How to Choose Running Shoes That Actually Fit

Spoiler alert: If you’re picking running shoes based just off looks, you’re doing it wrong! Here’s what to look for to score the best shoes for your feet.

Need a little help on how to choose running shoes?

You’re not alone. When you’re staring at the thousands of options available to you, figuring out how to pick running shoes can seem pretty daunting. Are you choosing running shoes based on brand name or style points? We’d suggest not. It’s more important to ask yourself “What running shoes are best for me?” than “What shoes will I look best in?” Trust us, it won’t matter how sweet your kicks are if they feel miserable to wear.

Learning how to choose running shoes based on your body’s needs doesn’t have to be complicated. To make it a whole lot easier on you, we’ve simplified choosing running shoes into these two steps:

  • Choose running shoes based on your cushion level
  • Pick running shoes based on your arch type

Complete these two steps and you’re well on your way to your best fit ever. And you’ll find that when your shoes fit and feel perfect, you’ll be more motivated, check off your goals faster, and even reduce injuries so you can keep movin’. Let’s get started!

How to choose running shoes for your cushion level

This step might seem a little obvious at first. “Cushion level? That’s easy, isn’t more cushion always better than less cushion?” The short answer: not always. Cushioning’s great, but it’s just like any other feature of a running shoe. And different amounts of cushioning are best for different reasons. For example, minimalist runners might choose running shoes with bare bone features in order to perfect their forefoot form, while those who suffer from plantar fasciitis likely need the plushest underfoot sensation possible in order to keep foot pain at bay.

So how to choose the running shoe cushion level that’s right for you? Here are some guidelines to help you score your ideal feel.

Level 5 Cushioning

  • Your maximum cushion and top-of-the-line technology
  • Perfect for daily high mileage running and max impact protection
  • Built for longer races like half marathons and full marathons
  • Also ideal for new runners or runners with larger frames
  • Check out: Hoka Clifton , ASICS GEL-Kayano , Adidas Energy Boost , or Saucony Triumph

Level 4 Cushioning

Level 3 Cushioning

  • Your perfect balance of lightweight, moderate cushion and flex
  • Pick up your pace with a fast, energetic feel for daily, tempo and race running
  • Your exact midpoint between cushion and quick natural feel
  • Ideal for expert runners or those looking for a tempo shoe
  • Look to the Brooks Launch or the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante

Level 2 Cushioning

  • Your incredibly light, extremely flexible choice with just a touch of cushion and a minimal feel
  • Race, train, and feel connected to the road
  • Often used by highly competitive racers
  • Choose this running shoe to strengthen feet and practice form
  • Try the Nike Free or  dedicated racing shoes

Level 1 Cushioning

  • Your lightest, most flexible designs offer only a thin layer of minimal protection
  • Strengthen feet while running, training or walking
  • Feel barefoot while protecting feet
  • Choose the Vibram V-Run

How to pick running shoes based on your arch type

So you know how to choose running shoes based on cushioning level and your ideal underfoot feel, but now we need to talk about arches and how to pick running shoes that will best fit the shape of your feet. The height and flexibility of your arch affects the amount of support your feet need. Basically, the higher or less flexible your arches are, the less support you’ll have to depend on. These types of running shoes catered to high to medium arches are called Neutral, so if that sounds like your feet, you should be choosing running shoes from this category. The lower or more flexible your arches are, the more support your feet will need with pronation and motion control. If you have flatter feet and are learning how to pick out running shoes, shop for shoes within the Stability category.

Read on to learn more about which category you should be looking for when choosing your running shoes.

High Arch

  • If you have high arches that don’t flex very much, you typically stay on the outsides of your feet. Select a NEUTRAL shoe to guide lateral pressure inward by supporting your arch with cushion.
  • Check out these NEUTRAL category cushion faves: ASICS GEL-Cumulus or Brooks Ghost
  • Fall in love with these category favorites: ASICS Cumulus or the Brooks Ghost

Medium Arch

  • Got medium arches? Then you’ve got slightly flexible feet that make your ankles to roll inward with each step. That’s pronation. You want a STABILITY shoe to stabilize that inward flex with midsole technology and arch support.
  • Support & cushion your running with these STABILITY picks: ASICS GT-2000 or Nike LunarGlide
  • Check out some of these category favorites: ASICS 2000 or the Nike LunarGlide

Low Arch

  • If you’re asking “arch?” you probably have low arches. Your biomechanics are similar to the medium arch but more pronounced. Your highly-flexible feet angle inward so much that you have little to no arch. You’ll want a Level 5 STABILITY shoe with maximum support. You may also see these called MOTION CONTROL shoes
  • Maximize your cushioned support with these Level 5 STABILITY go-tos: Brooks Beast or the New Balance 1340
  • Consider choosing running shoes from these category favorites: Brooks Beast and the New Balance 1340

That’s it! Now you know how to choose running shoes with the perfect fit and feel for your unique needs. It all comes down to choosing your favorite cushioning level (Levels 5 to 1) and knowing your shoe category (Neutral or Stability).

Still have questions about how to choose a running shoe?

Chat with a Fit Expert at 800-743-3206 or check out our most frequently asked questions about choosing running shoes below.

Frequently Asked Questions About Running Shoes

How do I know my current running shoes are right for me?

You’ll be relieved to know it’s simple, actually. Your perfect running shoes should feel great from the minute you put them on until the minute you take them off. Your feet should not ache, blister, or chafe in your shoes. If they do, you may need to adjust your size or width, or find a different running shoe that’s better for you.

What is the Perfect Fit System?

You know what makes finding the best running shoes for your feet a breeze? Having an expert analyze your feet  – for free! You can do this via our Perfect Fit System at any of our retail locations. If you’re not near a Road Runner Sports store, you can visit our perfect fit finder online. Either way, you’ll be fitted with the best options for you, without tasking yourself with learning how to pick running shoes. Your perfect fit will provide ultimate comfort for your walking or running stride, arch type, and width. Once all of the technical aspects are taken care of, you’ll choose from a variety of top running shoe brands, styles, and colors that are just right for you. Then bam! You’ll be ready to hit the road, rockin’ your new running shoes!

What if I have joint pain or previous running injuries? Can you help me find new running shoes?

Our trained Fit Experts at any of our locations will take your joint pain and previous running injuries into consideration when selecting the best running shoes for you. You might also seriously consider having us create custom insoles just for you. You’ll get much more comfort and cushioning with custom insoles, and they take just a few minutes to fit to your feet.

Can I return my running shoes if I don’t like them?

Your satisfaction is our #1 priority and you deserve a perfect fit. That’s why everyone can enjoy 60 days to return new and unused shoes for a full refund.

Plus VIPs enjoy a 90-DAY VIP Test Run. During the first 90 days after the initial purchase date, VIP Members may exchange worn footwear for credit towards footwear of a different make, style, or size.

Not yet a VIP Family Member? Click here for your complete Returns Policy.


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