What are the best running shoes?
Possibly the most asked questions by our readers and any person who knows I run this site, “what are the best running shoes” is not an easy question to answer!
Running shoes are a very personal matter. So personal in fact that a recent medical research established that comfort and fit are the most important matter while selecting a running shoe in terms of minimizing the risk of injury.
For this reason, it is impossible to make a list that will be valid for everyone.
We are a team of testers with different running experience, body shapes and sizes, individual bio-mechanics. This always updated list is divided into different sections so that every runner can find the best running shoes for them.
Here are a few pointers and definitions to help you choose correctly.
Neutral (or cushioning) running shoes vs stability (or support)
Traditionally, all running shoes are divided into Neutral running shoes or Stability running shoes.
This is based on the concept (lately less popular) that the height and elasticity of your foot arch determines what your shoe should do for you.
- Runners with high arches don’t amortise the shock of impact with the ground enough, therefore needing shoes with extra cushioning
- Runners with low or flat arches have their arch collapse under the impact resulting in mis-alignment of the running gait, therefore needing shoes that correct this issue
Although there is much more to choosing a pair of running shoes than this, most runners will be find in Netrual (cushioning) running shoes. Some runners though (like me) absolutely do need stability in their shoes in order not to get injured.
Low drop or zero drop running shoes
A running shoe drop, or heel-to-toe offset, is the difference, measured in millimiters (mm) between the height of the shoe sole in the heel area vs the height of the sole in the toe area.
For reference, traditional running shoes usually have an offset (drop) of 12mm. Low drop are considered shoes with a drop between zero (called zero drop) and 4mm. Everything in between is also possible.
The logic is: shoes with a higher heel will favor heel strike during running, while shoes with a zero or low drop will favor a more forefoot or midfoot running gait. It is largely a matter of preference, but running on your toes requires a completely different set of muscle activation and switching from one kind of shoe to the other without proper conditioning and a very gradual approach might result in injury.
Minimal vs maximal running shoes
In a nutshell minimal vs maximal refers to the amount of cushioning that the shoe gives to the runners.
Starting in 2009, more and more runners have been promoting a barefoot running idea: shoes are bad for you, you should run barefoot or, if that is not possible, with “as little shoe as possible”. Milions of runners made the switch to minimalism and quite a few got injured. As a result, companies came out with running shoes that are lightweight (one of the principles of minimalism) but with very high, soft soles that really cushion the foot.
There is not a right or wrong type of shoe here – it entirely depends on the runner, their style and preferences.
Premium running shoes vs cheap running shoes
A high price tag is not a guarantee that a shoe is better than another. This said, we always recommend to shop for running shoes that have a recommended retail price of $100 or more.
This does not mean you need to pay more than $100! New versions of running shoes are released every year and – most often than not – changes versus the previous version are small and incremental in nature. This means that instead of buying this year version of a shoe, you can very often buy last year’s model for a fraction of the price, often as low as 50% less.
Trail running shoes vs road running shoes
While the distinction might seem obvious, it’s good to mention some points that differentiate a trail running shoe from a road one.
- Trail-specific outsoles: the bottom of a trail running shoe usually has a layer of very grippy rubber to avoid slipping over ice, rocks or wet pavement. The shoe will often present aggressively designed lugs to maintain traction in grass, mud or gravel.
- Rock plates: some trail shoes ahve rigid inserts that protect the foot from sharp rocks or stone bruises. This makes the shoe stiffer, but this protection is mandatory on certain kind of terrain
- Protective toe bumper: similar to the rock plate, most trail shoes have hardened toe areas to protect your toes from the damage caused by, for example, kicking a rock
- Weather resistant uppers: very often trail running shoes have water resistant upper, higher collars or special lacing systems that help keeping water, mud or small rocks outside of the shoe.
Daily training running shoes vs racing/speedwork running shoes
The last distinction we want to highlight is the difference between high mileage, every day shoes vs shoes for speedwork and racing.
It has become a common practice for runners all over the world to have at least two separate pair of shoes:
- A pair of traditional, highly cushioned and comfortable running shoes in which they log the majority of their training mileage. These shoes are usually heavier and with a high drop.
- A pair of lightweight, low drop shoes to be used when they train at slower distances and higher paces. Or on race day.
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