The 7 Biggest Myths About Running Shoes (and Tips for Your Next Purchase)

Picture detail of legs from a female runner.

It’s hard to think about running without also thinking about one piece of gear: running shoes. We usually put a lot of consideration into what goes on our feet when we are looking to buy new shoes. These days there is a wide range of different models on the running shoe market. This can make buying a new pair of running shoes quite a challenge!

From “barefoot shoes are perfect for a natural running style” to “light shoes make you faster”… The running world is full of opinions and myths. But how much truth is there to the opinions and “facts”? We talked to our expert Sascha Wingenfeld, and he showed us what really matters when it comes to picking a running shoe.

Shadow of a man.

Myth 1: “Barefoot shoes are perfect for a natural running style”

“Naturally, it is easier to run with efficient running form in minimalist shoes,” believes Sascha Wingenfeld. “Barefoot shoes force the runner to run on his or her forefoot, where only the balls of the feet make contact with the ground.” On the other hand, this technique places high demands on your muscles and puts a lot of impact on your ankles and knees. “Many recreational runners lack the necessary stabilizing muscles to be able to run in barefoot running shoes for long a long time without developing problems.”
Runners more accustomed to traditional running shoes will therefore need longer to get used to these new models. Otherwise, they risk straining something. “Plus, these models are not so comfortable. They no longer provide your feet with the customary protection from cold, dampness, stones and the different terrain,” said Sascha. In this way, barefoot shoes can be a useful addition as a training tool.

Bottom line: Barefoot shoes are perfect for altering and optimizing your running technique. But these models aren’t really suited for your daily long-distance run.

Myth 2: “Orthopedic insoles help you run pain-free”

Orthopedic insoles are designed to give the foot the necessary stability which the body’s own stabilizing muscles in the foot and knee are not able to provide fully. These insoles are therefore supposed to allow you to run pain-free. But is this true? The running expert had this to say: “The running shoes are provided with extra cushioning and support where the individual runner’s foot tends toward misalignments and imbalances. The important thing to keep in mind is that sporting goods stores often try to sell you insoles automatically when buying shoes.” But these insoles are not a general fix-all solution: “The only time a customized orthopedic insole is a good idea is when pains cannot be relieved by other training methods.”

Bottom line: Improving your strength, mobility and running form is a better way of correcting simple imbalances than insoles.

A woman who is sprinting.

Myth 3: “The only differences between men’s and women’s running shoes are the design and the color”

These days, many sporting goods manufacturers offer special running shoes for women and men. Sascha pointed out that there is a good reason for this: “The female foot is – in contrast to the male foot – smaller, narrower, more flexible, and takes up much less volume. In addition, men and women differ in terms of body weight and overall motor control.” All these differences are taken into account in the design of different running shoe models: The heel of a women’s running shoe, for example, has a lighter and more flexible out and midsole. Other parts of the shoe are also gender-specific in terms of construction, cushioning and fit.

Bottom line: Running shoes for men and women differ in several ways. These are not always obvious at first glance. “But if you want a running shoe to fit perfectly, it is always best to go with your gut. Women can, of course, run in men’s shoes, too. The main thing is that they feel comfortable in them.”

Myth 4: “Stability shoes reduce orthopedic problems and are better for your joints”

Humans are born to run. This means our feet are actually designed for barefoot running. Unfortunately, we have lost this ability, for example, by wearing sturdy shoes daily. This is why we need a running shoe that provides us with optimal support. “But the more our feet are guided and influenced by stable shoes, the less our running form has in common with our body’s natural movement.” Therefore, the shoes take over much of the stabilizing work that the body needs to keep our muscles in shape.

Bottom: Stability shoes are useful for endurance runners whose foot muscles lack the necessary strength to provide constant stability. They are also good for runners with severe foot misalignments.

A man who is sprinting up-stairs.

Myth 5: “Runners need several different pairs of running shoes”

Our running form benefits from a variety of training stimuli. This maintains our dynamic motor skills and puts more spring in our step. Sascha said, “This mainly concerns a variety of speeds, surfaces and running shoes.”

Bottom line: Using a variety of different shoe types forces our feet and running form to adapt to a wider range of training loads. This then helps refine our running technique step by step. Joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles become stronger and are therefore less susceptible to injury. “Two pairs of shoes are plenty for recreational runners,” advised Sascha.

Myth 6: “A gait analysis on a treadmill helps you choose the right shoe”

Being able to test your future running shoe before buying it is a great opportunity. You can weed out certain models that just don’t work for you. “But there is a big difference between the sequence of movements you make running on a treadmill and those you make running cross-country or on the road. Also, running a few meters on the street to test the shoes isn’t really going to tell you much.”

Bottom line: You won’t know if a running shoe really fits you until after the first four or five training runs.

Picture detail of legs from a female runner.

Myth 7: “Light shoes are faster”

Faster running times mainly depend on your body weight, training level and running form. Very light running shoes can overtax the body of novice runners who do not possess the necessary muscular stability. “The lack of stability can pose problems for beginning runners.” In this case, heavier shoes would be better because they provide better guidance of the foot.

Bottom line: The better condition the runner is in, the more he or she can benefit from lighter running shoes. But, in general, lighter shoes do not make for faster runners.

Sascha’s advice

“A good running shoe should meet the individual needs of the runner. But this by itself is still no guarantee against injuries, pain or overloading. In addition, there are several factors that influence the choice of shoe, including the speed you train at, the time of year, and the type of surface you run on. The key to keeping running fun is a healthy and stable running form that allows you to run in many different shoe models. For most runners, what matters most besides the right shoe is a well-planned training schedule, coupled with effective exercises for improving their stability, strength and technique.”




Sascha Wingenfeld

Sascha, health trainer & active triathlete, has been coaching runners from beginners to professionals for over 10 years. "I love my job and I love running." View all posts by Sascha Wingenfeld »