When it comes to running, finding the right sneaker fit is key. That's because those shoes are all that stands between your feet and the hard pavement. In that way, the wrong shoe fit can lead to a host of runner’s ailments. (That includes those infamous black toenails we runners love to hate.)
But choosing the right running shoes goes beyond fit. Today, there are so many sneaker options. And so much tech to sift through. But one runner's perfect sneaker won't be the right choice for someone else. So, to help you sift through the choices, please dive in as I share my sneaker fit guide for Houston runners!
Best Running Shoe Tech for Runners
Shoes without tech are called neutral shoes because they don't use fancy bells and whistles to provide support. Now, they do have some cushioning. But that tends to fall in the heel, not the front of the shoe. And it's not designed to deal with pronation. Or to address how you push off the ground, unlike shoes with toe spring.
One of the hottest new topics in the sneaker tech world is toe spring. You may not have heard of this term. But you've probably noticed that a lot of new running shoes curve upward right under the toes. And that's what I mean when I talk about toe spring.
To be more specific, we measure toe spring in the degree of that upward curve. (The steeper the curve, the higher the toe spring rating.) The idea behind this sneaker tech is that toe spring helps you get forward motion in the front of your running shoe. It may be helpful for some runners. But others should stay away.
But, you can't have a forefoot rocker without proper toe joint movement. Those toes have to move at least 60 degrees upward to allow for your ideal rocking motion. So, for people with limited toe mobility, toe spring could be helpful. (Quite a few things can limit your toe joint movement. But two common causes are bunions and arthritis.)
The Dangers of Toe Spring
Since this sneaker tech is hot right now, researchers are studying what it does to your feet. And, according to a new study from an evolutionary biologist at Harvard university, toe spring could spell trouble. In fact, as Dr. Daniel Lieberman says revealed in Scientific Reports, toe spring actually ups your risk for plantar fasciitis!
How could that be? Here's the story. In this study, we learned that walking with toe spring means you generate less force with your MTP joints. (Short for metatarsophalangeal, these are what connects your toe and foot bones.) Now, putting less force on your feet sounds like a good thing. And, to some degree, it is--it will make your feet more comfortable when you walk or run. At least in the short term.
But the problems come up when you wear shoes with toe spring for a long time. Or for all your workouts. Because, as they reduced the force on your joints, these upward curving sneakers also give your foot muscles a big break. So that, eventually, they lose tone, and your Achilles tendon or plantar fascia have to work harder. Meaning they could become inflamed, and leave you with chronic heel pain.
As Lieberman explained, "We think that what happens is that people are relying on their plantar fascia to do what muscles normally do. When you get weak muscles and the plantar fascia has to do more work, it’s not really evolved for that, and so it gets inflamed."
So, Should Running Shoes Have Toe Spring?
Now you've seen the risks and rewards of toe spring on sneakers. But how can you make a choice in the sneaker store? Well, sometimes, adding toe spring to a sneaker has more to do with the shoe than your foot.
What do I mean? An upward curving toe can make up for thick, inflexible sneaker soles. And with the rise of maximalist sneakers like Hoka One Ones, sneaker tech is trying to make up for stiffness with toe spring. And that's why, with thicker soles, you'll probably notice more dramatic toe spring. Because it gives your body the room it needs to role forward.
The same is true for injury-preventing sneakers with plates in their soles. Plated sneakers like Nike Zoom Alpha Fly Next% propel you forward while cushioning the fall. But they also sacrifice your foreward rocker. Which is why they come with a serious degree of toe spring.
Here's my final thoughts on this type of sneaker tech. I'm all for features that correct your body's natural imbalances. (But I think custom orthotics do the same job. And last longer.) What I can't recommend is spending hundreds of dollars on these features if your body doesn't need them. Which is why my sneaker fit guide is all about your own feet. And making them the happiest they can be.
Other Sneaker Tech to Watch Out For
Recently, new studies emerged covering the impact of running in shoes that have carbon fiber plates (CFP) in their midsole. Runners love shoes with this tech, like the Nike Vaporfly model, because the CFP makes them more efficient, and faster. In fact, the tech is so effective that professional runners aren't allowed to wear shoes with CFP for racing.
Now, for casual runners, this might send you straight to the Nike store to pick up a pair of Vaporflies. But wait...there's good reason not to do that just yet. A recent opinion piece in the journal Sports Medicine highlighted the cases of five different runners who all suffered navicular bone stress injuries after training in shoes with CFP. They concluded that the energy that gets stored in the CFP, combined with the limits these shoes place on bending and ankle mobility, put too much pressure on your foot bones. At best, this can leave you with foot pain. At worst, you could end up with a painful overuse injury. So, instead of seeking this performance-boosting tech, stick with a better choice using our sneaker fit guide, highlighted below.
Sneaker Fit Guide: Get the Perfect Running Shoe for You
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has an official guide for picking the right sneaker. And I love almost all of what they suggest. But before you work through those tips, you need to know your foot type.
So, how can you do that? Start with an old pair of shoes, ones you've really worn down. Then, look at where they're most worn, because that will let you know where your feet put the most pressure as you move.
Notice wear on the inside of your sneakers? You're like a pronater, which means your feet roll inward as you walk or run. See that the outside of your shoes are worn out? It's likely that you supinate, which means your feet roll outward when walking. Finally, if your shoes show even wear signs all over, you likely have a neutral foot.
Now, none of these conditions mean you can't find comfy sneakers. But, they may affect the brand or type of sneaker that will work best for your feet. So keep your foot type in mind when shopping, then keep following these tips for finding the right sneaker fit.
3 Ways to Find The Right Sneaker Fit
1. You don’t need a fancy shoe. In fact, a neutral sneaker, with no extra arch support or rigid motion control features is the best choice. Too much cushioning isn’t ideal. (It can throw off balance and your center of gravity.) Instead, look for shoes with enough room in the forefoot so you can wiggle your toes. Because fit over fancy features is key to preventing injuries.
2. Look at the height difference between the heel and toe of your shoe. (Officially called the heel-to-toe drop.) Now, most sneakers have heels that sit 12 to 16 millimeters above the toe. But the ACSM says that number should be no higher than 6 millimeters (1/4 inch). The reason? Exaggerated heel elevations promote heel-strike landings. And those may lead to a greater force of impact for runners. Leveling the toe and heel promotes a more cushioned mid-foot strike. And that's better for preventing foot injuries.
Not about to stand in the shoe aisle with a measuring tape to pick out the best pair for your feet? Here are three suggestions for shoes that meet the ACSM’s standards. Nike’s Free Line sneakers offer shoes with heel height differentials of 8, 6 and 4 millimeters. The Saucony Kinvara has a heel-toe differential of 4 millimeters. And the Altra Zero drop, as its name suggests, has no differential in height between toe and heel.
About Zero Drop shoes. The tech here is that the shoes have no elevation, thanks to uniform sole thickness from toe to heel. Still, unlike other flats which actually do have a subtle drop that puts heels a bit higher than toes, this type of sneaker is actually even, allowing your feet to mimic barefoot movement while minimizing the impact of the ground force and reducing running injuries.
3. Find the proper fit for your specific foot shape. Before buying running shoes, have your foot measured by a pro. Also, make sure to run in the shoes—they should feel good right away, without a period of “breaking in.” Because the best shoes for you are the ones you feel great in!
Of course, there's one more rule to review. (Even if it's not truly part of the sneaker fit guide.) But here it is. If you feel pain when you run, call me right away for an office visit. When you come in, I can check your shoes and your gait. That way, I can stop a minor fit problem from becoming a major running injury!