Shoe advice in stores: what's happening and what should be happening?

edited September 2012 in Running Science
Dear runners,

I'm a runner and I coach beginning runners. I also do some freelance survey research. Recently (partly because of Pete's book and his blog posts) I became interested in the advice and procedures followed by shoe sales people in both general sport stores and specialty running stores when selling running shoes. Often those procedures seem not based on evidence (well, maybe evidence of selling as many pairs of running shoes as possible, but no evidence that runners are getting running shoes that lead to them having fewer injuries or something like that). I'd like to write short article on that topic and because of that I'm planning to design a survey in which stores selling running shoes are asked how their advice for customers to buy a certain running shoe comes about. 

What I've seen so far is advice based on:
looking at the wear pattern of old running shoes
live or video analysis of pronation 
live or video analysis of footstrike
analysis of arch while standing still
computerised analysis of arch pattern (you stand on surface with pressure sensors and it performs some kind of analysis)
weight/bmi of the customer
the customer description of what type of shoes he/she likes.

I would love to hear from people here (and what also should make an interesting discussion):
1) what types of advice they observed in running stores 
2) what they think is evidence based or at least non-bogus advice when it comes to running shoe advice



  • Will,

    Great topic......hope you get what your after.

    Here's some advice I have witnessed or been given at a few running shoe stores.

    1) How long have you been running? -Does this question mean I need a more expensive shoe in relation to my ability level? Or does it mean the salesperson can now push any shoe that they are currently overstocked on?

    2) I was asked to 'run' in the store so the salesperson could look at my footstrike. The 'run' was literally 25 feet across the store. I may be crazy, but it takes me a little longer to get into a comfortable rythm than 8 paces.

    3) Do your feet and legs hurt? -I'm training for a marathon and running 40+ miles a week, I'm fairly certain that my legs will be sore no matter what shoes I am wearing.

    Just a few observations......This may not be what you were looking for.

  • Here is my experience in a specialty running store:

    - The owner asked my how many kilometers do I run every week and what was my pace; he did not ask me directly, but he made a guess about my weight (very wise, by the way).

    - Then he took me into a podoscopio (a tool to see what your stride looks like; image below). He analised my stride and determined I needed neutral shoes, since I have a rather high arch (footprint like the one on the image, more or less).

    - There was not a dynamic test, just the podoscopio. image

    - Afterwards, he left me with an employee who showed me a range of shoes that matched her employer advice.

    - I feel she prefered I took a pair of Mizuno or Saucony, since she showed me their top class staff (Mizunos`s Rider, Sauconys Ride and Triumph) but not the best of Asics (just the Gel Blakhawk).

    After all I left the store with a pair of Saucony Ride 4, wich the owner told me were a perfect choice for me. He encourage me to acquire specific insoles, since I needed them given my inadequate stride. He also insisted that I should go for shoes with a high heel (still I wonder why).

  • Thank bkingard & Fernando. That's very helpful.
  • For me, the one time I was fitted in a store involved a 10 ft trot across the store that resulted in me being diagnosed as a pronator and was put in stability shoes. That was pretty much it.
  • I'll add, I think there may be some value in Benno Nigg's theories on muscle tuning for matching runners to shoes - developing that into a practically applicable method may be difficult though.

  • Thanks, I'll look into Nigg's theories, I'm not familiar with them.

    So far what seems good practice to me is:
    Let customers run (for more than 10ft) to let them judge if the shoe feels right for them
    If customers have or had an injury and they suspect their current shoes are a factor, try something different
    No injuries: consider staying with the same type of shoe.
    In overstriders, check in what type of shoes they overstride less
    Trying out a new type of shoe after years of running in another type: try to slowly add the new pair in your running.

    Mostly based on common sense, with a bit of evidence for the one about overstriding and trying to stay away from practices which are providing useless, confusing or worse.

    Any additions or corrections?
  • Advice provided from different running stores:

    1. Running Room (this was about 10 years ago) - Walk around the store for the employee to observe pronation and I got pushed towards the stability/motion control wall of shoes.

    2. Local Running Store 
    - talked to the owner who had good advice for plantar fasciitis
    - Told him I was a forefoot striker (not heel) and was using low drop shoes already  
    - He suggested something with a more snug heel (good), but the Brooks Pure Project shoes were too narrow (bad, and I said this in the shop that I was worried they were too narrow).  
    - He also laced the shoes differently to give more room on my right foot which has the start of a bunion developing (family trait, but I wear Birkenstocks and non-restrictive shoes that don't make it worse)
    - he watched me run around the store, but there was no treadmill there.

    Advice and trying shoes has been hit and miss.  So far, I love my Saucony A5's (which I picked out for myself based on internet reviews) and am iffy on the Kinvara 3 which I suspect is making my knee hurt.  I have also noticed the Asics Nimbus make me knee hurt (and this was before I started in low drop shoes)/
  • Thanks Tintallie. I used own a pair of Asics Nimbus myself. I also had knee pain, which I then attributed to "too much too soon" rather than bad form which was in turn aggravated by the type of shoes I was wearing. At a certain moment I bought a new version of the Nimbus (with even more cushioning) and it immediately gave me trouble again.

    That's when I started to look online for causes and solutions for my knee pain. Shoe sales people and care providers came up with 5 different causes (running is bad/overpronation/other versions of 'there something wrong with your body') and solutions (stability or motion control shoes/orthotics/stop running). Since then I've ignored the advice of shoe sales people when buying running shoes, but I do believe that they can offer valuable help. Your description of advice/procedures for specific injuries (PF, bunions) is interesting and might be a good example of that.

    I'm currently running on Kinvara 2's (fast, but the toebox is a bit too narrow and the arch support is somewhat irritating), Brooks Green Silence (They feel wonderful and they're easy on my calves and plantar fascia because of the heel drop, but I run faster in the Kinvaras) and VFF Speeds (which do wonders for my form, but after multiple subsequent runs in them my plantar fascia like something else and I don't like them for racing, because then I have to worry about not landing on acorns, pebbles, etc). I feel the mix of shoes I run in also protects me from injuries, because their different characteristics all have a different effect on my form. I would like to hear shoes sales people tell me more about those kinds of characteristics and their effects. 

  • For a more international flavour, here in the UK many of the dedicated running stores now use a treadmill coupled with a high(ish) speed video camera to capture the lower leg/foot motion as you run on the mill. They then replay the footage slowed down and look at things like the degree of pronation to determine the shoe type recommendation. This isn't a universal approach, but it's increasingly being seen as normal practice instead of exceptional. 
    I've not tried buying shoes from one of our 'big-box' stores, but from what I've seen they are even less analytical in the shoe choice process than their US counterparts!
    The only other experience of shoe fitting I've seen was for my wife in a running/outdoor footware store without the hi-tech approach, there the store-owner seemed to possess some sort of 'sixth-sense' for correct shoe type, he got my wife to run up and down on the road outside the store and seemed to be able to tell if the shoe was right or not....
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