Runners tend to be creatures of habit, particularly with running shoes. We find a pair and develop a minor (or major) obsession with them. We stockpile them, replace them blindly, and only wear them. However, you do not benefit from lifelong loyalty to a shoe. Instead, you want to find a new model of running shoes whenever your needs change, a shoe evolves beyond your needs, or to simply have another shoe in your rotation.
Why Try a New Model of Running Shoes?
Over time, your feet change. Shoe brands evolve their models. Sometimes, this becomes the perfect storm for your once-ideal shoe no longer working for you. You need to switch to a new model of running shoes. For most runners, leaving behind a running shoe feels like abandoning a friend, and searching for a new one can be a source of stress.
You know you need to change running shoes when your current ones no longer feel comfortable. However, you may also want to try a new model to have more shoes in your rotation or after a physiological change due to injury, training progressions, or pregnancy.
Certain injuries change your feet. A fracture or sprain may affect your arch. You may require extra cushioning after a certain injury. Additionally, an injury may indicate that you are in the wrong pair of shoes. If you constantly experience Achilles pain or plantar fasciitis despite the appropriate prehab and strength work, you may want to re-assess your shoes.
Training can change your feet as well. If you consistently strength train and develop your running economy, you become a more efficient runner. The motion-control highly cushioned shoes of your novice running years may no longer work. An efficient runner needs less shoe under foot.
Finally, pregnancy plays into the equation. Many women report changes to their feet during pregnancy; these changes sometimes remain permanent through the postpartum period. Your feet may change size in either width or length due to the collapse of arches. Any change in arches warrants a reconsideration of shoes.
Beyond any changes in your feet, a variety of shoes benefits your body and your training. Lighter shoes are conducive to running fast, while slightly more cushioned shoes support long runs and high mileage. Rotation encourages plasticity; your feet are stronger and more mobile, rather than strictly adapted to only one shoe.
When Shopping, Remember: Shoes are Not Magic
First off, don’t develop a crutch with any shoe. That one particular model is not what made you fast enough to run your most recent PR; you ran your best times based on your training and your own abilities as a runner. Yes, the right shoes make the difference. However, no one shoe is a magic bullet (not even the carbon-plate shoes!).
If you need to change models, do not worry about how a new shoe will affect performance. If you pick a good shoe for you (see below), you will run just as well as before – if not better.
Consider The Features of the Shoe
If you switched shoes due to redesign or discontinuation of a favorite or simply wanting a new shoe in your rotation, look for shoes with similar stability, heel-toe drop, and cushion. For example, if you previously wore a neutral shoe with 4mm drop, then search for another neutral shoe with 3-5mm drop.
If you are switching due to changes in your feet, you need to give further thought to what features will best suit your needs.
Generally speaking, you do not want to transition to more shoe. The least-supportive shoe you can comfortably wear is often the best shoe for you. Too much support weakens feet over time; an appropriate amount encourages your feet to work effectively.
Generally speaking, lighter shoes are better, since they promote good economy and do not weigh down the foot. As you become more experienced and economical, you will likely need weight in your shoe. Lightweight does not equate to no cushioning; it simply means the shoe is not weighed down by excessive cushion or extra materials. The market is filled with lightweight shoes that provide responsive or plush cushioning.
Changing drop can aggravate the Achilles, which can spark a serious of issues up the entire posterior chain. Unless you experienced significant changes in your feet or were in the wrong shoe before, avoid increasing the heel-toe drop. If you are more efficient, you may want to try a lower heel-toe drop; this will require an acclimation period.
Stability matters significantly. A majority of runners actually do not need motion-control shoes. If you transition from a neutral trainer to a motion-control shoe, your shoe will not feel comfortable on runs. If you are in a motion-control shoe, try on a neutral shoe and assess comfort and fit. Improvements in strength, mobility, and economy often negate the need for a motion-control shoe. You may choose to stay in a motion-control shoe, but you may also find your feet feel better in a neutral shoe.
This does not mean every runner should wear a zero-drop minimalist shoe. Comfort and individual biomechanics are big factors. Essentially, you want to wear the least shoe possible while remaining comfortable in your running.
Do your research both within your current brand and in other brands. Most running shoe websites will list the specifications including heel height, toe height, drop, and stability of a shoe. The staff at your local running store can also help you pick out a similar shoe, especially if you are switching brands.
New Shoes Should Not Hurt
The new shoe should feel comfortable from first wear. Comfort does not equate with cushion; rather, the shoe should move with your body well. Jonathan Beverly asserts in Your Best Stride that “what feels right is right” when it comes to running shoes.
Discomfort is glaring red-flag of a poor fit; your foot will not adapt. Beyond any immediate comfort or discomfort, assess the fit of each shoe. Are your toes a thumb-width away from the end of the shoe? Do the laces provide a secure yet comfortable fit? Does your foot slide laterally or up-and-down in the heel? Is the toebox wide enough or constricting? Does your arch feel supported appropriately? Remember that as you run, your toes splay by 15% and your foot moves; if the shoe restricts your movement when not running, then it certainly does not fit well.
Comfort is especially worth remembering if you are being fitted for a new model. Gait assessments can only provide so much information; your body provides the best feedback. If a shoe is fitted for you yet it does not feel good on your foot, then find another model.
Try on Several Pairs
Online shopping offers convenience, but when you switching your model of shoes, you want to try them on in-person. The most effective approach to finding a new model of running shoes? Try on several. Visit the retailer and try on as many pairs as you can, especially from different brands.
Ease in the New Shoe
Once you select a new model of shoe, gradually introduce it to your rotation. Don’t take a new-to-you model out for a test run on your 15 mile long run. Introduce new shoes to your feet with shorter runs of 45 minutes or less. If you do not experience significant discomfort or any problems, gradually extend the duration of your runs in those shoes.
Spend at least a couple of weeks adapting before you race in new shoes. Test them out with fast workouts; after all, you need to be able to comfortably and efficiently run fast in a shoe if you plan to race in it. Always, always abide by the golden rule of racing: nothing new on race day, especially a new model of shoes.
Avoid wearing your new shoes for the first time on the treadmill, unless you run on the treadmill frequently. The belt of the treadmill alters your running gait, foot strike, and form, while the added cushion of the treadmill affects how a shoe feels. This means the shoes won’t feel the same on the treadmill as they do outside. To get a more accurate feel for your new shoes, wear them on your usual outdoor route.
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When was the last time you tried a new model of running shoes?
How many shoes do you rotate?
I’ve tried so many different shoes over the years but always end up back in Brooks. However, the models I have worn keep getting updated and don’t always continue to feel as comfortable. It’s hard to find new shoes when you are used to something! I lucked out when Brooks sent ambassadors the Glycerins last spring. I ended up loving them and now they are my favorite shoe for long and easy runs!
I used to run in high stability shoes years ago and now find a neutral shoe most comfortable. I do like the cushioning and have to watch out for achilles aggravation. Something so simple as shoe buying can really be confusing! Thanks for the tips
I love your point about easing into the shoe. I changed shoes towards the end of Half Marathon training when I was already doing fairly long runs. And didn’t ease into them at all and it resulted in a small injury. That’s a lesson I won’t soon forget. I tend to stick with the same shoe but I think it’s down to the stress of trying on new shoes and forming a “new relationship”!
Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been having nagging PF aggravation in my right foot and I’ve been wondering if it’s my shoes. I was thinking of moving to a neutral shoe since I’ve been running in a stability shoe but wasn’t sure if I was on the right track. You always provide such helpful information at the time I need it, thank you!
This is great stuff.
Pre-leg-break, I wore three or four different models. Right now, I am back in one, but I prefer my older shoes to the newer model. I want to go back in for a reassessment, but with COVID… I just haven’t made it back to the store.
My feet have changed as I’ve gotten older (in addition to getting bigger!). They’ve flattened some and I have to watch my tendency to get ingrown toenails if the shoe is not long enough. I did switch a few years back from a motion control shoe to a lighter, cushioned shoe and I’ve been so happy with it. I do still change out a few models/brands though.
Thank you for this information! I have done two cross-midi-Pyrenees hikes in Hoka’s and love them so much that I decided to try them for running. I ran in the Challenger for several months, before having two calf pulls in the matter of three months. At that time I was relatively new to arguments about mm drop across brands. I went back to my old favorite, the Brooks Ghost 12 (which was the 8 when I first starting running more seriously), and my leg pain disappeared (mm drop of 12). That being said, Hoka’s are SO comfortable! They provide a smooth ride like no other on long runs–and long through hikes. But their mm drop of 3-4 is too low for me–so it would seem. Is there a way to get my legs to adapt to sharing the running space between them in a rotation? I don’t want to take on another injury, but because I primarily run on the road, a friend of mine warned me to start taking better care of my knees with a higher cushion shoe. Thoughts? Thanks
Higher cushion is not necessarily better for the knees. Running strengthens the knees, and can strength training, while too much cushion will actually be counterproductive. Ultimately, you want to do with a drop that supports your legs the most and does not cause injury. Some runners can adapt to a lower drop shoe, but if it continually causes calf/Achilles problems, it is best to stick to higher drop. That said, there may be a less cushioned higher drop alternative for you!
I have been running in Saucony trainers for a few years, I changed from Asics to Saucony as I was having problems with my bunions. They were rubbing with the Asics. I am on my 4th pair of Saucony and my recent pair seem to be rubbing on my bunions. I have tried all kinds of socks to support and protect the bunions but that has not helped. Im looking to change my trainers for a different make. I have done some research and it seems the Mizuno Wave Rider and Brooks Glycerin 15 are the two that seem to be recommended with a wide toe box. Does anyone else have any advise on any socks or type of trainer that may be worth researching and trying ?
I do not know specifically about bunions, but Feetures, Darn Tough, and Smartwool all make high quality running socks. Feetures in particular have minimal seams which may help.