We’ve all been there before. Whether from afar, a personal suggestion, seeing them out with friends, or simply a blind set-up — we’ve come across that pair of athletic shoes that we just knew they were going to be perfect for us. Whether they were the right color, the right brand, the right design, or just the right gut instinct…we thought deep down inside we were going to be the perfect pair made for exercise.
So we try them out, participate in a few activities, introduce them to our friends, and even make plans to take them on vacation. Then sometimes, like a light switch, they bring us pain, discomfort, annoyance, or even agony.
At first you think it’s you, it’s how you are treating them, and it’s the type of activities you are doing with them that they totally disagree with. You find yourself trying so hard to make them work out and to no prevail, they continue to provide you with aches and pains. But maybe it isn’t you. Maybe it isn’t about who you are or what you like to do? Maybe it’s just simply that you are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
After several failed attempts, it is important that we are able to recognize our de-feet and that sadly, after hours of butterflies, plans, and saying what if, you recognize after all, that those shoe’s are just not that into you…
We dedicate this post to all that have fallen in the trap of falling for those “perfect” shoes at first sight, and ending up with heartbreak, an empty wallet, and aches and pains when those shoes, for whatever reason, just don’t work out.
Instead, we have decided to provide you with a list of things to look out for so you too, don’t become stuck in this trap and recognize early on that it’s not you; it’s just that those shoes just aren’t that into you…
Part 1: What to look for in an athletic shoe:
The type of athletic shoe you need depends on several factors: running experience, how often you run, how high your arch is, motion mechanics, and foot strike.
- ** There is no such thing as a completely flat foot – it all depends on the strength and height of your arch – however there are as what’s described as “flat feet” which isn’t always bad as long as they don’t hurt while participating in activity. Someone with a non pathological pes planus foot (technical term for flat feet) most likely has tarsal orientation in a way that provides for a flattened arch and chronic soft tissue adaptations to maintain this orientation.
The Mechanics of Motion:
- When running there are times in which your foot must act as a soft shock absorber and at other times a rigid lever to propel yourself forward. Now I know these are two opposite functions: at some points the foot while in the gait cycle has to be a loose bag of bones to cushion the foot strike, and then lock up and be a rigid lever. The technical terms for these two phases are pronation (shock absorber phase) and supination (rigid lever phase). When people experience foot and lower leg problems it is usually because they spend either too much time in the pronation stage or in the supination stage or more commonly heard, over pronation or supination.
If you stay too long in the pronation stage or move too quickly into the pronation stage your foot will not lock up properly to propel itself forward, which can lead to over use and tendon related problems such as shin splints, hallux valgus (bunions), metatarsal stress fractures or the dreaded plantar fasciitis (ahhhhhhh). If you spend too long in the supination stage, your foot is unable to act as a proper shock absorber for the body, which can lead to stress fractures of the tibia, metatarsals and make you more prone to experience inversion ankle sprains.
Now what makes your foot stay in pronation or supination too long? It’s how the bones in your foot fit together. This is what an athletic trainer or physical therapist assesses for when determining the cause of running injuries or fitting you for orthotics to correct for these “foot deformities”. So unfortunately there’s not much you can do to change the shape of your tarsals (foot bones) but that’s okay, ‘cause baby, you were born that way.
With that said, the best way to figure out your foot type will be with an athletic trainer or physical therapist especially if you have a history of injuries, but there are a few ways to figure out foot type on your own.
1.) The first way is to look at your running shoes that you already own. Flip them over – where is the wear pattern on your shoe? If you have the most tread wear on the outside heel–that is, towards your pinkie toe side of your foot– then you are most likely a supinator. If you have more tread wear on the inside (towards your big toe side of your foot), then you are most likely a pronator.
2.) Next way to assess your feet is using a floor length mirror while you stand bare footed on a hard floor. While standing facing the mirror, roll both of your feet all the way to the outside (pinkie side) of the foot, then all the way in so that your arch collapses close to the floor. Then try to find the midpoint in the range of motion you just explored and bring your ankle and foot to that point. Then relax your foot and stand naturally. Did you notice when you relaxed that your foot and arch fell in? Or did they roll out with a high arch? If your foot rolled in, then you most likely tend to pronate; if they rolled out, then you might be a supinator.
3.) Callus check! Where do you have calluses on your feet? Supinators will typically have a callus under the big toe and under the pinkie toe. Pronators will sometimes have calluses under the second metatarsal (you know, the toe right next to your big toe – raise your hand if your second metatarsal is longer than your big toe!).
4.) The last test is the wet-foot test. This is most like the Dr. Scholls pressure platforms that you see in drugstores, but definitely one you can do at home. All you need is some water and a brown paper bag. Okay, go!
Wet the bottom of one foot. With the brown paper bag totally flat on the floor, step on the bag. When you do so your foot will go into some degree of supination and pronation while in normal gait. Regardless the area of the footprint can be another clue into figuring out your foot type. Pronators will tend to have a wider imprint with not a whole lot of arch visible in the foot print while supinatiors will have a skinny footprint and large arch space.
Now that you have several clues, you can make a pretty good educated guess as to what type of pronator you are…
- Underpronator – foot does not roll in or rolls outward (inversion); runners push off from the small toes on the lateral side of the foot
- Normal – foot rolls in slightly; runners push off evenly from the forefoot
- Overpronator – foot rolls in slightly (eversion); runners push off from the large toes on the medial side of the foot
- More westernized designed shoes with a higher heel cushioning will usually promote a heel strike. If you are a prominent heel striker DO NOTuse minimalist shoes until you are trained in the fore-midfoot running technique
- Forefoot – striking on the “balls” of your feet or even up on your toes
- Midfoot – striking in the middle of your foot, most likely right on the arch
- Heel – landing on the heel of your foot (dedicating this to all of you ex-marching band members – heel, toe, heel, toe, heel)
- Extreme heel – landing on the very edge of your heel
So what’s the next step? Once you think you’ve figure out your foot type and mechanics, check our great resources such as http://www.runnersworld.com/shoeadvisor and http://www.runningwarehouse.com/apparelfinder.html?finder=mbshoes that are designed to help you determine the correct running shoe for you based on type and mechanics.
Remember, it’s probably not you; shoe just may not be that into you.
This article was a joint effort between Christi G., BS., ATC; Colin Dobbins, BS, ACSM-HFS; and Corey S., MS, ACSM-HFS, PAPHS. Christi is a UD graduate and Masters student at UNC. Colin is a UD graduate and Masters student at UD, and Corey is a JMU & UD graduate, and founder of RemixYourHealth.