Choosing the right shoe for you

Australians are one of the world’s largest consumers of athletic shoes. With an ever changing market it’s difficult to choose which shoe is right for which activity and which type of foot. Just be wary – it’s more complex that you think: it’s easy to trip up on your shoe laces.

But before we get into the nitty gritty of choosing the right shoe for you, you may like to read more about technological arms race that is currently being waged by sports shoes manufacturers.

Foot Conditions

Each time the foot hits the ground, it uses two movement types:

  • Pronation, or rolling inwards.
  • Supination, or rolling outwards.
  • These are normal movements which allow the foot to absorb shock and to push off properly. Problems occur when you either pronate or supinate too much.

Every time the heel strikes the ground your foot is subject to impact forces. For a runner, these forces are somewhere between three to five times the body weight. So, a 70 kg runner will have at least 210kg of force going through the ankle!

Supination, neutral and pronation foot positions - all reasons why it is important to choose the right shoe for you.


Supination is rolling of the foot outward. If you look at the wear on an old shoe, you will see excessive wear on the outside heel and on the lateral side. But do not read into the shoe wear too much. People who supinate may complain of Achilles Tendonitis, heel pain and later leg pain. You will need to see at least two of the common signs below.

Common signs

  • When standing the heel leans outwards.
  • The arch of the foot may be high with pronounced bumps on the top of the foot.
  • The sole of the foot may have a slight bend to it, like a banana.
  • The athlete may have a lower limb condition which causes them to walk pigeon-toed or they have excessive bow legs.
  • Shoes for supinators.

The outsole: Choose carbonised rubber at the heel for durability with blown rubber at the forefoot for comfort.

The midsole: The midsole design needs to be neutral and firm. A midsole will cause the supinator to wallow laterally. Dual density is not appropriate as it can make the problem worse; if you roll onto a soft surface, the sole will compress even further down than they should.

The last: If the sole is bent, then a slightly curved last will fit the supinator’s shoe shape better. A semi-curved last may also be an option. Never choose a straight last if there is a banana-like bend in the foot.

Heel counter: This should be strong and resist movement. A plastic heel cap is best.

Torsion: Some torsional rigidity is needed, but not so you can “wring out” the shoe.


Pronation is rolling of the foot inwards. Other symptoms to look for include a bulge of the foot below the ankle and possibly an arch which looks flatter. If you look at the wear on an old shoe, you will see excessive wear on the inside heel in excessive cases, but lateral or posterior heel strikes are common.

People who pronate may complain of fatigue, and what is often termed “shin split”. This is a grab-bag term which, if not seen to, can degenerate into stress fractures and muscle complaint problems.

Common signs

  • When standing the heel leans inwards.
  • When standing, one or both knee caps turn inwards.
  • The sole of the foot aches or bunions have developed.
  • Knee pain develops during activity and slowly goes away during rest.
  • Shoes for pronators

The outsole: Choose carbonised rubber at the heel for durability with blown rubber at the forefoot for comfort.

The midsole: Dual density is best for over pronators. This design has a softer lateral component for heel strike, but the natural tendency of the foot to pronate to a foot flat situation is compensated for by the harder material on the medial side.

The last: Choose straight or semi-curved lasts.

Heel counter: This needs to be strong. A plastic heel cup is best

Torsion: Some torsional rigidity is needed, but not so you can “wring out” the shoe.

What to look for in a shoe

Row of running shoes

So what is the right shoe for you?

There is some basic information you need to consider before you buy a shoe:

  • Your activity
  • Your weight
  • Your foot positioning on standing
  • How you have worn out your previous shoe
  • When you go to the shoe store, take an old pair of shoes with you.
  • Also, wear socks that you would normally exercise in. The difference in sock thickness can result in a half-size difference in shoes!

There are four shoe features which can be simply tested while still in the store:

1. Torsion

  • The greater the twist of the shoe longitudinally the more the foot will roll. For pronators and supinators the amount of twist should be minimal, otherwise your rolling motion will increase.
  • Grasp the midsole at the front of the show near the ball of the foot and twist lengthways.

2. Flex

  • The shoe should bend right at the ball of the foot. If the shoe doesn’t bend at that point, nor will your foot. This can cause extreme leg pain and can impact on stress fractures in the metatarsals.
  • Grasp the heel and toes of the shoe and push the ends together.

3. Midsole density

  • If the rubber is compressed by more than a third, it may be too soft. Soft shoes with lots of cushioning are appropriate only for walking.
  • Dual density midsoles, which have a softer lateral side and a harder medial side, are best for pronators.
  • Neutral midsole, which have the same density all the way round, are ideal for supinators.
  • With your two thumbs, compress the rubber of the midsole.

4. Heel counter

  • The strength of the heel counter is important to keep the heel held upright, particularly if it has a tendency to wobble. Make sure the heel counter is made of plastic rather than just a piece of cardboard. The plastic heel counter is stronger, provides more support, and will last longer.
  • With your thumb squash down on the heel counter.

5. Outsole

Another important feature of the shoe is the outsole.

The outsole is made of two rubber tyres:

  • A shinier, hardened carbonised rubber on the heel. As this is where the heel strikes the rubber needs to be harder to last longer.
  • A material called blow rubber on the forefoot. This is softer and gives more cushioning at the ball of the foot and a greater feeling of comfort.
  • If the sole looks like car-types tread it is suitable for road or indoor use. If it looks like a tractor tyre it is better for track or cross country running.
  • Choose the right outsole to avoid twists to the ankles, or just to avoid falling over in the wet or muddy grounds.

If you’d like further advice on choosing the correct sports equipment, you can read more here.