Before I qualified as a podiatrist I used to work in a high street running store and one of the most common questions I was asked was
“What are the best trainers?”
Now I am working as a podiatrist it is still a common question that gets asked to me. So what are the best trainers? As you can imagine this is not a straight forward answer. What may be the best trainers for me may not be the best trainers for person A and person B etc. We also need to consider what is meant when someone says best.
For me as a podiatrist who specialises in treating injuries and injury prevention the best trainer will be one that allows the runner to stay running fit and injury free. Best to someone else may be the trainer that allows them to reach a faster running time, it may mean which are the most expensive or which last the longest.
To be clear I believe that every individual will be different and as a result their idea of the best trainer will be different. Anyone who recommends you a certain shoe is usually speaking from personal experience of having good results with that particular shoe, anecdotal evidence is all well and good but it cannot always be relied upon.
Most running shops will offer you a form of gait analysis which will help determine your foot type and which category trainers are best suited to you. The test usually comprise of 2 parts –
- Static examination/ Wet foot test – The wet footprint test is a marketing dream as it is very easy to replicate and conduct. There are a couple of forms of the test but the general idea is you have an impression of your foot and from that you are placed in a category of high, normal or low arch foot. A high arched foot is usually recommended a neutral or high cushioning shoe. A normal arch may be offered a neutral shoe or some form of stability shoe. A low arched foot will be offered a higher stability shoe or motion control shoe. Whilst there may be some information to be taken from a static examination it is not a good predictor of dynamic function. In other words we cannot tell what the foot will be doing when a person is running just be looking at their footprint standing still. The other thing to consider is how often do we get a running injury when we are standing still? I would wager not very often.
- Gait analysis/ Treadmill – Depending on the store you may be asked to run on a treadmill or up and down the shop. You will very likely be filmed while doing this. The first thing to mention is anywhere where they are not filming you I find it hard to believe they can have a good understanding of what your foot is doing. We move quite quickly as humans and our eyes aren’t always good enough to pick up on the slightest discrepancies. I am not saying that there aren’t people that have been studying runners for long periods who have a very good idea what is happening without the need for slow motion but I find that when I am reviewing a person’s running form I will record it and watch it back in slow motion, to see the finer movements.
We will assume that a treadmill with a camera attached is the set up. For the sake of this article we will ignore all the factors such as not being comfortable running in a shop or on a treadmill, wearing a suit because you popped in after work, only running for 30 seconds. We will focus on what the shop are looking for. The camera will usually be focused in on the back of your feet and will be looking for any movement that is deemed to be unwanted. While observing movement at the rearfoot can be important it is only a small section of what would be required during a gait analysis to really gain a good understanding of what is going on. There are 3 body planes, sagittal, frontal and transverse, movement can occur in any of these planes so all must be considered, likewise focus shouldn’t just be on what is occurring at the foot, the knee and pelvis must be considered.
So you have a static impression of your foot and an example of how your rearfoot moves when you are running. In general when you are shown your foot it is compared to the “neutral foot” which is nice and straight and symmetrical, if your foot moves too much away from the neutral foot you may be referred to as a supinator or over pronator. (Whilst I do not want to touch on these terms to much now there has been excellent work by sports podiatrist Ian Griffiths on why we should no longer use the term over pronation, which is a fascinating read)
Let us assume that you have been informed you have a low arch and are excessively pronating. In all likelihood you will be offered a stability/motion control/anti – pronatory shoe. Whilst there is nothing wrong with these shoes and they may well be the shoe best suited to you the reasons for getting to this conclusion are far from definite.
My advice to anyone looking for new trainers is first and foremost pick a shoe that is comfortable. There is suggestion that comfort may be one or the more significant factors in preventing injury. Comfort isn’t the same for everyone, while some people enjoy cushioning others prefer to feel the round with every step. Some people prefer a higher heel whereas others look for a low profile shoe.
Pick what is right for you.
If you are currently injured or have a history of injury then shoe choice should be more specific. This is where advice from your podiatrist or physio is recommended they can advise more specifically about the stiffness of a shoe, an ideal stack height and drop height. By determining a detailed history of injury a picture should be made of what needs changing in your running style, whether that be changes to your running gait or a complete change in footwear. It will be based on a variety of factors that should enable you to run in the best trainer for you.