marathons Archives - Catalyst Physical Therapy & Wellness Mission Valley San Diego


How To Select The Best Running Shoes

You may be wondering how to select the best running shoes to fit your running style.  Other questions you may be asking yourself:

  • Which brand of running shoes are best? 
  • Do I need minimalist shoes?
  • What about arch support?  What about custom orthotics? 
  • How about maximum cushioning? 
  • Do I need a run assessment to determine what kind of runner I am?

These are just a few of the questions our Run Specialist Dr. Ellie Nevarez gets asked each week.  In addition, these are undoubtedly some of the most common questions she gets asked by new runners. 
A veteran runner, by comparison, most likely has “their shoe” that works great for them.

However, if you are a new runner that’s training for an upcoming half-marathon, how are you supposed to know what shoe to buy?  So before we go to the research, let’s check in with Dr. Ellie.

runner at sunset

Minimalist vs. Supportive Running Shoes

The first question I hear often?  Do I need a more “minimalist” shoe versus a “supportive” shoe?  To start, running shoes follow a spectrum based on the amount of cushion or thickness of the sole of the shoe.  In addition, there’s also arch support and “drop” or the ratio of sole thickness under the heel compared to sole thickness under the toe.

A minimalist shoe has very little cushion.  Therefore, very little arch support and a “zero drop” sole.  An example of this would be a Nike Free

However, a supportive shoe will have a thick cushion, high arch support, and a relatively big drop.  One of the most common max support shoes are the Hoka One One.

Are you looking for something supportive, but more lightweight for racing?  Well, a carbon-plated running shoe, like Nike’s Vaporfly Next% might be it.  In addition, these have been so popular that they sell out as soon as they launch a new pair!


Catalyst Run Program group run

How Your Unique Running Form Comes Into Play

As a physical therapist and a run specialist, I know that one size does not fit all.  You are unique in your running style and your current or past running injuries will influence this. Furthermore, you might make additional compensations for aches and pains, or based on the course or trails you’ll be running!  Want to come in for a comprehensive run assessment so I can take a better look at your form?  Let’s get you in!

Here’s what else comes into play when we talk about your running form:

  • Your foot posture, so flat feet vs. high arches
  • Toe strike vs. heel strike
  • Wide feet vs. Narrow feet
  • Forward lean
  • Stride length
  • Leg/core strength
  • Balance

In addition to all these things that make your running form unique, there may be certain shoe styles you find more comfortable.  Furthermore, you may hear, “humans have run for thousands of years without shoes.”  This statement supports that minimalist shoes are the best.  However, the counterpoint to that argument is that most individuals have worn shoes their entire life.  Therefore, going from a supportive shoe to a shoe with little to no support will increase the chance for injury. 

Then, add in an increase in mileage or running on new terrain, and this further increases your risk!  Not only are you removing support, but you are also significantly increasing stress in the feet from each foot strike on the ground.  In fact, the vertical force distributed through each foot with running is 2-3x your body weight compared to 1.5x your body weight with walking.


running barefoot

Back to Maximum vs. Minimalist Running Shoes

So are maximum support shoes the best?  Well, many of my patients are runners who wear Hoka’s and swear by them.  Clients often tell me they feel as though they are “running on clouds.”  In addition, maximum support running shoes have helped many of my runners who suffer from knee pain.

However, having all of this support of a maximum support running shoe, the foot no longer has to work as hard and can get lazy.  When this happens, I often see problems further up the chain in the hips, knees, IT band, and lower back.


So What Does The Research Say on the Best Running Shoes?

Let’s look at the science behind running.  Here are a few resources that have helped us debunk the myths:


Therefore, after reviewing all the research, and combining that with what we’re seeing in the clinic, we can conclude that your running form matters more than the type of running shoe you are wearing.


Words of Caution When Opting for a Minimalist Running Shoes

So, if you’ve decided you’d like to wear a minimalist running shoe, a slow evolution is absolutely necessary when transitioning.  As an example, running in Vibram’s Five Fingers leads to a greater risk of injury. 

Furthermore, we can assume that your foot and ankle strength isn’t there initially. Slowly develop this over time.  And, through a proper training program with support from a physical therapist. In addition, if you’re prone to injuries or foot pain, the minimalist running shoe route is one you want to use with extreme caution. 

Finally, if you’re in it for the cool factor of progressing like our ancient ancestors, get on the minimalist’s running shoe wagon.  However, remember to build up that ankle/foot strength, slow down your speed, and focus on landing more forefoot!


Things to Keep in Mind with a Maximum Support Running Shoe

As the research shows, a maximum support running shoe does not necessarily protect you from injury either. 

Although there is not a lot of research done on it just yet, some preliminary findings suggest that when runners are given an extra cushion to support their feet, they tend to rely on it more than using their foot/ankle strength.  In addition, maximalist running shoes are being shown to actually increase the vertical loading forces in the body.  This could be good news initially for those of you prone to foot and ankle injuries.  However, redistributing these larger forces to the knees and hips could lead you down another path of destruction.  Therefore, you’re not necessarily decreasing your risk of injury, but rather choosing a different style of injury. 
A better investment might be identifying some running form changes that will allow you success in the new shoe you choose.  In addition, since research shows that a majority of runners may not accurately identify their running form, coming in for an assessment is a great next step.


Ultimately, the goal is to find a running shoe that is comfortable for you and your running style.  This is why I’ve focused on running here at Catalyst PT & Wellness.  Got a quick question for me?  Drop me a message and let’s get you back to doing what you love! 

If you are having pain, or have a history of injuries, come in for a PT appointment, or schedule your run assessment and I will give you a full evaluation of your running form plus tweaks to make running more fun and pain-free!


Catalyst Run Program group run


Final Thoughts

Remember, you are unique!  So googling ‘what are the best running shoes’ will give you results, but perhaps not for your unique running style.  Although some high end running shoe stores might be able to do a run assessment, most have not been educated on proper running mechanics.  In addition, most store clerks have not managed patient care specifically for runners over the years.

My suggestion for the best running shoes?  Find a running shoe that is comfortable to run in.  If you’re new to running, start small.  30 minutes max.  Build up the miles slowly, and change up the terrain. 

Remember, running should not be painful.  Especially not in your joints!  Do you have a history of injuries or are significantly increasing your training to prep for a race?  Then I recommend coming in for a run assessment before logging those big miles. 


Need more running tips?  Read our Runner’s Rulebook, a guide from a running coach on how to create a well-rounded training program that will keep running enjoyable and help prevent injuries.


Thanks for reading and hope to see you out there on the road or trails!


Dr. Ellie

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