by Dr. Reed Ferber, Ph.D. CAT(C)
You may already be aware that there are three categories of running footwear: neutral, stability, and motion control. A neutral running shoe is designed to provide cushioning and less foot control as compared to its motion control counterpart. A stability shoe has some component of pronation control material, which is generally placed near the middle or arch of the shoe. A motion control shoe typically provides a significant amount of pronation control and often has some type of non-deformable material, such as a plastic plug, placed on the outer rear edge of the shoe. This is all good to know, but what is the science behind fitting a runner with the proper shoe?
Any method used to match the correct shoe to the individual runner is generally based on either optimizing performance or reducing the potential for injury. Overall, very few studies have been published and the results have shown that running in the three different types of shoes does not produce a consistent change in the biomechanics of the foot, ankle, or leg. In other words, simply changing the type of shoe you wear does little to influence how well you run and perform. Moreover, a large military study showed that the prescription of footwear based on plantar shape (the bottom of the foot) found no reduction in injuries between the treatment group and control group during basic training.
It’s important to understand that previous research has involved very simplistic methods when trying to correctly match footwear with each athlete. Using the shape of the footprint when wet (also known as a “wet test”) has minimal scientific validity. Similarly, there is little merit to using a single video camera to record the subject while running on a treadmill. Since 1995, many research studies have reported up to 200% error when trying to measure biomechanical angles using a single camera, as compared to the gold standard of 3D motion capture. Two of our recent research studies verify these findings and demonstrate a 20% to 140% over-estimation in foot pronation angle when using a single camera. So, don’t be fooled by running stores that advertise “high-tech” approaches to shoe fitting by videotaping you on a treadmill.
If a store only uses one method (even a high-tech one) to determine what shoe might be best for you, go somewhere else. Look for a specialty running store that uses a comprehensive approach to determine the correct shoe for you. I’m a longtime fan of how the Running Room approaches shoe fitting (and I would stand by that statement even if I wasn’t writing for their magazine). Certainly, the decision-making process we developed as part of our 3D GAIT technology is based on years of research and utilizes state-of-the-art equipment, but it’s actually modelled after the Running Room approach. Many factors are taken into consideration: standing posture, biomechanical movement patterns, functional tests (i.e. the lunge), wear patterns on your existing shoes, and how comfortable you find your current shoes. All these pieces are put together to formulate a decision about what type of shoe will be best for you.
Interestingly, there are some good research studies strongly suggesting that the more comfortable you perceive shoes to be, the better you’ll run in them, regardless of what type they are. First, let the store staff guide you to an appropriate shoe category, based on a comprehensive analysis as described above. Then, choose the shoes that instinctively feel right to you. Happy running!