Everything You Need to Know about Running Shoes

How do you pick the right running shoes? According to expert John Rooms, there is no such thing as bad shoes. Nonetheless, it's important to buy the right running shoe which suits your own feet, and the way you run. Usually that's not the pair recommended by the shoe salesman.

15-01-2015 -  by Kevin Van der Straeten

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How do you pick the right running shoes? According to expert John Rooms, there is no such thing as bad shoes. Nonetheless, it's important to buy the right running shoe which suits your own feet, and the way you run. Usually that's not the pair recommended by the shoe salesman. In this episode you'll discover what to look for when shopping.  


John, welcome to our studio.  




Running shoes: it's becoming a very technical story these days. Where do we start? 


The technical part was not always there. In the late '60s and '70s an ordinary running shoe was not more than... 


That's a sneaker, like we have today. 


That's an ordinary sneaker from today. The sneakers that we see on the road nowadays are in fact the first running shoes built by companies like New Balance, Nike... 




So they are all coming back on a fashion level, but they used to be running shoes for top athletes. But to start: end of the '60s, beginning of the '70s, a running shoe was no more than an outsole, something like this, an insole with a fabric called EVA, so it was a kind of cushioning, and then a mesh on top of it; something more fancy. But that was it. And if you look at the technical evolution of only the sole itself, you see different elements. So you have the main part, this one. Then you have different small parts that all have a certain technical aspect. They have to be there for the cushioning. They have to be there for more support. They have to be there for correction, etcetera. So there are a lot of elements within a running shoe that didn't use to be there. So that's the main part. Another revolution within the running shoes, is the fact that in the beginning people thought that in running you always land on your heel. 


Yes, that's what we were told: land on your heel and then roll over to your toes. 


Correct, companies like Nike, for instance, they start to think of concepts supporting the heel. So it was very vital that there was a kind of cushioning under the heel bone to prevent injuries. So they felt: when an athlete -like we do in walking- lands on his heel, there has to be a system to prevent the push from going up to your knees and to your hips. So for instance: Nike had this Airmax with the cushion here. Saucony invented the grit-system. You had Asics that had the gel-system. So every company was focused on the heelbone. And nowadays the latest evolution in the technical aspect is showing that not every athlete, even beginners, land on their heel. It is correct that when you see people running, they go down and they touch the ground with the heel, sometimes in the gait. But it can be that they first touch the ground with their midfoot or their forefoot. So there is another revolution. 


So it really depends from person to person? 


From person to person. And what is really important is the way the shapes of the muscles are. We all have a sitting life. Now we are sitting in the studio... 


All days at our desk...  


We are sitting at the desk. We are sitting in front of our TVs. So we are always sitting. And our body has our ability to adapt. The most efficient way of living of movement, okay? And if you are sitting all of the time it will become a sitting thing. You will become a chair. So when you start to run as being a chair and you are not aware of that fact, one of the things will be that your calves, those muscles, they will not be as long.    


They shorten.  


And that aspect has been recognized by a lot of companies and they are trying to do something about it. Because what is the problem: that the most efficient way of running is not done when the calves are too short. You need to find a system that enables the calves to become longer again so that you can have 10% more efficiency in your running gait. So what they are doing now: they lower the heel-drop. 


And what is the heel-drop? 


The heel-drop is the different between the cushioning under the forefoot and the cushioning under the heelbone. The netto difference. So when here you have 1 cm and here you have 1,4 cm, the netto difference is 4 mm, so you have a heel-drop of 4 mm. So this means that that shoe pulls your calves a little bit downwards, so they become longer. In the end this will give you more efficiency in your running gait, but you have to be aware of the fact that you are not used to it. We are all wearing shoes with something under the heelbone and nothing under the forefoot. So when we are wearing shoes, we all have 1 cm, 2 cm, the calves are shortened. 


So you have to be careful when you start running on these kinds of shoes?  


For instance, the running shoes of Newton is one of the leaders in changing the heel-drop. They are going all the way. So for them eventually you need to go onto your forefoot. So we are both running on Newtons, but if you make a transition from being a beginning runner to a runner that runs under forefoot, you have to be very careful. It can be that if you look at your natural running gait you are a forefoot runner, so you will not have any problem. But most people don't have that intent to land on their forefeet, they will land on their midfoot or on the heelbone. So you have to make sure that if they want to make the transition by making the calves longer, they have to make sure that they adapt their way of training. And even before they start running they have to do a number of exercises for a couple of months, helping to relax and to loosen up. 


Now in preparation of this episode, I've started running on Newton shoes, I think about 6 months ago. What I notice is that I'm faster with less effort, so that's good news. 


That's very good news. Eventually it all has to do with your point of mass. If you have the intent of running on your midfoot or on your heelbone, you are going a little bit that way. 


And you slow down behind your feet.  


Yeah, and if you are able to go onto your forefoot, your body of mass goes in front. So it pushes you a bit forward. And that's the efficiency in your running gait. So your body is in fact making you go faster, making you go forward without doing something with your legs. You need to do it spontaneously, that's much more efficient. 


Now the most important question: If I go to a shop and I see all those shoes. Which one is the right one for me?  


Difficult question. If you listen to the sales rep in the store, he will sell you whatever he has in stock. That's the main principle for me. Either they will put you onto a treadmill, to see how you run. But the main problem with all those tests when you go into a shop is that you are not warmed up. Perhaps you don't have the habit of running. You are dressed up casual because you are shopping and you are a little bit stressed because people are looking at you. So the test they are doing there, for me, is not something that is efficient. What you need to do for me before you even go to the shop is run a couple of miles barefoot. See how your body reacts and how your body optimizes itself in its running gait. That's the most vital for me. 


But running barefoot outside is not that easy everywhere. 


It's not that easy so you have to make sure that if you go to a fitness area, or in your garden or in your living room, you take the time to run on your bare feet. Your body will react and adapt itself to your most efficient running gait. And when you have that experience in your mind, you go to a shop. They give you shoes; you can run with them and you immediately compare them to the feeling you had on your bare feet.  


So if I understand correctly: by running barefoot, you know whether you land on your heel, your midfoot or your forefoot? 


And you will see that, in my personal experience, you will not longer land completely on your heelbone, because that is the most inefficient way of putting your foot on the ground when running. The impact on the heelbone is enormous. If you do it on the forefoot, or on the midfoot, there is a whole mechanism in the foot itself. We have 20 muscles, 26 bones, and they are all connected together with tissue. And they have the ability of easing up the fact that you land on your foot. So that's a bit the difference. 


And are there any other things we need to be aware of? 


Well, if you don't want to start running on your bare foot because it's snowing outside, try to buy a shoe that is flexible and that has a lower heel-drop. So make sure that the heel-drop of the running shoe that you buy is not higher than 1 cm. 


And how do I know what the heel-drop of a shoe is? 


Most companies -I take a shoe of Saucony- they indicate it in the inlay. So you can see... 


You can read it just over there. 


Sometimes it's here at the side. In the company of Newton they have put it at the side. Even with the shoe of Nike that we see on the screen here, it's just at one side of the shoe. It is an indication. And try to make sure that you have a lower heel-drop than 1 cm -most shoes are 6 or 8 mm- for your first running shoe. And then you will see how you react. Because running, if you want to make running a part of your life, your body will start adapting itself. And it will take some time. So make that effort. Okay, thank you very much John.  


No problem. 


And you at home; thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week!