This article was written by Jason Fitzgerald.
Did you know that the right pair of running shoes can help prevent injuries and even help you race faster?
The massive improvement in human performance over the past several decades has been partly attributed to technology. From low-friction swimsuits and increasingly aerodynamic bicycles to high-tech running shoes, gear keeps getting better. And the athletes who use the right gear keep getting better, too.
For runners, choosing the right pair of shoes is critical. Your running shoe strategy can help prevent injuries and even improve your finish times. As a coach, I work with my runners to develop a well-rounded approach to prevention – and that includes their choice of running shoes.
It’s helpful to recognize shoes as “training tools” that accomplish a specific task. From protecting our feet, reinforcing proper running form, building foot and lower leg strength, and even reducing stress on our feet, shoes are a valuable part of a runner’s training tool kit.
Let’s discover how to use the right pair of running shoes to enhance your training and help you become a faster, healthier runner.
Fit and Feel: How to Choose Running Shoes
Everyone asks, “what is the best kind of running shoe?” And it always depends!
Some runners swear by minimalist shoes, and others swear by more traditional running shoes. But here’s the truth: both minimalist and supportive running shoes can cause injuries if they’re not right for you.
The best solution for most people lies not on either end of this spectrum, but somewhere in the middle. And often, the best choice includes multiple shoes from across the spectrum.
Ultimately, runners should look for two critical characteristics in any pair of shoes:
- The shoe feels good on your feet while running (if possible, buy a pair of shoes you know feel good or run a minute or two in them at the shoe store)
- The shoe fits – you feel smooth and often “forget” about your shoes because they’re not clunky or overly stressing your feet.
So no matter what shoes you choose, focus on fit and how they feel while you’re running. This will mean that you’ll try a lot of different pairs of shoes. Yes, it might be expensive. Yes, it might be time-consuming. But you’ll also figure out exactly what you like and what works best for you.
And as a runner, that’s priceless knowledge.
Now that you understand how to better choose running shoes, let’s talk about how they can actually help you run faster and stay healthy.
Variety Helps Prevent Injuries
Let’s recognize that running injuries are technically repetitive stress injuries. We know that running is repetitive, but how do we reduce the ongoing repetition of our beloved sport?
The secret is variety in your running. Varying as much as possible in your training helps reduce this repetition. You can:
- Run more trails, with irregular surfaces that force your body to move in slightly different ways.
- Run a variety of differently paced workouts that alter your form and biomechanics, changing how the forces of running are applied to your legs.
- Rotate your running shoes!
Today we’re going to focus on the last item there: varying the stresses your feet and lower legs experience by rotating through several different pairs of running shoes.
Different kinds of shoes will alter your running mechanics and that vary the distribution of stress and load on your muscles, joints, and connective tissues.
Rotating shoes is a good general idea anyway because different shoes excel in different roles. For example, a more minimalist shoe might be better for shorter runs to help you focus on technique. Then you could use a more traditional running shoe during your long runs when extra cushioning is helpful.
A shoe with more cushioning will take some of the impact of running and make the muscles and joints of your lower leg work less. So cushioned shoes can help you run more, too – further, farther, and more often.
Ultimately, it’s helpful to expose your body to a wide variety of training stresses – and that certainly includes shoes. Rotating through 2-3 pairs of shoes, particularly for runners prone to foot or lower leg injuries, is a strategy coaches have been using for years to help their runners stay healthy.
Can the Right Running Shoe Make You Faster
The short answer is, of course, yes! There are many types of running shoes and some of them can absolutely help you run faster.
While running shoes should be selected for their fit and feel, also consider the role they’ll play in your running as “training tools.” There are three major ways to think about running shoes and how they can make you faster:
Some shoes can reinforce proper running form. Minimalist shoes or those that are light (under eight ounces) with a heel-toe drop of less than 6mm can prevent bad running form habits like over-striding and aggressive heel striking.
Look for shoes like the Nike Lunaracer 3 or the Mizuno Wave Sayonara 2 for this purpose. Just remember that if you’re not ready to run in these less supportive shoes, it’s best to transition very gradually.
Minimalist shoes also build foot and lower leg strength. Running in a shoe with little support is more difficult because it engages more muscles in the foot and lower leg. It effectively forces your body to do more of the work – which is a great way to build strength!
Some shoes can enhance the recovery process and help you run more. Shoes with more cushioning and support (like the Saucony Triumph ISO, for example) don’t put as much stress on your feet and lower legs. Therefore, they’re great options for long runs or when you’re already fatigued and need to prioritize recovery.
When you combine the benefits of strategic shoe choices – improved technique and efficiency, more strength and injury resistance, and enhanced recovery – your training will be vastly improved.
And as I like to tell my runners, “Smarter training leads to faster racing!”