The Myths about Running Shoes: Separating Fact from Fiction

September 17, 2012 Posted By: Bob "Wish" Wischnia

Buying a new pair of running shoes should be the simplest task in running. But it isn’t. There are so many options and with so much talk these days about gait analysis, minimalism, support and reduced weight, finding the perfect pair of shoes for you can be a bit dicey.

Also getting in the way of finding the best shoe for you are the inordinate number of myths about running shoes. Some of these had basis in fact 20-30 years ago, but today they are just that—myths—that somehow endure.

Separating shoe fact from fiction is always a challenge because there is so much misinformation that do nothing but confuse the runner who is simply looking for a good pair of running shoes.

Here are a few of the most common myths:

There is a best shoe for every runner.

Myth Buster:There isn’t. Perhaps, for you there is a best shoe and best brand which is reliable and you can always turn to (hopefully, it’s Mizuno), but there simply is no one running shoe which is the absolute, hands-down best and works for every runner. The reason there isn’t a single best is we all have different biomechanical and training needs, we’re made in different sizes and shapes and have a variety of foot shapes and types. The greatest running shoe on the planet won’t work for everyone and the worst running shoe will work for some runners. Don’t worry about what someone else says or recommends; get the best shoe for you.

All running shoes are basically the same.

Myth Buster: Not true. Certainly, different running shoe brands use different technologies but the most important difference among running shoes is the simplest: Fit. Different shoes and different brands fit differently. That’s why a shoe (or brand) your running partner swears by might not work for you because it may not fit you as well as your friend. Fit is absolutely the most critical factor in finding a great running shoe for you. The fit characteristics every runner should seek in every pair of shoes is a snug heel without any slippage, enough space for the ball of the foot and wiggle room for the toes. Comfort and fit are the two greatest factors in reducing risk of injury. Never compromise on fit.

The key to great running is finding the right shoe.

Myth Buster: Yes, I work for a running shoe company which makes great shoes but the key to great running isn’t the shoes. Shoes are a useful tool that we all need, but the key to great running is health and consistency. Another words, great running is being able to run on a daily basis. Shoes certainly help, but the best running shoe is one you never even notice.

I’ve heard the wet test (i.e., placing a wet foot on a dry surface) is the best way to determine my foot type and the type of shoe I should wear.

Myth Buster: You heard wrong. A tracing of your foot and/or the wet test is not an accurate predictor of your foot function. Only severe overpronators (with a full, flat arch) or extreme underpronators (with a high arch) have definitive foot shapes. For just about everyone else, the wet test is pretty useless. There’s no evidence or study that suggests your foot shape accurately indicates which type of shoe you should wear. In fact, three recent studies conducted by the military showed that assigning shoes or types of shoes based on the wet test (or footprint shape) had almost no influence on injury risk.

How about shoe wear? My shoes wear out first on the outside of the outsole which I know means I’m a supinator, right?

Myth Buster: Wrong. If you are a true supinator, the actual supination happens well after you land, not when you land. Wear on outside of the heel is the most common wear pattern for 75-80 percent of the running population. The simple explanation why most runners wear out their shoes here is because almost all runners land on their heels and strike the outside of the heel first. That’s precisely the spot on the outsole where the wear is most pronounced. But that’s all it means.

I know I need to buy a good shoe, but a $50 shoe is just as good as shoes costing $100 or more.

Myth Buster: No, they aren’t. Different models have different materials, technologies and fit differently. Running shoes are very different from each other. Yes, you can buy a $50 athletic shoe at a department store but chances are it is not specific designed for running. Even if it is, the sweet spot in running shoes (between $100-$125) offer the best shoes in terms of cushioning, support, fit and durability.

But I’m just a beginner. I don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles on the expensive shoes, do I?

Myth Buster: I don’t know about bells and whistles, but a beginning runner usually needs to buy the best shoe possible. Unfortunately, that is rarely the least expensive. A beginner usually needs the best cushioning and support that he/she can find. It’s far more important for a beginner to spend a little more and get the best shoe, as opposed to someone who’s been running several years and already knows what works best.

Cushioning is the most important factor for me. I’m a big runner and need as much cushioning as I can get. When I try a new pair on, I like that soft, cushy feel I get walking around in the store.

Myth Buster: Almost all conventional running shoes have adequate cushioning, but some shoes (and brands) have a softer level of cushioning than others. That doesn’t mean a shoe has more cushioning or even a greater amount of cushioning. It simply means it’s a softer grade of cushioning material (foam) which may feel great in the store. But walking around in a store is not a good way to test a shoe. Researchers have long ago concluded that a running shoe with softer cushioning (rather than firmer) increases impact forces. There’s no evidence that a softer cushioned shoe is better for you than a shoe with greater firmness. In addition, running shoes that are too soft bottom out on road surface, don’t support the foot well (the foot sinks into the midsole) and the cushioning wears out quicker.

It takes me two or three weeks to break in a new pair of shoes. It’s frustrating that it takes so long.

Myth Buster: I imagine it would be, but the reality is today’s modern running shoes are good to go right out of the box. The idea of taking a few weeks to break in a new pair of shoes is a carry over from the 1970s and 80s when many running shoes had a board in the rearfoot, were very stiff and necessitated several short break-in runs. It’s simply not necessary today. The only exception is before an important race (especially a marathon) a few shakedown runs are important.

I’m a woman who is tired of buying women’s shoes. It bothers me that women’s running shoes are technically inferior to men’s and just more colorful versions designed to pander to women.

Myth Buster: That simply is not true. It used to be true when women made up a fraction of the running population and women’s running shoes were a little narrower, but today’s women (who make up more than half of all runners) demand just as good a shoe as men. Women are more sensitive to fit than men and absolutely won’t settle for a running shoe that doesn’t fit properly. Mizuno uses different lasts and also uses different upper materials and cushioning for its women’s-specific shoes, resulting in great fit and comfort.

I like to rotate between two pair of the same model shoe. That way I can extend the life of the shoe.

Myth Buster: There’s certainly nothing wrong with using two different pair of training shoes, but it won’t extend the life of a shoe. Shoes have a limited life span of a certain number of miles (which differs for everyone) and rotating between two pairs won’t help the shoes last longer. Shoes don’t need a day or two of rest like you and I do. Generally, a running shoe’s midsole (the cushioning element) needs just a couple of hours of “rest” to rebound from the day’s run, rather than 24 or 48 hours to recover. Doing so, won’t hurt the shoe but it won’t extend its durability either.

Minimalist running shoes are the best way to improve running form.

Myth Buster: There isn’t anything magical about minimalist or zero drop shoes. Yes, minimal running shoes—i.e., shoes with minimal cushioning and lowered (or zero) heel heights—might help you change your stride, but it is usually more of a result of making a conscious decision to change your running form and foot strike while running in this type of shoe. While it is true that because of the low heel heights and overall lightness of minimal shoes, runners do tend to strike the ground lighter and closer to the midfoot or forefoot with each stride. But, there is still an adaptation period as the typical runner has to biomechanically retrain. The shoe won’t do that; the runner must. Even so, many runners in minimalist shoes, continue to heel strike, just as some runners in conventional training shoes, use a mid or forefoot strike.

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