Finding the right pair of running shoes for beginner runners equates to a safer, more comfortable running experience. If you are a beginner runner and don’t know where to begin, then navigating all the features of a running shoe can be quite intimidating. For many beginner runners, it’s hard to get past buzz words like pronation, stability, minimalist, and a host of cushion technologies like React, Boost, and Flytefoam. What do these mean, and how do you know if they are right for you?
The main purpose of PLUOT.app is to lift the fog and help beginner runners like you focus on what really matters when it comes to finding the perfect pair of running shoes. Your feet, body condition, cushion type, where you want to run, and your running goals are all things PLUOT.app takes into consideration when delivering running shoe recommendations.
We realize that if you don’t understand how your feet work, then you won’t be able to confidently make the right choices. That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive overview of how to choose the right pair of running shoes. While this post is for beginner runners, it is likely to be useful for intermediate runners as well.
There are five main questions to ask yourself when choosing the right pair of running shoes for beginner runners:
- What is my arch type and what type of shoe is built for it?
- What is my foot strike and how much cushion do I need to run comfortably?
- Do I have previous foot conditions or injuries that require specific features in my running shoes?
- What surface will I run on and for what distance?
- Do I have the right shoe fit?
1. Understanding Your Arch Type and What Running Shoe Best Supports It
Gait is the natural movement of the foot as it rolls inward as you run. This movement absorbs shock by distributing the impact forces generated from the ground. The height and flexibility of your arch can affect the foot’s ability to roll inward. When it rolls too little it causes supination (underpronation), or when it rolls excessively it causes pronation (overpronation).
There are three arch types: High Arches (Supination), Medium Arches (Neutral), or Flat Feet / Flat Arches (Pronation).
To determine what category your arches fit into, you can perform the Wet Feet Test. This simple test can be done at home. Just wet your feet, walk over a flat surface, and compare the impression you leave with the three figures below:
High Arches (Supination):
Supination (a.k.a underpronation) is more common in, but not exclusive to, people with high arches. It happens when the ankle doesn’t roll inward far (less than 15%) when landing or pushing off, causing the foot to roll outward, putting pressure on the ankle and toes.
Beginner runners with high arches should wear running shoes with ‘extra cushion’ and support for ‘high arches’. Running shoes for high arches (supination) have a curved or semi-curved design that feels soft underfoot but can help control the lateral tension inward through the cushion that supports the foot arch. These shoes are more flexible and encourage the movement of the foot instead of preventing it, which would greatly benefit runners that supinate.
Medium Arches (Neutral):
Runners that fall into the neutral pronation category have medium arches with less flexibility than those with low arches. When they walk or run, their foot lands on the outside of the heel then rolls inward to absorb shock and support their body weight.
If you are unsure about your gait, then beginner runners should start with a neutral running shoe. You’ll be able to fine-tune what works best after you get some miles logged.
Flat Arches (Pronation):
Runners with flat feet, low arches, or overly flexible arches tend to overpronate. When they walk and run, their foot lands on the outside of the heel, then rolls inward excessively, transferring the weight to the inner edge instead of the ball of the foot.
Beginner runners with flat arches should wear running shoes with ‘stability’ midsoles to support stride. They offer motion control support to prevent the inward rolling of the foot. They’re slightly heavier and highly durable, and usually, feature a medial post to control rearfoot motion.
If you know your arch type, then you can go to PLUOT.app and search for:
or ‘neutral running shoes’,
or ‘running shoes for high arches’ to get quick recommendations.
2. How Much Cushion Is Right For You
Many first time runners assume that a shoe with more cushioning will be more comfortable and offer greater protection than a shoe with less. While we understand that train of thought, a shoe’s cushion level is really just like any of its other features — and what is perfect for some might actually make running worse for others. Luckily, there are different levels available that complement the variety of runners and running preferences. Check them out below to see how much cushion is right for you:
- Features maximum cushioning – 30mm or more in heel height
- Provides superior impact protection
- Suited for runners with knee problems, heel strikers, and heavy runners
- Built for half marathons and full marathons with enough cushion to pound the pavement mile after mile
- Strikes the perfect balance of lightweight, moderate cushion, and flexibility
- Provides a fast, energetic feel for daily, tempo, and race running
- The exact midpoint between cushion types, and a more natural feel
- Ideal for beginner runners
- Incredibly lightweight and extremely flexible
- Provides just a touch of cushion with a minimal feel
- Considered “barefoot” or “minimalist” feel
The Right Heel Drop for Your Foot Strike
The drop of a shoe represents the difference between the heel and the height of the toe. This primarily affects how your foot hits the ground when you land and supports the rhythmic forward movement.
Most running shoes have more material under the heel in order to help absorb the impact of landing. Shoes with a lower heel drop have a more uniform thickness of material under the entire foot
Running shoes with a higher heel favor heel strike during running, while shoes with a zero or low drop will favor a more forefoot or midfoot running gait. A forefoot strike requires a completely different set of muscle activation and switching from one kind of shoe to the other without proper conditioning and a very gradual approach might result in injury.
If you’re a beginner runner, then we suggest starting with a medium drop running shoe and increase or decrease the drop based your comfort and foot strike pattern.
If you know your cushion preference, then you can go to PLUOT.app and search for:
or ‘minimalist running shoes’,
or ‘running shoes with low drop’ or similar to get quick recommendations.
3. What Foot Conditions and Injuries
According to Active.com, “In any given year, anywhere between 65 percent and 80 percent of runners get laid up with an injury. Poor footwear, inadequate core strength, and overpronation are often to blame, but the most common culprit is overtraining”, which is not uncommon among beginner runners.
One of the main goals of PLUOT.app is to ensure poor running footwear is a thing of the past. And while we can’t prevent overtraining, we can recommend the proper type of footwear that will help relieve pain from common foot conditions and previous injuries.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the fibrous tissue (plantar fascia) along the bottom of your foot that connects your heel bone to your toes. It causes tremendous heel pain along with foot pain, stiffness, and tenderness. It’s the most common source of heel pain in athletes, runners in particular.
Features to look for in a running shoe for plantar fasciitis
The primary focus in finding a good pair of shoes for plantar fasciitis is to relieve pain when running. Good arch support, heel cushioning, and shock-absorbing soles are critical features to look for. You’ll also want to find shoes with snug heel cups and flexible toe boxes. This ensures the shoe bends towards the front (where your foot naturally flexes) but stays put at the back.
Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury of the Achilles tendon, which is the band of tissue that connects the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg to your heel bone. It most commonly occurs in runners who have suddenly increased the intensity of the duration of their runs.
Features to look for in a running shoe for Achilles tendinitis
Look for a running shoe with a heel cup or Achilles/ankle support, medium to high heel-to-toe drop. A supportive cushion with good flexibility and shock absorption would also help.
Shin Splints (common among beginner runners)
Shin splints, sometimes referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome refers to pain along the shin bone (tibia). They often occur in athletes who have recently intensified or changed their training routine.
In most cases, shin splints will go away with rest and recovery. It’s important to listen to your body and know when to reduce your mileage, intensity, and duration of your runs if you feel shin splint pain coming on. Running on pavements can tough on feet, so try running on a softer surface like grass or a treadmill.
Features to look for in a running shoe for shin splints
If you’re running in worn-out shoes, then they’ll need to be replaced. Sometimes a minimalist shoe might help by correcting your running form.
Runner’s Knee (IT Band Syndrome)
Runner’s knee is an overuse injury of the connective tissues that are located on the outer part of the thigh and knee. It causes pain and tenderness in those areas, especially above the knee joint. According to PhysioWorks.com, runner’s knee accounts for up to 22% of overuse injuries in runners.
The most common cause for runner’s knee is having poor biomechanics, or running technique, particularly involving your knees and hips rolling inwards. This comes from having weak hip muscles and rotators, weak core muscles, and poor foot arch control.
Features to look for in a running shoe for runner’s knee
Look for running shoes with ‘extra cushion’ to better support the footstrike, and preferably ‘lightweight’. Running shoes designed for your gait and foot strike pattern are also key for safely strengthening those muscles and preventing further damage from happening.
Orthotics are shoe inserts that correct pronation and other foot problems. They can help in the alignment of feet to correctly avoid injury, provide additional arch support, as well as provide cushioning and stability.
Features to look for in a running shoe with orthotics support
Neutral running shoes are ‘orthotics friendly’ because they offer lots of cushioning without correcting any type of pronation problem. It’s best to avoid stability shoes since you don’t want to wear two things to overcorrect your pronation issues.
To ensure a comfortable fit, look for a neutral running shoe with a removable footbed and a wide width or wide toe box. Depending on how the shoe fits, you might need to size up in both length and width. And if you overpronate, then you will also need to find a running shoe with a stability midsole.
On PLUOT.app, you can easily find running shoes based on your foot condition or injury by searching for:
‘running shoes for plantar fasciitis’,
or ‘running shoes for Achilles tendinitis’ or similar to get quick recommendations.
4. Why Running Surface and Distance Matter
Not every runner runs on the same surface, logs the same amount of miles in their shoes, or runs at the same speed. Because of this, there are different types of shoes that complement different needs. Rugged protection for trails, durability for long-distance running, or ultra-lightweight racers designed for speed.
There are mainly two types of running shoes based on the surface you run — road running shoes and trail running shoes.
Road Running Shoes
Road running shoes are broken down into three different categories based on the distance and pace you plan on running.
Daily training shoes are the ideal choice for the bulk of your running and are also great for beginner runners. Some daily running shoes are built with an emphasis on maximum cushioning and use plush materials to wrap the foot in comfort. These shoes are also built to handle the stress associated with regular running and typically last between 300-500 miles.
Some experienced runners use lightweight running shoes once or twice a week for faster-paced runs, such as tempo runs or intervals. Because they are lighter in weight and have less material under the foot compared to a daily running shoe, they will wear out faster and feel less cushioned for runs that exceed an hour.
Long-distance running shoes are specifically designed to hold up under high mileage. These running shoes are lightweight, feature responsive cushioning, and offer high energy return and speed. However, they are less durable than everyday running shoes.
Racing shoes, also known as racing flats, are all about speed. Racing shoes have less material underfoot, which results in an enhanced feel for the ground and reduced weight. Due to their minimal build, racing shoes tend to only last between 100-300 miles.
Trail Running Shoes
Depending on your running style and the type of terrain you plan on running, there are two categories of trail running shoes beginner runners like you can choose from.
Rugged trail / off-road running shoes offer the reinforcement needed to take on more challenging terrain, such as tough rubber outsoles, wide tread patterns, rock plates, and waterproof technologies. This type of trail shoe is ideal for paths loaded with obstacles and debris. Conventional models are heavier, which means they’ll be less comfortable for use on easier paths.
Hybrid trail running shoes are generally lightweight, like road shoes, but feature wider tread patterns and supportive outsoles. This type of shoe is most appropriate for flat trails or paths that are free from large debris.
If you know the surface you will be running on and distance, then you can go to PLUOT.app and search for:
‘road running shoes for long distances’,
‘rugged trail running shoes’,
or ‘marathon running shoes’ to get quick recommendations.
5. Why Proper Fit Is Key for Beginner Runners
If you’re not familiar with how a running shoe is supposed to fit as a beginner runner, then you won’t be able to tell if your new pair works or not. A properly fitted running shoe should feel snug in the heel and midfoot, with wiggle room around the toes. While standing, check for proper length and width by pressing your thumb down next to the ball of your foot and around the toes. A good fit should allow for half to a full thumb’s width of space.
Stay away from shoes that fit too tightly upon first try on, because a good pair of running shoes won’t stretch to fit your foot. If shoes begin to fit loosely later on, that simply means they’re worn out. It’s time for a new pair of shoes.
“Make sure (the shoes) fit properly and are comfortable everywhere. If there is a strange spot that rubs or scratches… it will equate to pain during a run,” says Ruggero Loda, creator of RunningShoeGuru blog, of the initial fit of the shoes you try on. If they aren’t comfortable off the bat or something feels off, then most likely they’ll continue to feel that way once you start putting miles on them.
Pro tips for trying on your new shoes:
- Since feet tend to spread as you run and swell a bit throughout the day, we recommend trying on shoes in the evening to get a more accurate fit.
- Never assume your size. Just because you’re a solid 8 in one brand doesn’t mean you’ll wear that size in another. If purchasing online, then be sure to take into account any reviews mentioning the size to see how the shoe runs.
The Next Steps
While there is no single running shoe that is perfect for every beginner runner, we’re confident you’ll be able to find one that’s perfect for you.
If you’re ready to start looking, then head over to our Shoe Finder feature on PLUOT.app, or use the search tips we’ve recommended throughout the article to help with personal recommendations. If you have any questions about topics we went over, then please leave us a comment/contact us!
You might also be interested in 10 Steps For Beginner Runners To Start Running.