Everything you need to know about how running shoes should fit, how often to replace running shoes, and more tips to make every stride feel great.
One of the most-touted benefits of running for fitness is its simplicity: All you need is a pair of running shoes, and you're set to hit the streets (or the treadmill, if that's more your speed) for a little bit of exercise.
But while the act of running isn't overly complicated, the shoe aspect can be incredibly overwhelming, especially to those new to the sport. From the wide variety of running shoe brands to the tricky technical terms used to describe various features (uh, what's a heel-to-forefoot drop again?), finding a perfectly fitting pair of running shoes that offer the right amount of support can feel like finding a needle in a haystack.
Here, running experts offer their best advice for finding the right running shoes for you. Plus, learn answers to common running shoe questions, such as "how long do running shoes last?" and "how should running shoes fit?"
How to Find Running Shoes That Suit Your Needs
The number one thing you can do when buying running shoes is going to a specialized running shoe store (think: Fleet Feet or Road Runner Sports) to find your perfect fit. "I always recommend going into a store and getting fitted," says Marcel Dinkins, Peloton Tread Instructor. "It’s so important to have someone who sees runners all the time and is familiar with what type of runner tends to gravitate toward what shoe." Plus, having professional guidance helps cut down on the information overload you might experience at having so many options on hand, she adds.
Plus, going to a store comes with one major perk that's tough to execute solo: a gait analysis. This is especially helpful for first-time buyers, says Kayla Jeter, an RRCA-certified running coach, NASM-certified personal trainer, and certified functional strength coach. "Store educators will perform a gait analysis to get a better understanding of your foot and what shoe best supports your natural movement," says Jeter. You'll likely jog on an in-store treadmill or out on the sidewalk in front of the store for a few minutes while a salesperson watches. Some specialty running stores (such as Fleet Feet) use 3D scanning technology to take exact measurements of your feet and analyze several data points (including length, width, and arch height) to give you a near-custom fit. Pro tip: Wear comfortable clothing you can move around in when shopping for running shoes.
Another advantage of buying running shoes in-store (vs. online) is that these salespeople are often runners themselves who have deep industry knowledge of various brands, their upsides, and any common complaints. You may have only heard of the major running shoe brands, but a salesperson can help you try on options that maybe haven't come across your radar yet. Plus, they can help you focus on what really matters (the fit and support of the shoe) rather than the eye-catching details that can be way more compelling when scrolling through endless options online.
"There’s a lot of flash, flare, and fits when it comes to running shoes," acknowledges Jeter. "But it’s important to find the shoe that feels good on your foot and supports your running goals —then, if it applies, [find shoes that] reflect your personality in color or little details."
What to Consider When Buying Running Shoes
Buying running shoes is a highly individualized process, so it's important to understand that the best running shoe for you will depend on your specific needs, goals, and even your foot anatomy.
"There’s a lot to consider before investing in a new pair of running shoes, but intended use is the first place to start," advises Jeter. "Will you run mostly on pavement or are you looking to explore trails? Are your eyes on racing or more casual weekend meet-ups? Knowing how your shoes will support you as a runner will help you fit the right fit."
With that in mind, there are a few different variables that can help guide your running shoe purchase.
Depending on your particular foot, you might seek out brands with extended sizing (such as Hilma, a new women's running shoe company that offers running shoes in 45 sizes and widths). If your shoe size goes beyond a women's 12, you may also consider buying men's running shoes. There's generally about a 1.5-size difference between the two, so if you're a women's size 13, you'll be around a men's 11.5.
And as far as how should running shoes fit, don't forget to size up a bit to account for potential foot swelling, says Jeter. "As temperatures and/or mileage increase, your foot will swell — so it’s important not to buy the Cinderella 'perfect fit' size" that you may get in non-athletic shoes. Instead, consider trying on shoes about a half-size larger than your usual to give your foot a little wiggle room.
Not all running surfaces are created equal; running on the sidewalk affects your feet differently than running on a track, for example. And if you enjoy trail running, your shoes will need to be stiffer throughout the midsoles (to better support your feet stepping on rocks and branches) and textured outsoles (aka the bottom of the shoe) for better traction.
Deciding how much support you want in your running shoes is partially a personal preference and partially dependent on your joints. "With every step, a runner produces a force that is about three to four times greater than their body weight on their joints, which makes cushion and support essential to reduce injury and increase longevity," explains Jeter. "So when it comes to cushioning, look for the sweet spot between comfort and support for your activity."
For example, runners new to the sport might gravitate toward extra-supportive, cushioned shoes as their joints adapt to higher-impact activities, as might runners who typically tackle longer distances and endure more impact.
On the other hand, runners who want to dial in on their gait and form might experiment with thinner cushioning for short distances (yes, this type of shoe can sometimes look like the "barefoot" style). "The lower, or thinner, the cushion, the higher demand on your feet," says Jeter. These minimalist shoes are known for strengthening feet because your foot muscles have to work harder to absorb force and control your movement; in fact, a study in Nature found that foot strength increases by an average of 57.4 percent after six months of daily activity in minimal footwear. That said, they're not meant to be worn for long distances and you'll want to ease into wearing minimalist shoes for longer distances and durations in order to avoid overuse injury.
Pronation is the way your foot rolls inward to distribute the impact of your body weight when you land. You may overpronate (when your foot rolls inward more than 15 percent), underpronate (when the outer part of your heel hits the ground first), or run with neutral pronation (i.e., when your foot makes complete contact with the ground). Runners who overpronate will need shoes with more stability that help them run more efficiently, and since underpronation can put excess pressure on the feet and ankles, runners with this gait should seek out running shoes with low drops and more cushion in the midsole to help absorb force, as Shape previously reported.
If you have any foot-specific conditions, such as plantar fasciitis or flat feet (with little to no significant arch), that factor may guide your shopping trip too. (Plantar fasciitis, if you're lucky enough to not know much about it, is inflammation of a thick band of fascia that runs from your toes to your heel on the bottom of your foot, resulting in arch pain.)
Aside from these considerations, you might also investigate whether one brand of running shoes is best known for a specific type of runner, advises Dinkins. "The cool thing about running shoes is that each brand does something the best," she explains. "Everyone is a specialist at something in the running category, and a quick search will reveal who stands out in what. You can find the brand with the best road running shoes, the best trail running shoes, etc — then it’s simply up to you to find the specific model in that brand that works best for your needs." Again, turn to a specialty running store for more information on specific running shoe brands.
How to Test New Running Shoes
These days, many running stores and brands are flexible with their return policy, often offering shoppers the chance to trial gear for up to 30 days (or more) without penalty — yes, even if you've run outside in the shoes several times. "So don't be afraid to walk around, or even take your shoes for a test run," advises Dinkins. "You are not going to get it perfect on the first try. It will be trial and error."
Once you've bought a pair (or two) of potential winners, wear them in a variety of situations, such as for a hot girl walk, a recovery jog, a tempo run, or a treadmill session — anything that you'd expect to use your shoes for IRL. Then, take note of how your foot reacts and how you feel while running. "Running shoes [may feel great] when you first slide them on, but it can be a totally different story once you hit the pavement," says Jeter. If you notice any pain or discomfort, return the shoes and try again.
Also, keep in mind that running shoes don't last forever. If you're wondering "how long do running shoes last?", the general consensus is that running shoes last about four to six months and/or 300 to 500 miles. Any signs of wear and tear, especially if your outer soles are thinning where your feet produce the most force (think: around the balls of your feet or the outside of your heels, if you're an underpronator) should be considered a warning sign that your shoes are on their last legs. Keep a running journal or a note on your phone that helps you track the lifespan of your shoes so you know when it's time to swap them out for a fresh pair of kicks.
"Ultimately don’t be afraid to try as many styles as you need until you find the running shoes that work for you," concludes Dinkins. "Then, buy two pairs!"