Long gone are the days when only one running shoe manufacturer existed and runners had limited options in their choice of footwear. The market for running shoes is ever-increasing, which explains why so many makes, styles, colors, and models are available. Now, more than ever, a running shoe exists for every type of runner, from elite athlete to hobby jogger. The most popular types of running shoes are listed below, as well as a brief description of their merits and who is most likely to wear them.
As the most common type of running shoe, the neutral shoe is the go-to for all kinds of runners. “Neutral” simply means that the shoe is meant for someone with a normal foot strike, meaning one where the runner’s weight is evenly distributed across the foot on landing and push-off. If unsure whether a neutral shoe is right for you, any running store employee can help you in the determination.
A corrective shoe is for the non-neutral runner. Runners typically discover corrective shoes after suffering from a string of injuries that are caused by poor running mechanics. A corrective shoe corrects pronation (turning in) or supination (turning out) of a runner’s foot fall. A shoe store employee or podiatrist can tell you whether a corrective shoe is right for you.
The minimalist shoe craze was spurred by the belief that a shoe with as little correction, padding, or support as possible would result in a stronger foot and more efficient form. Believers of minimalism promised fewer injuries and faster race times would result from lighter weight foot wear with a heel to toe drop less than 3 mm (whereas the heel to toe drop in neutral shoes is typically greater than 7 mm).
The counter to the minimalist craze, maximalist shoes provide 2-3x more cushioning than the average running shoe. Geared towards ultrarunners, trail runners, and chronic injury sufferers, many people have found the maximalism trend to be revolutionary. However, maximalist shoes are still relatively light weight, and also have the low heel to toe drop generally associated with minimalism.
Barefoot shoes were in many ways the precursor to minimalist running shoes. These shoes, which looked more like heavy duty toe socks meant for aquatic adventures, promised to improve foot strength and general well-being while chiding typical running shoes as being unnatural. However, because these claims were not backed by science, one of the largest barefoot shoe manufacturers, Vibram USA, recently was involved in a class action lawsuit.
Different from minimalist shoes, lightweight trainers are lighter versions of neutral shoes, typically without the low heel to toe drop of minimalist shoes and also with more cushioning. Typically, competitive runners wear lightweight trainers to help them feel fast during speed workouts or simulate the feel of racing shoes while still providing the support of typical running shoes.
Racing flats are worn by serious runners who prefer a light-weight shoe for race day. A racing flat is lighter than a lightweight trainer and has a lower heel to toe drop (4 – 7 mm), but is still more supportive than a minimalist shoe. May racing flats are developed with the needs of an elite athlete in mind, and can withstand the relentless pounding of a longer race while providing the lightweight feel a racer desires.