How to Buy the Right Running Shoes

Where to Shop and What to Look For

Female executive looking at running shoe
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Choosing the right pair of running shoes is one of the most important decisions you can make as a runner. The investment in time and money will more than pay off in the end, improving your performance and comfort while keeping you safe and injury-free.

Where to Shop

The ideal running shoe is not designed solely for comfort but to address (and sometimes correct) irregularities in your foot position and gait. This includes the pronation of your foot as it strikes the ground.

Running shoes also need appropriate breaks and support so that they flex in tandem with your foot movement and redistribute the concussive impact from the more vulnerable parts of your feet.

To find the right shoe, always go to a specialty running store rather than a retail sports shoe outlet. The sale professionals there will be better appraised of ideal fit and performance and have the tools on hand to properly measure and analyze your feet.

How to Choose the Best Shoe

Plan on spending some time at the running specialty store, as the salesperson will likely ask questions and want you to try on several options. Aim to visit the store at the end of the day after you have been on your feet for a while. Your feet will have swollen by then and be closer to the size needed for your running shoes.

If you already have a pair of running shoes, bring them with you. This will give the salesperson greater insights into your foot alignment and gait style. The same applies if you use corrective orthotics or custom-fitted insoles.

Get Properly Fitted

There are several steps a running shoe specialist will take to help you find the right shoe:

  1. Foot shape: The salesperson will look at the shape and arch of your foot to establish your foot characteristics, including whether you have flat feet or high arches.
  2. Measurements: Your feet should be measured while standing (never sitting). It is not enough for a salesperson to ask your foot size. Age, pregnancy, and injury can significantly alter your foot structure. Moreover, a running shoe needs to be at least a half-size larger than your regular shoe to accommodate for swelling that can occur when running.
  3. Shoe wear: The salesperson will usually take a look at the shoes you're wearing to see if there is any unusual wear on the soles or heels. For example, wear on the outer edge of a shoe is indicative of underpronation (supination), while medial wear on the inner edge of a shoe is indicative of overpronation.
  4. Running analysis: The salesperson will observe you running, either on a treadmill or outside on the sidewalk, to establish your running style. They will usually stand behind you, crouched low, to check whether your foot placement is level or is rolling inward or outward.
  5. Running habits and goals: To help the salesperson, provide as much information as you can about the kind of running you do, the surfaces you run on, your training schedule, and whether you are training for a race or a marathon.
  6. Test drive: Instead of just trying on the shoes and walking around, ask if you can run in them. As long as you don't do any damage to the shoes, such as running through dirt or an oil stain, they usually won't mind.

Unlike a shoe outlet at the mall, a specialty running store wants your repeat business. To this end, take your time and try on as many shoes as needed to find the pair that meets your specific needs.

Finally, never buy a shoe based solely on its color, style, or brand name. While fashion will certainly play a part in your decision, do not let it do so to the detriment of your comfort, safety, or performance.

Road Test Your Shoes

Once you have purchased the shoes, test them for the next four to five days to see how your feet respond to them. If you develop blisters, numbness, or foot pain, they are probably the wrong pair for you. If properly sized and fitted, a running shoe does not require breaking in.

If you start to develop aches or discomfort in the arch, ankle, knee, or hip, it could be due to an over-correction in the insole. This can happen if a shoe designed to correct a misalignment adds more support than is needed. If any of these problems occur, call the running store and let them know.

Many specialty stores have liberal exchange policies and allow you to return the shoes within a week even if you've worn them.

Replace Shoes Regularly

Once you have found the perfect running shoes, you don't need to keep going back to get your foot remeasured. You can simply replace the pair every 300 to 400 miles.

But do speak with the salesperson when reordering, as some companies tweak the design of a shoe annually without changing the model name. Some of the tweaks are incidental; others may increase the heel depth, cushioning, or stability and completely throw off your stride.

Get your feet and gait re-analyzed every three to five years, depending on your age and the amount of running you do. Competitive runners may want to do this more frequently.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Wilke J, Vogel O, Vogt L. Why are you running and does it hurt? Pain, motivations and beliefs about injury prevention among participants of a large-scale public running eventInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(19):3766. doi:10.3390/ijerph16193766

  3. Edo M, Yamamoto S. Changes in kinematic chain dynamics between calcaneal pronation/supination and shank rotation during load bearing associated with ankle position during plantar and dorsiflexion. J Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(12):1479–1482. doi:10.1589/jpts.30.1479

  4. Vincent H, Vincent K. American College of Sports Medicine information on selecting running shoes. American College of Sports Medicine.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.