Your experience with running, the amount of muscle and strength you have and previous injuries will impact that too,” says Steve.

Signs you need new running shoes:

Think your running shoes are fine? Check this list to see if it’s time to upgrade. 

  • You are getting niggles in the knees and ankles. This could be a result of the wrong support in your shoes.
  • You have been running for a few months. Your gait will change in the first three or four months as you strengthen your muscles and get used to the pattern of running. 
  • You have crease marks in the midsole of the trainer. This means the sole is not recovering from compression, which will impact your running. 
  • You’ve clocked up miles. The midsole loses its cushioning every time you wear them, so your trainers at 200 miles will be less supportive than at 100 miles. 

Steve urges anyone who is totally unsure of where to start with their running shoes to call Runners Need customer services, where the staff are available to take questions and queries over the phone. 

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Images: Runners Need / Getty

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