Forget (almost) everything you've been told about how to pick the right pair of running shoes.


Typically when you go into a running store to buy a pair of shoes, they first ask you to hop on the treadmill and perform a quick gait analysis to see what your feet are doing while you run. Do they roll inward just slightly (neutral)? Do they roll inward more than normal (over-pronation)? Or do they roll outward (supination)? And what do your arches look like—are they flat, high, rigid and/or flexible? The salesperson watching you then uses that information to "prescribe" a running shoe that could help "correct" your pronation issues.
"Pronation is a natural movement that helps distribute the force of impact when you strike, and if you pronate normally [or have a neutral gait] your loading system acts like a rubber band—it has an elastic effect and improves efficiency," says Nike Performance Council Member Lance Walker, MS, PT, global performance director at Michael Johnson Performance (MJP).
So the theory behind the in-store gait analysis originally was that if you were either an over-pronator (many runners fall into this category) or a supinator, then specific shoes could theoretically help guide your feet back into a more neutral pattern, better aligning your feet with the rest of your body as you run and thereby reducing your risk of injury in the process. The problem with this practice is that shoes do not automatically change your pronation patterns (additional foot strengthening and mobility exercises are often needed as well), so using that info alone to determine the style you select isn't always accurate. Plus, every runner's stride is his/her own.
"The best predictor of staying healthy as a runner is choosing a shoe that's comfortable, not a shoe that's prescribed specifically for you and uncomfortable," says Walker. "The science is supporting that now. If you forget the subjective (what feels good), it could create more problems." In other words, you should opt for preference over prescription. Every time.
"Ultimately, if you had an expert analyze your whole body's biomechanics, going up the entire kinetic chain, while you ran at various speeds in various shoes, and he/she could tell you what (comfortable) pairs made you run the most efficiently overall, that would be amazing," adds Walker. But just looking at your arch and/or pronation patterns doesn't paint the whole picture.
We now know that figuring out one piece of a giant puzzle and then prescribing a solution for it is not an exact science. When opting for extra cushioning over stability or flexibility in a shoe, there are a lot of variables to consider—whether your feet are flexible or rigid, whether you're running 10 miles a week or 60 miles a week, whether you're prone to injury or not, etc.—and that information varies from person to person. So you might as well try what seems like a good fit and feels best for you first (based off your own personal preference), see how it goes and then take it from there.


Pronation (when your foot rolls inward slightly upon landing) is a natural movement that helps distribute the force of impact when you strike. If you pronate normally, you have a neutral gait.
Over-pronation is when your foot rolls inward more than normal; supination is when your foot rolls slightly outward when you strike.
For best results, use the information you have about yourself as a runner to select shoes based on preference, or what feels the most comfortable while you run, instead of just going off of a prescription.