How to Pick Out the Right Running Shoes

June 3, 2015

how to choose a running shoe

Finding the right shoes to run or exercise in is important to the success of any training plan.

Without the proper support, athletes can face discomfort and even injuries in the knees, hips, and feet. Running shoes should allow your feet to do what they do naturally, but give them that added support to improve performance and protect your feet in the process.

Keeping this in mind, buying the first pair of workout shoes that you see online because you like the way they look is not a smart way to do it. Looks alone won’t help you reach your fitness goals. The wrong running shoes won’t just lead to discomfort; they could hinder your progress or put you completely on the sidelines while you nurse your injuries.

So what is the proper way to pick out the right running or fitness shoes? Take a look at these tips for finding the pair that will support your feet as well as your fitness goals.

Find Your Purpose

The way in which you will use the shoes should be the first determining factor in buying them. Are you a casual runner, or do you put in 30+ miles per week? Are you running inside on a treadmill, out on sidewalks, or on trails? This will make a difference in the type of running shoe you buy.

Identify Your Running Style

Which part of your foot hits the ground first? Do you lead with your toes, or your heel? Does the outside or the inside of your foot hit the ground first? You want to find shoes with the proper cushioning based on the part of your foot that will see the most impact. This will prevent problems like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and tendonitis.

Analyze Your Arch

The arch in your foot determines how your foot will roll during your runs. People with a higher arch will need more of a curved shoe, but those with flatter feet will need something flatter with stability. A professional at a running store can take a look at the way you walk barefoot and tell you whether you pronate (roll to the inside), supinate (roll to the outside), or stay neutral.

Re-Measure Your Feet Each Time

Feet actually get larger as we age, so it is important to measure them again each time you want to buy a new pair of shoes. Other factors, like pregnancy, can also impact the size of your feet. If you order your fitness shoes online, this is especially important as you won’t be trying them on in person. The standard shoe-size measuring tool is called a Brannock device and you can download online versions of it to use at home. A good rule of thumb is to order running shoes a half size larger than your feet measure on the Brannock scale. You should also pay attention to any fine print on shoe websites that alerts you to sizing differences in those particular pairs compared to others on the market. The most common reason people return shoes is because they order them too small. Save yourself a few steps and measure your feet correctly each time.

Try Shoes on at the End of the Day

In general, your feet are going to be the most swollen and long at the end of the day because of the weight of your body pushing down on them for several hours. This is the largest your feet will be all day, so this is the size you should go with to ensure that your running shoes fit at all times. It is much better to have a shoe that is slightly big than one that is too tight. Pinched toes aren’t just uncomfortable; they can lead to ingrown toenails.

Wear Socks

If you are trying shoes on in the store, wear the type of socks you plan to wear when you run or workout. The idea is to get as close to a true fit as possible so there is little room for error when you are actually taking the shoes out for a run.

Do Some Testing

Whether you are in the store, or you are just trying on the shoes that came in the mail, be sure to do a few exercises to ensure fit. These include:

  • Walking on a firm surface (no carpet).
  • Standing on the balls of your feet. Does your index finger fit between your heel and the back of the shoe? It should. If not, the shoes are too small.
  • Taking out the removable insole. Set the insole on the ground and put your foot on top of it. Do your toes go over the end of it, or does your foot stay inside the boundaries? Obviously if your foot is larger than the insole, you will want a larger size. Even if your foot fits though you may want to consider trying a half size larger if you are too cramped.
  • Running in the shoe. Don’t go on a full blown run outside and get them all dirty and scuffed up, but do find a way to run a stretch at your normal speed. Are you noticing any pinching or other tightening issues? Do the shoes fully support your feet and ankles?
  • Trying on both shoes. It is not uncommon for your right foot and left foot to be different sizes. Usually they are within a size of the other so you will want to buy the larger size of shoes to accommodate that. Do all of the tests listed above on the right and left to make sure they are both the right fit.


Above all, don’t let too much time pass before you start researching your next pair of running shoes. Waiting too long to replace them can put your feet at risk of injury and just make it that much harder to reach your fitness goals. Even if you loved the last pair you bought, don’t just rebuy them without going through the proper steps again. Remember: your feet change. Pick out the right shoes (and the right socks) to support the current state of your feet and enjoy a more “comfortable” run.