I frequently get asked for shoe advice. This comes from walkers, new runners, friends, competitive athletes cross-training, kids; you name it.
Surprisingly, the most common question I get is,"What brand do you recommend?"
My answer is always the same. The brand doesn't matter. It's the TYPE of shoe you need to look for. And that depends on your FOOT TYPE.
What Foot Type Do I Have?
You can go see a certified pedorthist, a sport medicine doctor, or you could start by "getting your feet wet".
That's right, go wet the bottom of your feet and walk on a dry sidewalk, floor, or nice wet beach to leave an impression on the surface. What do you see?
A FLAT FOOT (pes planus), or Pronator, will tend to leave a lot of impression on the ground, as the arch "falls" to the surface when you step down.
A HIGH ARCH (pes cavus), or Supinator will tend to leave a large gap between the heel and the balls of the feet, as the arch does NOT touch the ground with foot strike.
A NORMAL ARCH, falls somewhere in between.
Each foot type benefits from a more specific shoe, and certain people are much more sensitive to these changes.
THE FLAT FOOT
So, generally speaking a FLAT FOOT tends to require a "motion stabilizing" shoe. This support aims to keep the medial (arch) part of the foot from falling inward. Each company has it's own version of this, calling it a "stability" shoe, "motion stabilizer", or some variation on this theme. You can assess it's ability in controlling the shoe by looking at TWO AREAS - THE HEEL SUPPORT, and the MEDIAL ASPECT of the shoe.
HEEL SUPPORT - Squeeze the heel cup. It should be rigid, to keep the flat foot from rollling inward (pronating). If it doesn't look for another shoe.
MEDIAL SUPPORT -Take the shoe in both your hands with the toe facing you, and the laces up. Try twisting the shoe along the longitudinal axis. If it stay rigid, good. This will keep your arch from falling when you run. IF it twists easily, again, keep looking.
DON'T BUY THE HYPE!
People with Normal or Higher Arches can get away with a wider variety of shoes and should "test" them out for cushioning, comfort and fit. If these things are present, then I tend recommend the lightest shoes you can get away with, while providing cushioning.
Most reputable shoe stores will let you take them outside for a quick run around the block, and provide a generous return policy if something isn't right.
We all tend to get excited about certain colours, styles etc, whether we're a pre-teen, a novice runner or even the most seasoned athlete. Shoe companies definitely know this and spend a mind boggling amount (advertising expenditures, from Fortune Magazine, Feb 2012) of money trying to convince you that this year's model is a must have. The technology they come up with can sometimes rival NASA!
In the end, try to ignore the flash, and make sure you find something you'll be comfortable training with on a daily basis. After all, the goal is fitness, NOT fashion (mostly!). If you MUST have the fashion, some of the companies DO allow you to customize your shoe (NIKEiD, for example).
Try to visit a store that specializes in the footwear you are intending to buy, as their sales staff tends to be much more knowledgeable, and truly keen to help you, rather than sell you. It's worth the extra couple of dollars over a big box store. Trust me.
In future posts, I'll try to address other aspects, including "barefoot" style shoes, etc.
Let me know what you think and what you'd like to see in the future!