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Buying The Best Shoes: A Review Of Terms And Types!

Getting some basic knowledge about shoes is the best way to avoid being sidelined in the future. Learn basic facts and terminology

If you are a personal trainer, many times you have to suggest running Cardiod or cross training shoes and likely have to do some shopping yourself. At some point you will find yourself in the shoe department dilemma.

Today there are hundreds of shoes with another thousand shoe styles to choose from. The most obvious question from most people is why would you spend $100 on a pair of running shoes, when some discount store has them for $29.95 on sale? The answer is simple.

Several shoe manufactures sell shoes that have more "guts" or technical components in them. The cheaper the shoe, the less technical the shoe and the more likely it is to result in foot, ankle, shin, hip, upper leg, lateral leg, knee or even back pain. You certainly get what you pay for and spending some extra money here is worth the bucks in the long run. (pun intended)

Depending on your activity, picking the right shoe can be the difference between crossing the finish line or landing on your face. Several athletic careers have been devastated by choosing the wrong shoe.

As a professional soccer player, my contract with a shoe company (that is now out of business) forced me to wear a pair of shoes that resulted in a foot injury.

As one of the fastest soccer player's in the North American Soccer League, my career came to a screeching halt just due to a bad pair of shoes. I currently see it every day, when athletes come to visit me at my office and have little to no knowledge of the shoes that they choose.

Getting some basic knowledge about shoes is the best way to avoid being sidelined in the future. Some basic shoe facts that we will cover in this article will save you hundreds of dollars and months of frustration.

Basic Shoe Terminology

There are lots of different types of shoes that we can talk about and this article can quickly turn into a book. For simplicity sake, I will speak about the running shoe here.

The running shoe is probably the most technical of all shoes and obtaining knowledge about it will certainly transfer to other forms of footwear. We will spend most of this article talking about running shoes, since they are the most technical. Do not use running shoes for aerobics class or boot camp-style training.

The running shoe is positioned too high from the ground and you are likely to twist your ankle if you do so. The taller you are the more likely the running shoe will turn your ankle improperly. Cross-training shoes are built lower to the ground and the fifth digit (pinkie toe) has more support for lateral movements. Pick the right shoe for the activity, one shoe doesn't do it all.

Shoe Types

There are 3 groups of running shoes; cushioned, stability, and motion control.

Cushioned: Obviously provides maximal shock absorption, not much support.

Stability: Very strong mid-sole material, best choice if you weigh over 200 pounds for a male or 150 pounds for a female.

Motion Control: Very firm shoe, best if you have wide feet or flatfeet.

Basic Shoe Anatomy

The Outsole

This is the part of the shoe that touches the ground. The heavier you are the flatter the shoe should be. The tread pattern of your shoe is directly related to the type of running surface you will be using. The black soles are made of a carbon rubber that last longer than the urethane white soles.

Buying the best shoes anatomy of the shoe
Watch The Video - 01:50

The Mid sole

This is what you have to pay attention to if you weigh over 200/150 pounds for a male or female respectively. Several different materials are often used here:

Midsole Materials
Common Uses
Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) Stability
Polyurethane (PU) Cushioning
Combination of the EVA and PU Motion Control
Air/Gel/high tech plastics Stability/Cushioning/Motion Control

Midsole performance is where companies like Mizuno and Brooks have jumped ahead of the competition. Their shoes support and stability are amongst the tops in the industry.

The Upper

Also known by real runners as the "sales hype." This is the part of the shoe that covers the foot. It should breathe and provide support. Most of all, the shoes "upper" should fit the foot correctly.

There should be one thumbs width from the end of the big toe to the front of the shoe. This is commonly known as the toe box and is necessary to allow for a foot to slide as the shoe makes contact with the ground. This normal amount of slippage is necessary for proper shoe performance. The upper also has appropriate padding to prevent excessive rubbing, which results in blisters.

The Heel Counter

This is a rigid cup that is built into the shoe to prevent any lateral heel movement. Cheap shoes do not include the heel counter. Walking on the sides of your feet while trying on shoes, will quickly identify if a shoe has a strong heel counter versus a shoe that has none.

Post/Footbridge (Arch Support)

This provides stability to the whole shoe while the foot moves from the heel strike position to the toe-drive-off position. The most common indication of the week arch support is the development of shin splints.


Most quality running shoes are built on one of three platforms: universal, linear, or curved. The difference between them is related to the way your foot is shaped and tracks after your heal hits until the time the tip of your toes touch and leave the ground.

General Foot Terms

Now that we have reviewed some of the basic shoe anatomy, let's move on to understanding some of those complicated words such as pronation and supination. During a normal heel-toe gait, the heel will strike on the outside edge and the weight is transferred across to the inside ball of the foot and big toe.

During pronation, the foot rolls inward at the ankle, the mid-foot bulges inward and the longitudinal arch flattens. Excessive pronation is the most common cause of all running injuries. Those who over-pronate generally have very flexible and unstable feet. This is most commonly seen in young teens who are growing far too quickly.

It is not uncommon for the long bones of the lower leg to grow 10 to 20 times faster, than the bones in the supporting ankle and foot. A quick look at any youngster's feet when pointed directly at you, will denote a pronation problem.

A supinated foot rolls outward at the ankle and has a very high arch. They tend to be more rigid and very poor in absorbing shock, so they need running shoes with a lot of cushioning. Cushion shoes tend to be poor at motion control.

Arches are another key factor in the foot. They may be flat, normal, or too high depending on your genetics. The arch is actually positioned by a yellow ligament (one of only two in your body) that makes up the longitudinal arch of the foot. It is possible to stimulate the arch to shorten and other times you may require surgery to physically shorten the ligament.

Forefront Stabilization

The most technical shoes available have forefront stabilization built into them. They are designed to keep your foot stable during the push-off phase of running. Some runners with larger foot sizes and those with special concerns will require these types of shoes. Typically the shoes that have this type of extra function in them range in the over 120 dollar category, but once you have worn a pair, you'll be sold on the extra couple bucks.

The Wet Test

This is a simple test that any trainer can provide for their clients. Simply have the individual step on a wet towel and then walk forward taking their next step onto a piece of colored paper. Outline the mark of the foot that is imprinted on the paper. Instruct the individual to take it with them to the shoe store. Any quality shoe store will recognize the wet test and make the appropriate recommendations.

Buying the best shoes the wet test
Watch The Video - 01:22

Going High Tech

Some high end shoe stores will have you walk across a board and results in a motion picture of pressure and weight distribution. This is very helpful in determining the proper shoe for you to wear. Another nice little gadget is the simple video recording of the feet on a treadmill.

The shoe salesman will observe and replay the movement of your feet and ankles while you walk or slowly jog on a treadmill. They can slow down the video and freeze it to show critical movement changes and then get you into the right shoe. An example of a good quality shoe store is Feet Fleet.

Choosing The Right Shoe

Making the right shoe choice depends on many factors including: age, type of activity, running surface, foot size, body weight, past running experience, various foot problems, running environment (heat, humidity, etc.), how bad your feet sweat, external temperature.

For someone who is extremely light, a great multitude of running shoes is available to them. These individuals have to make little to no effort when selecting a shoe.

Discount shoes can often last a long time for individuals who have no more than 2 pounds of body weight/inch of height. For example, if an individual is 60 inches tall and weighs less than 120 pounds. Now let's face it, the majority of us do not fit into that category.

What is funny (or rather it isn't) is that the shoe industry is designed for individuals who meet the aforementioned criteria, yet the majority of people living in the United States weigh approximately 3 to 4 pounds/inch. Individuals who weigh more than 200 pounds are often referred to as Clydesdales. The good news is that a few years ago, only a few shoes were available for large folks like me. Today there are several options for larger athletes to choose from.

Get Two Pairs Of Shoes

We all want to keep our shoes healthy for as long as we can. Getting two pairs of shoes will allow one pair to dry out completely if you are wearing them everyday.

Wet shoes breakdown very quickly and they must be completely dried before wearing them again. Put them in front of a fan, but don't put them in the sun, toss them in your dryer, or use a hairdryer to speed up the process since heat is not good for your shoes either. If you have to clean the upper, then use a wipe on-wipe off cleaner only.

The common mistake made by most individuals is to walk into a sporting goods store and assume that the sales staff has any idea about they are even selling. At this point you will know more then most salesman do about shoes, just from reading this article.

Most of us try on shoes in the same way. We enter the store, look around for a shoe that is appealing to us and then try on the shoes to make sure that they feel comfortable on our feet. If we find a pair on sale, well it's a match made in heaven. Several weeks later we then come to realize that the shoes that we were so happy about purchasing are now causing blisters or have caused other problems.

the Right Fit

buying the best shoes measuring foot size
Watch The Video - 00:07

Some of the better shoe stores are going to do several things to make sure that your shoes are fitting properly. These will include a test on a running treadmill in bare feet. This will show what movement your feet have naturally. They will also measure your feet both in a seated and standing position.

The Best Shoe Advice

The best advice that I or you can give is to buy your running shoes at a high end running store. A good-quality shoe store will begin by measuring both of your feet. They will measure your feet sitting and standing.

Remember that the best time to have your feet measured is as close to your normal exercise time as you can. Some of the higher-end running stores will often follow-up by videotaping your feet while walking on a treadmill. They may also follow with the pressure test or a wet test.

Approximately three pairs of shoes will be shown to you and then fit, price and general taste make the final decision. Don't kid yourself about discount shoe stores, they aren't going to pay the high wholesale price for technical running shoes.

According to Tim Fraleigh, a regional Mizuno rep, the best shoe advice for getting the right shoe starts with the arch." A real basic, although not fool-proof method is to refer to the shape of the arch.

If you have a high arch that isn't flexible, then you need a neutral, or cushion type shoe; if your arch is more average with a little height and a little flexibility, then you'll require a stability shoe - this is the bulk of the population, by the way; and finally, if you have a low, flexible arch, then you'll require a motion control shoe."

A comment from the manufacture about why to shop at a quality shoe store is based on the fact that manufactures like Brooks, don't even offer their technical brands to discount stores.

Cathy Reed, a regional Brooks rep says, "Brooks only sells technical running and walking shoes. Each model has specific features that are designed for specific foot types and specific running mechanics. With that in mind we only sell our shoes in stores that provide the service of fitting the customer. We work with stores that have a knowledgeable staff that can explain the shoes features and make sure the customer gets fitted in not only the correct size but the correct model for their specific needs."


Neutral (High Arch, No Pronation)

  • Mizuno Wave Creation
  • Mizuno Wave Rider
  • Asics Gel Kinsei
  • Asics Gel Nimbus
  • Asics Gel Landreth
  • Brooks Glycerine
  • Saucony Grid Triumph
  • New Balance 1024

Stability / Support (Medium Arch, Slight Pronation)

  • Mizuno Nirvana
  • Mizuno Inspire (top choice of Dr. Ryan)
  • Asics Gel Kayano
  • Asics 2130
  • Brooks Trance
  • Brooks Adrenaline
  • Saucony Hurricane
  • Saucony Trigon Guide
  • New Balance 1222
  • New Balance 767

Motion Control (Low And Flexible Arch, Over Pronation)

  • Brooks Addiction
  • Brooks Beast / Ariel
  • Mizuno Wave Renagade
  • Mizuno Wave Alchemuy
  • Asics Gel Evolution
  • Asics Foundation
  • Saucony Grid Stabil
  • Saucony Omni Ultimate
  • New Balance 857

Key Points About Shoes

  • Most shoes don't last longer than 1000km.
  • Most shoes that have lots of gray in their mid-sole will last longer when compared to the all-white ones.
  • To tell if your shoes are worn out, look at the mid-sole. If there are two or more creases over top of each other, then your shoe has likely lost over 50% of its ability to support your foot from running.
  • Don't use your running shoes to train calves, since this breaks them down too quickly.

Sock It To Em!

Do you know that those cotton socks that you wear are likely causing blisters? Top shoe manufactures will recommend that you wear socks designed to help wick away sweat. They have been clearly shown to extend shoe wear and also cut down on blisters and other foot problems.


Getting the right shoe seems like a difficult task, but doing a little research the time will often represent a great deal a savings down the road.

Try not to take a shoe based on how it looks, rather look at the performance and how solid it grips your foot. Lastly, no matter what, you need to learn how to slightly grip the ground as you run. Imagine that you are a large cat gripping the ground with your claws as you run. This helps enhance the performance of your foot and the shoe you are wearing. Happy shopping.