Monday, April 11, 2011

Best Shoes for Running and Walking

One of the benefits of walking and running for fitness is that the equipment cost is low. In fact it might be quite a bit lower than you expect. I used to say that all you need is comfortable clothes and some quality running shoes. The next question for most people is then which shoe is best for them.

Surprisingly, this is a question for which there is very little evidence. What evidence I have seen seems to indicate that most shoes out there provide little protective benefit and that some may actual be harmful. What seems to be increasingly clear is that nearly everything that you read in running magazines and books and hear in running stores about how to select shoes based on arch type, pronation, and other criteria is complete hogwash. Perhaps the bests thing is to find a shoe that is comfortable when you walk and run. It should slide up and down on your heel. It shouldn't rub anywhere. You shouldn't really notice it. If you do then it probably isn't a good choice.

Of course, this might suggest another option. Why not just take of your shoes and socks? Crazy? You ancestors did it for thousands and thousands of years. In fact scientists such as Harvard professor Daniel Liebermann believe humans uniquely evolved to be able to efficiently run long distances. This gave them the ability to hunt by following faster prey for hours on end until it fell down overheated and exhausted. And they did this barefoot.

In this post I'm not going to try to explain the science. I'm simply going to state the simple argument that modern running shoes are a modern invention that have been heavily marketed to the public and widely adopted because of their comfort, but which have not been scientifically studied for their effectiveness in reducing running injuries. However, it can be clearly shown that modern running shoes dramatically alter the way that runners run compared to how they run when they do not have shoes. Until science can prove that modern running shoes are better than what nature evolved, you should stick as close to the original as possible.

So, my default recommendation is that you start out walking or running barefoot.

If going barefoot is not an option for you then the next best option is a minimalist shoew with a very thin sole, no padding, no arch support, and no raised heel. Good examples that I have used are the Merrel Barefoot line of shoes or the Vibram Five Fingers line.

If those choices are too radical then find a traditional running shoe that fits you well. I would recommend a neutral cushioned shoe such as the Asics Nimbus and avoid any motion control shoe like the plague.

I'll talk more about barefoot running and minimalist shoes later this week.

In the meantime you can browse The Barefoot Running University.

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