Running shoes are a controversial subject. Some people believe that the best running shoes are those that provide the most protection against impact forces. Others believe that the best shoes are those that force the wearer to run "correctly." Still others believe that all running shoes cause injuries and slow runners down.
Despite such widespread disagreement, there are a few points of near consensus on the topic of running footwear. For starters, most people agree that some shoes are better than others for each runner. There is also general agreement that no shoe or shoe type is best for all runners. So, how do you find the best running shoe for you?
Here's where the controversy returns. There are two schools of thought on the matter of running shoe selection. On one side are those who believe in a scientific approach, where specific types of shoes are matched to individual runners based on characteristics such as arch height and degree of foot pronation. On the other side are those who believe that the best way to select a running shoe is by feel, the idea being that the more comfortable a shoe feels to its wearer, the more efficiently and healthily he or she will be able to run in it.
The relevant science clearly demonstrates that the existing scientific methods of running shoe selection don't work. It also provides intriguing support for the notion that selecting shoes by feel produces better results.
What Science Says About Running Shoe Selection
In 2009, researchers at the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine conducted a study that proved definitively that assigning shoe types based on foot arch height doesn't reduce injury risk. This study involved roughly 2,700 U.S. Air Force recruits.
At the beginning of basic training, these recruits were separated into two groups of equal size. Members of one group were assigned one of three shoe types based on individual arch height, just as runners are commonly taught to do. Specifically, individuals with high arches were given cushioned shoes, individuals with medium arches were given stability shoes, and individuals with low arches were given motion control shoes. All members of the control group were given stability shoes regardless of individual arch height.
Injuries were tracked in both groups throughout basic training. The researchers found no difference in injury rates between the two groups, and concluded that assigning shoe types based on arch height has no effect on injury risk.