Shoe Buying Guide

Shoe Buying Guide

Basic Shoe Design & Construction

Heel Counter

Refers to the rigid part of the “Upper” which encompasses the heel around the sides and back, surrounding the achilles tendon. This acts to control motion at the heel and prevent excessive inward or outward ankle movement. Our sports Physical Therapist here at Premier Physical Therapy suggests checking the integrity of your heel counter by trying to pinch the back of your shoe together; you will not be able to pinch the sides together with a strong heel counter.


The lasts are the shape of the shoe, commonly referred to as straight, semi-curved, and curved (see pic below). Straight lasts provide for more pronation control as it blocks overpronation. Curved lasts cut in by the arch, and the toe box has more curve to it, this allows for more pronation, commonly seen in neutral cushion shoes. Semi-curved lasts are in the middle.


This is where the rubber meets the road. The outsole provides contact with the ground and depending on the type of surface you plan to run on, trail or road, this will vary. Trail shoes need more traction and grip versus road running shoes provide a smoother surface with cushioning.


This is the region at the front of the shoe where your toes are. This is important to look at to be sure the toe box isn’t too narrow or pinching on your toes. You want this wide enough to not negatively affect your toe posture; this can be a problem for those runners with bunions, Morton’s neuroma, or hammertoes.


This is what holds your foot in the shoe. Today’s materials are much lighter and more breathable. Neutral cushioning and minimalist shoes are going to have more lightweight material than a motion control shoe.

Common Types of Shoes

Neutral Cushioning

These shoes are designed for those runners who either underpronate or correctly pronate. Contrary to popular belief held by some, pronation is not a bad thing, overpronating, or not being able to control it is.  Neutral Cushioning shoes provide equal density cushioning throughout the shoe. The lack of a more dense material under the arch promotes natural arch drop. While cushioning is great, you don’t want too much because that can lead to a slowing down of the natural running mechanics. These shoes are typically lighter in weight due to the less dense sole and lack of arch support materials.


Stability shoes are for those runners who need some assistance or support with pronation control. Less controlling or rigid than motion control shoe. Typically provide a dual density shoe sole allowing for more rigid arch support with more cushion at heel and forefoot.  These shoes are usually a little heavier in weight.

Motion Control

This is the most restrictive/supportive type of shoe. The motion control shoe is designed for those runners who demonstrate moderate to severe overpronation. Lighter individuals would be better served in a stability shoe due to the restrictive nature of the motion control shoe, as these shoes are generally designed for individuals over 225#. They have features which work to counter this overpronation including stiffer heels and straight lasts.


This is probably the most asked about shoe type recently. Over the past 5-10 years, there has been a major push by shoe manufacturers to a more “natural” running style. The “natural” running style is running on your forefoot, while traditional shoes commonly result in a heelstrike pattern due to the elevated heel cushion. Supporters claim the natural running style leads to reduced impact on the feet, therefore reducing injury risk.

The idea is that individuals have been running barefoot since the beginning of time, and therefore shoes alter our “natural” running style.  While this is true, most of use have been wearing shoes since we were born and have adapted weaknesses and running mechanical deficits which prohibit us from being efficient barefoot runners. The bottom line is that barefoot or minimalist shoes are not the answer for everyone and the advertised “reduced injury risk” is not substantiated by strict scientific research.  That is not to say minimalist shoes don’t have there place.

If someone has the proper foot posture and biomechanics, including active control of pronation, then these may be the answer. This style of running requires the runner to run on his/her forefoot which places additional stress on the metatarsals and calf musculature. If planning to switch, it’s wise to consult with your Orthopaedist or Sports Physical Therapist regarding an effective training program. Without proper training injury risks include achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures.There are a variety of minimalist shoes which offer varying degrees of heel height which can ease the transition to barefoot or “zero drop” type shoes.

Contact us to learn more about how to buy the best shoes for your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

There is a lot of new technology and research in running, and with all this information comes a lot of questions. Below are some common questions that our sports physical therapists hear from runners. If you have any questions of your own after looking at our shoe buying guide, please email them to me at [email protected]. I will reply as quickly as I can and maybe post the question here.

Q: How often should I buy new shoes?

A: The general rule of thumb is every 300-500 miles or every 4 to 6 months. Shoe material naturally breaks down over time and with repeated stress. As the material in the cushion and supports breakdown the shoe becomes less effective at its job, therefore, placing you at risk for injury.

Q: What brand of shoe is the best?

A: This is different for everyone, each shoe manufacturer has different options for the runner, and you really need to find the right fit for you. Check out your local running shoe store and talk with someone who can help you identify the correct pair of running shoes for you. Don’t be too concerned about looks. Shoes should provide the correct amount of support specific to your needs, and be comfortable and fit correctly. Remember to get your foot measured as it changes with time, and will typically be largest in the afternoon or evening.

Q: Should I buy new shoes for a race?

A: You really shouldn’t. There is typically a break-in period for a new pair of shoes. The duration varies depending on the shoe type. If the new shoe is similar you won’t need long, but for a new brand or type you may need longer.