Even if you’re not an avid runner, you have probably invested in a pair of running shoes at some point in your life. Finding the best running shoes partially depends on what activities you plan to use them for as well as what specific qualities you hope the shoes provide. However, another important aspect to consider when purchasing running shoes is your foot anatomy, which differs on an individual basis.

How To Determine The Best Running Shoes For Your Feet

This is particularly important to pay attention to if you plan to wear your running shoes regularly or if you are using them for high impact or long duration workouts (i.e. running). In this case, you want to ensure that your shoes support your feet in a way that guarantees optimal force generation with each step in order to prevent injury. To put this into perspective, your body absorbs between 1.5 to 3 times your bodyweight through a single leg while running so it’s important to ensure you’re not causing harm to your body when engaging in an activity that is health promoting in nature by investing in the best shoes for you. 

One important aspect of your foot anatomy that you can determine without the help of a physical therapist or orthotist is your arch type. There are three general arch types you can possess: low arches (hyperpronated), neutral arches, or high arches (supinated). To determine this, you’ll want to take off your shoes and socks and stand in a relaxed position in front of a mirror. In this position, determine which of these categories your arch looks most like using the image below. Do not try to move your foot to match one of the pictures – simply observe how your foot naturally falls in a relaxed position.

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If you have low arches, you may want to look for shoes that provide arch support to bring your foot back into a neutral position so that all of the surrounding structures (ligaments, plantar fascia, and muscles) can adequately support your feet and optimize the force producing capacity of the muscles in your feet and legs. If you have high arches, you’ll want to look for shoes with high shock absorbing properties and extra cushioning due to the compromised shock absorbing capacity of your feet. Your arch should be flexible and slightly lower as you bear weight through your feet in order to absorb some of the ground reaction force (a kinetics term that refers to the force exerted through your joints with each step). If your arch remains high and rigid while bearing weight, it may indicate a shock absorbing deficit. Lastly, if you have neutral arches, the characteristics of your ideal shoes will depend on the level and types of activities you engage in, and grants you more freedom to choose a less supportive shoe that aligns with the aesthetic or “minimalist” feel you’re looking for without compromising your foot health.

The Best Running Shoes

So let’s talk about the best running shoes on the market:

1. Brooks Mens Ghost 12 Running Shoe / Brooks Womens Ghost 12 Running Shoe

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These shoes are a fantastic option for someone who is looking for a versatile pair of shoes that can be used for a multitude of activities and sports. Although the shoe provides adequate cushioning for shock absorption through the foot, it has smaller indentations on the outsoles, which doesn’t make it the best option for trail runners due to suboptimal traction capabilities. If you are a high level athlete (i.e powerlifter, basketball player, etc)., you may want to look for a shoe that more specifically caters to the repetitive nature of the movements and forces that your sport entails. This shoe is perfect for the cross trainer, gym go-er, walker, or runner (long or short distance) on all even terrains (i.e. sidewalks, roads, treadmills).

Because these shoes provide even cushioning throughout the sole, meaning there isn’t a part of the shoe that diverts forces to another part of the foot, they are a great option for someone who has a neutral arch type. These are also a great fit for those with high arches due to the extensive cushioning and shock absorption it provides. If you have low arches and all of the other characteristics of these shoes align with what you’re looking for, you can try using orthotics in the shoes to provide arch support.

2. ASICS Men’s Gel-Contend 5 Running Shoes / ASICS Gel-Contend 5 Women’s Running Shoes

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These are another great option for a versatile shoe that provides plenty of cushioning and shock absorbing properties for a variety of sports and activities. Similar to the Brooks Ghost 12’s, the ASICS Gel-Contend 5’s do not have large indentations on the outsoles, so they are more ideal for activities on smoother surfaces (i.e. not trail running). These shoes have a heel drop of 10 mm, which represents the difference in cushioning height between the heel and toe of the shoe. A heel drop of 10mm is the standard amongst running shoes and promotes a heel-to-toe stride. Therefore, if you are a long distance runner and are working on altering your stride pattern to achieve a midfoot or forefoot-first contact, you may want to opt for a shoe with a lower heel drop.

These shoes also feature a laminate midfoot cage and an Ortholite® sockliner to provide more support and structure for those who have low arches. Although they do not have cleated outsoles, the material promotes superior traction so this is also a great shoe for older individuals who have balance impairments.

3. Salomon Men’s Speedcross 4 Trail Running Shoes / Salomon Women’s Speedcross 4 W Trail Running

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As implied by the name, these shoes are built for trail running. What makes them optimal for this sport is the precise foot hold, the large cleated outsoles, and the aggressive grip. The laces are arranged to allow for your foot to be tightly gripped all around in order to minimize foot slide within the shoe, which enhances agility and stability on uneven terrain. The cleated outsoles and the aggressive grip material enhances your foot hold by giving the shoe both increased flexibility and traction properties. The Salomon Speedcross 4 Trail Runners have a 10mm heel drop, meaning they also provide cushioning and shock absorption properties compatible with all arch types. 

4. Reebok Men’s Crossfit Nano 8.0 Flexweave Sneaker / Reebok Women’s CROSSFIT Nano 8.0 Flexweave Cross Trainer

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The Reebok Crossfit Nano is the perfect footwear option for resistance training, more specifically weight lifting. These shoes are ideal for this type of workout because they provide less cushioning and have very shallow grooves on the outsole. Although extra cushioning is ideal for most other activities, when you’re lifting heavy weights extra cushioning can lead to decreased stability and foot control, which can mean the difference between being able to  progress an exercise or not. Similarly, the shallow indentations on the outsoles lead to increased surface area contact between the shoe and the floor, which promotes greater control and stability in the feet while lifting.

These Reeboks are not designed for a specific foot type, however they do have a heel bootie and light cushioning to provide more support than if you were barefoot. These are not ideal for all day use unless you have a neutral arch and are not engaging in endurance (i.e. a lot of walking) or high impact activities (i.e. jumping, running, or plyometrics). 

5. Adidas Men’s CF Lite Racer Byd / Adidas Women’s Cloudfoam Pure Running Shoe

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Although the aesthetic of this shoe is slightly different for men and women, the comfort and material components are comparable. This is a great everyday shoe that is not necessarily ideal for any one type of activity or sport, but still provides adequate cushion and comfort. That means that they are fit for walks on even terrain or low intensity workouts without causing harm. They sport an easy lace-up detail and a flexible, knitted fabric that allows you to slip on or kick off your shoes with ease. Moreover, these shoes are more aesthetically pleasing than many other running shoes. 

If The Shoe Fits…You Can Prevent Injuries

Poor shoe fit could lead to pain anywhere in your body. The ground reaction force that starts at your feet, makes its way up through your knee joints, then your hip joints, and then all the way up your spine. A great shoe fit is one that aligns the ground reaction force symmetrically through your joints and/or that absorbs some of the force, essentially lessening the stress on the joints. While there are plenty of other reasons why you may experience pain, a great place to start is your footwear. 

One of the most common sources of pain for runners comes from plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is pain caused by inflammation in the plantar fascia, the tissue that lies underneath your foot and connects from the bottom of your heel to the base of your toes (see image below). One of the hallmark signs of plantar fasciitis is pain in your heel that is the worst during the first few steps you take in the morning. Your plantar fascia can get irritated for a number or reasons, including having either high arches or low arches. That is why rolling out the bottom of your foot with a ball or frozen water bottle is not the solution for everyone who suffers from plantar fasciitis. This would only be an appropriate treatment exercise for someone who has high arches because that means that the structures at the bottom of the foot are short/tight and that symptoms may be mitigated by stretching out those structures. On the other hand, if you have low arches, you’ll want to strengthen the muscles at the bottom of the foot to help improve their force producing capacity and increase the intrinsic stability of the foot. This can be done by either performing towel scrunches or short foot exercises.

Image source.

Another way to prevent or mitigate symptoms caused by plantar fasciitis is by investing in proper footwear. However, if you have been experiencing symptoms for three or more months, it would be best to consult with a physical therapist so that you can receive more individualized and comprehensive treatment. I hope this list of the top 5 best running shoes will help make your next footwear selection process more convenient, and help you choose the best running shoes to meet your personal needs and preferences.