What type of running shoe do you need?

What type of running shoe do you need?

Few things are more intimidating than a huge wall of running shoes. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but with so many types of running shoes out there, finding the right pair can definitely be overwhelming and at the very least confusing. Add in terms such as heel drop, pronation, midsole, and stability, and determining which shoes are best for you can leave your head spinning – but not once you read this handy guide!

Knowing the difference between types of running shoes, their features, and how they may or may not benefit you will help take the guesswork out of finding the perfect pair to not only fit your foot properly, but also how and where you run.

Identify Your Running Shoe Needs

Before you can determine which running shoes to choose, you need to consider the way in which you run and why. 

Your gait refers to how your feet and legs go through the motions of running, particularly how your feet hit the ground each stride. Pronation is the natural inward roll that occurs when your foot makes contact with the ground then pushes off. If this roll is slight, that’s good – it allows your foot to absorb impact properly, minimizing pressure on your joints and keeping them aligned and happy.

Many runners, however, pronate too far in one direction or another, and that has a lot to do with the arch of your foot.

Runners with low arches tend to overpronate, meaning their foot rolls excessively inward. Those with high arches do the opposite – their foot rolls excessively outward, which is known as underpronation (or supination).

The reason all this matters is that excessive pronation doesn’t allow feet to absorb impact in the proper way, and that causes stress and instability not just in your feet, but along the entire chain of your body as well. Over time, in addition to discomfort and joint pain, excessive pronators can experience injuries such as runners’ knee, Achilles tendonitis, IT band issues, ankle sprains, shin splints, and bunions – obviously all things runners would rather avoid!

The good news is there are running shoes designed to help with these biomechanical variations, with features that aid in keeping your feet in an ideal, neutral position. But how do you know if your foot needs that help? Well, a gait analysis is a good place to start. Or, before you even look at that big wall of shoes, take a look at the bottoms of your current pair.

  • If the wear pattern on your shoe is fairly even, you have a neutral arch and mild to no pronation – lucky you!
  • If you see wear mainly around your big toe, inside the ball of your foot, and along the inner side of your sole, this indicates that you have a low arch and overpronate.
  • Notice signs of wear mostly on the outer edge? You have a high arch and underpronate.

Once you know what your feet are doing when you run and whether they need help to pronate properly, it’s time to talk types of shoes.

Different levels of running shoe stability

Consider Running Shoe Categories

With your biomechanics in mind, next you need to find shoes that provide the appropriate level of support. These fall into three main categories: neutral, stability, and motion control.

Motion Control

These types of running shoes offer the most stability, with built-in features that counteract moderate to severe over or under pronation. Stiffer heels with a higher drop (the difference in cushioning between heel and toe), denser foam in the inner midsole (called the medial post), and reinforced arches and sides help support feet and control the roll, keeping them in a more neutral position. Motion control shoes do tend to be heavier, but if maximum support is needed to keep your gait straight, the added weight pays off with reduced chance of injury and improved comfort.


Maybe you need some support but not a ton – this just might be the type of shoe for you. Designed for runners with mild to moderate over or under pronation, these offer similar stability features as motion control shoes, but dialed back with less cushion, a lower heel drop, less rigidity, and an inner midsole foam that’s not as dense. Stability shoes provide arch support and often have guide rails – supportive features in and around the heel that help control side-to-side motion.


This type of running shoe is for runners who – you guessed it – don’t over or under pronate or do so just slightly. Their feet are already in a neutral position and able to distribute force evenly, so there is no need for extra support and reinforcement. Because of this, these shoes are typically lighter, more flexible, and have a lower heel drop with more cushion.

It’s important to note that even neutral feet may need a little help, but not enough for a stability shoe to be necessary. That’s when insoles are a great option! Slip these in your shoes and they can provide just the right amount of support and correction you need, right where you need it.

Find the Right Running Shoe Features

Okay, now you know your needs and the type of shoe that addresses them – all that’s left is to find the features that feel most comfortable to you, then match your shoes to the type of running you do.

Yes, the list of running shoe features is long  – from weight to durability to breathability, flexibility, lacing systems, and more – but perhaps amongst the biggest to consider are cushion and heel drop.

How Much Cushion is Comfortable?

The cushioning of a shoe involves the firmness of the foam and the thickness, or stack height, of the material between your foot and the ground. Like running shoe support, cushion amount comes in three main categories:

A maximum cushioned running shoe

Maximum Cushion – thick midsole padding and soft foam underfoot, piled high and offering plenty of plushness, this level of cushioning is best for long distances, logging a lot of miles, and recovery runs.

Minimal cushioning – having the least amount of cushion possible benefits those who like to feel their connection with the ground beneath them. It’s also preferred by track runners looking for greater control and lighter weight to increase speed.

Moderate cushioning – this strikes a happy balance between min and max

Do You Have a Heel Drop Preference?

Drop refers to the difference in cushioning between the toe of the shoe and the heel. It is measured in millimeters, with a drop of 10mm and up providing the most cushioning in the heel – perfect for the heel strikers of the world!

In contrast, when a shoe has zero-drop it means there is an equal amount of cushion front to back.

There are all sorts of options in between that cater to a mid-foot strike and vary according to preference. However, one thing to keep in mind is that the lower the drop, the more work your Achilles tendon needs to do, so if this is a trouble area for you, you might want to skip testing how low you can go!

Of course, the best way to know what’s most comfortable for you is to try shoes on and see how they feel – by the way, they should feel great from the get-go! And, not only should they fit comfortably, but also fit how you plan to use them.

What Are You Asking Your Shoes to Do?


Running on Roads?

Shoes made for running on hard surfaces are typically light, flexible, and cushioned to protect against the stresses of repetitively “pounding the pavement”. Outsoles are often smooth and flat. When logging long distances especially, cushion, support, and durability are key.

Training on Trails?

Trail shoes are designed to tackle rugged, varied terrain. They’re more rigid than road shoes to provide more support, and they have bigger lugs (the raised treads on the outsole) which help them better grip uneven, loose, steep, or muddy surfaces. Many trail shoes also incorporate protective underfoot plates to safeguard against rocks, sticks, and other sharp objects. Waterproofing makes them less breathable than regular trainers, but also more durable in all sorts of conditions. 

Revving Up to Race?

Shoes for race day range from track and cross-country spikes to road racing flats and carbon-plated super shoes known for their power and energy-efficiency. Racing shoes tend to be lightweight and streamlined (though super shoes are definitely stacked!).

Ready to Relax?

To help muscles actively recover, snug, supportive, and super plush shoes provide cushy comfort in every step, letting your feet and legs do less work so they can bounce back quicker.

Get the Right Type of Running Shoe at Gazelle Sports

Remember that big wall of running shoes we mentioned earlier? Well we have one. We also have free personalized shoe fittings, gait analyses, and an expert staff who know their stuff and love to get to know their customers. And that means, while there is a lot to consider when finding the right type of shoe for you – from body mechanics to supportive features, running surfaces, and personal preferences – with this guide, and a visit to Gazelle Sports, you’ll find the perfect pair to be running comfortably in no time!

Back to blog