Shoes: What you should know

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“The truth is not by popular vote”

Just because the majority of people do something, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to copy them!

Runners

If you are changing technique or shoes (and they will change your technique) you will use a different range of muscles and your body needs sufficient time to adjust. While you undergo this body rebuilding you will need to greatly reduce the distance and intensity of your runs. Start with just one or two Kilometres, take at least a day off between runs and allow your muscles (especially your calf muscles) to adapt.

For more information read the book and especially the Foot Strengthening section (which also has videos).

How to choose a running shoe

Video based on American College of Sports Medicine advice

How to choose a running shoe – from Xero shoes

How footwear is detrimental to the feet

How footwear is detrimental to the feet – from Vivobarefoot shoes

Where to find good shoes

A good shoe should:

  • be thin: a 5–20 millimetres*see note below sole should be ample in all conditions—you should be able to feel the ground
  • be flat: there should be no raised heel (no ‘drop’ from heel to toe)
  • be flexible: the shoe should mimic the pliability of the feet, so you should be able to uniformly bend and twist the shoe in your hands — it should curl evenly and it should not have a hard plastic sole as some ‘minimalist’ shoes have
  • have a wide toe box: your toes should have room to move
  • have no arch support: pronation is a vital part of your suspension
  • have the same sole material all over: no different density materials and no splits or cavities — they are stone-catchers!
  • be light: why lift more than you need to?

Apart from the popular ‘minimal’ shoe offerings such as Xero, Vibram, Vivobarefoot and Freet there are a host of others available. For a comprehensive list of shoes for all occasions we recommend anyasreviews.com, thebarefootshoereview.com and functional-footwear.com/

*note
This recommendation was changed June 2024
When Heidi Jones and I first wrote the shoe section nearly 15 years ago, we considered shoes like the Innov8 F-lite 195 ideal for sole thickness and found the Brooks Pure Flow too chunky. Back then, we recommended a maximum sole thickness of 10mm based on these examples.

However, as shoe materials have evolved, thicker soles have become much lighter and more responsive. We’ve updated our guidelines to reflect this progress. Now, we believe that soles up to approximately 20mm can be suitable if other specifications are met. However, 25mm is likely too thick and unstable.

Barefoot running on grass remains the best way to develop good technique, and incorporating regular barefoot sessions is crucial for maintaining strength and technique. That said, some cushioning is necessary for protection, especially on rough terrain, in low-light conditions, and at higher speeds.