Great Running Shoes Don’t Have to Be Expensive

If the running shoe fits, wear it… especially if it’s affordable. A team of Scottish scientists recently studied the question of whether high-priced running shoes are worth the extra money. They found that $80 running shoes are as good, and sometimes even better, in terms of cushioning impact and overall comfort than shoes made by the same company but costing nearly twice as much. “Paying more does not necessarily get you a better shoe,” said researcher Rami J. Abboud, PhD, director of the Institute of Motion Analysis and Research at the University of Dundee. The study was published in the October 11, 2007, on-line edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

With brand-name running shoes costing $150 or more, the study sought to determine if you get greater value when you buy expensive running shoes from manufacturers claiming lofty benefits. In the study, 43 men, averaging about 29 years of age (with running experience that varied from casual to regular), each tested three pairs of running shoes from three different manufacturers at three different price ranges — low ($80 to $90), medium ($120 to $130) and high ($140 to $150). The shoe manufacturers did not provide any support or funding for the study. The men were not aware of the brand or cost of the shoes they were testing for the study. The shoes were equipped with Pedar insoles, specially designed electronic insole devices, each with 99 sensors to measure the cushioning of plantar pressure (the force generated by the impact of the shoe hitting the ground). The men were also asked to provide a subjective assessment of each shoe’s comfort on a scale that ranged from “least comfortable imaginable” to “most comfortable imaginable.”

The researchers found no significant differences among the shoes in terms of foot protection, regardless of brand or price — they were all about the same. “Our study found that the low- and medium-cost running shoes in each of the three brands tested provided the same, and sometimes even better, cushioning of plantar pressure as the premium running shoes within the same brand,” said Dr. Abboud. Although comfort ratings varied, there were no obvious differences between the shoes relating to the results of the study.

So, if you’re in the market for running shoes, don’t dig deep in your pockets to buy the snazziest pair just because you believe they’ll provide greater protection — think comfort and fit first. “Buy the running shoes that best conform to your feet, irrespective of brand or price tag,” said Dr. Abboud.

Another tip: Before you buy, hold the running shoe in your hand and try to bend it. “If the shoe flexes anywhere other than the area where the long bones and the toes meet, put it back on the shelf and look for another pair,” says Dr. Abboud. Shoes that bend easily likely won’t provide sufficient support and the result might be that you end up needing not only a different pair of shoes — but perhaps a foot soak, too. And — according to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, replace shoes after 350 to 550 miles, which may be before they show wear.