How Different Types of Athletic Shoes Can Help Prevent Injuries

How Different Types of Athletic Shoes Can Help Prevent Injuries

Ever wondered why there's a seemingly endless array of athletic shoes lining the walls of your local sports store? It's not just to create a rainbow of colors that dazzle your eyes. Each pair you see has been meticulously designed with a specific purpose in mind.

Whether you're lacing up for a marathon, gearing up for a high-intensity cross-training session, or strapping in for some heavy weight-lifting, the type of shoe you choose plays a crucial role in your performance and, more importantly, your safety. Every sport or activity comes with its unique demands and risks, and the right footwear can be your first line of defense against injuries. So, if you've ever suffered an injury or want to avoid one in the future, read on. This guide will help you navigate through the world of athletic shoes, ensuring you make the best choice for your feet.

Choosing the Correct Type of Athletic Shoes

Imagine: you're at the starting line of your first marathon, all geared up in your brand-new shoes. They look great and feel comfortable, but a few miles in, something doesn't feel right. Your feet are sore, and you feel like your shoes weigh you down. Why? If you’ve bought random training shoes that aren't designed as running shoes, you'll end up with shoes that may be too supportive on all sides and, thus, feel stiff. Because more support means more material used, non-running shoes may also be heavier and cause fatigue, which is a killer for a long-distance runner.

Running shoes are built for heel-to-toe movement, with flexibility in the toe box to help you push off. These shoes are designed to absorb shock and propel you forward.

Now imagine you're on the tennis court, darting from side to side in your running shoes. You might find yourself slipping or rolling your ankle because running shoes lack the support for intense lateral movements. Here's where tennis or cross-training shoes shine. These have a wider stable base, perfect for sports requiring side-to-side motion like tennis, basketball, or even HIIV workouts.

What about weight-lifting? It requires a whole different beast. Classic lifting shoes feature raised heel design, helping athletes maintain correct form during lifts and providing stability for both forward and lateral movements. Flat-sole shoes also qualify as lifting shoes, catering to those who need a more versatile minimalist design. However, dropping into squat without a stretched ankle in these would be quite hard.

Let’s sum up:

  • Road running shoes: Look for ample cushioning for adequate shock absorption if you run on hard surfaces such as pavement and concrete. (You can go with minimalist running shoes that have no cushioning, but your body must be ready for that.)
  • Trail running shoes: For comfortable trail running, your shoes should have excellent traction and be durable to withstand the elements.
  • Workout gym shoes: Look for lateral control and flexibility in the front of the boot. Generally, the best training shoes should be versatile so that you can participate in several sports.
  • Tennis shoes: These shoes are built to support quick side-to-side movements and shifts of weight.
  • Lifting shoes: For deadlifts, lifting shoes with elevated heel is a must, while for less demanding lifts, you can choose a minimalist flat-sole design.
  • Basketball shoes: These must provide ample stability and support and have a thick, stiff sole. High-top basketball shoes will prevent ankle rolling.

The bottom line is that every sport has unique demands, and wearing the right shoe can drastically reduce your risk of injury.

Choosing Shoes Based on Your Pronation Type

Now, let's move on to something a bit more individual - your pronation type. If you're new to this term, pronation refers to the natural inward roll of your foot as it hits the ground. To be more precise, rotation happens in the ankle joint, creating a certain angle between the ankle and the heel. Some of us have neutral pronation, where the foot rolls inward at a healthy degree, evenly distributing the impact. Then there's overpronation, where the foot rolls too far inward, and supination (or underpronation), where there's not enough roll, causing the outer edge of the foot to take the brunt of the impact.

Why does this matter? Well, the type of pronation you have can significantly affect how pressure and impact are absorbed by your feet and determine the adequate amount of support in your atheltic shoes.

Generally, all running shoes fall into three categories: neutral, stability, and motion control shoes.

Motion Control Shoes. These shoes are ideal for moderate to severe overpronators, especially those with flat feet or low arches. Why? Because they offer maximum support where it's most needed. These shoes are characterized by a rigid heel counter that keeps the heel from rotating excessively inside the shoe, and there's a minimal twist from side to side. Plus, they have pronounced medial posts for maximum reinforcement on the arch side. They won't bend in the middle, showing flexibility only in the toe section.

Stability Shoes. These shoes are designed to manage mild to moderate overpronation. Overall, they are less stiff than motion-control shoes. The heel counter has more give, there's a bit more side-to-side twist, and the shoe overall is more pliable yet remains firm in the midfoot. And while there's still extra material in the inside arch, it's less pronounced than in motion-control shoes.

Neutral Shoes. Ideal for neutral runners, these shoes can also be a good fit for mild overpronators and supinators. They're a lot more flexible than the other two designs and lack the extra arch material found on the inside edge of stability and motion-control shoes.

By controlling the foot's movement, stability and motion-control shoes help distribute the impact forces evenly across the foot, reducing the strain on any single muscle or joint and preventing conditions such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and runner's knee.

Choosing the Right Amount of Cushioning

Cushioning in the context of footwear, particularly running shoes, is a critical feature designed to absorb shock and minimize the impact on your feet and legs when they hit the ground, preventing overuse injuries. It compresses upon impact and then bounces back to its original shape, ready for the next stride.

There are two things related to cushioning you need to know about - stack height and heel drop.

Stack height refers to the amount of material between your foot and the ground. Shoes with a high stack height typically have more cushioning, providing a plush, comfortable ride. They may be a good choice for long-distance runners or those who run on hard surfaces and need extra shock absorption.

On the other hand, shoes with a low stack height have less cushioning and provide a more responsive feel. They're often preferred by competitive runners who want better ground contact for quicker feedback and propulsion.

Heel drop, or offset, is the difference in height between the heel and the forefoot. A high heel drop (10-12 mm) can promote a heel-strike pattern, which may benefit runners who naturally tend to land on their heels. It can also take some strain off the Achilles tendon, which could be helpful for those with Achilles tendinitis.

A low or zero heel drop (0-6 mm), on the other hand, encourages a more midfoot or forefoot strike, which can lead to a more natural running gait and potentially reduce the risk of injuries such as a runner's knee. However, transitioning to a lower-drop shoe should be done gradually, as it places more demand on the calf muscles and Achilles tendon.

Now we can easily distinguish between different shoe styles:

  • Max-Cushion Shoes: Featuring high stack, maximalist shoes offer the highest level of shock absorption and are great for long runs or runners who prefer a plush ride. (Hoka shoes are the best example.)
  • Moderate Cushioning Shoes: Offering a balance between shock absorption and ground feel, these shoes are versatile and can suit a variety of runners. Cross-training shoes often have moderate cushioning.
  • Minimalist Shoes: With a low stack and low or zero drop, these shoes offer the least amount of cushioning, providing a barefoot-like feel. They're typically lightweight and can be good for speed work or runners who prefer responsive shoes.

Remember, the right amount of cushioning is largely a matter of personal preference and running style. Instead of blindly following what people on the internet suggest, take time to consider your own skill, experience, and physical limitations.

Final Words: How to Choose the Right Athletic Shoes

What's the bottom line? Well, it's all about knowing your body and finding what works best for you. It's crucial to remember that the right shoe also depends on your biomechanics, such as foot shape and gait pattern, and your specific sport.

Now, here are tips for choosing for the right sports shoes:

  1. Buy from a specialty running store, such as Run United, whenever you can. The staff there are knowledgeable about different sports and can guide you towards the perfect shoe for your activity.
  2. Try on new athletic shoes after a workout, a run, or at the end of the day. That's when your feet are at their largest.
  3. Don't forget to wear the same type of sock you'd wear for your sport when trying on new shoes.
  4. Take the time to re-lace the shoes.
  5. Check the fit carefully. The shoes should feel comfortable immediately - don't count on them fitting better after "breaking them in."
  6. Give them a test run (or walk) in the store to make sure they're comfortable.
  7. Check the heel too. Your shoe should secure your heel firmly in place.
  8. As we’ve mentioned, consider sport-specific shoes. They're designed to support the movements unique to each sport.
  9. Finally, remember to change your shoes regularly. After 300-500 miles of running or 300 hours of exercise, the cushioning in your shoes is likely worn down and it's time for a fresh pair.


How do running shoes prevent injury?

Running shoes prevent injury by providing cushioning to absorb impact, offering support to assist in proper foot alignment, and delivering traction to prevent slips and falls. They also help to distribute the pressure evenly across your foot, reducing strain on any one part of the foot or leg. The correct fit and type of running shoe for your foot shape and running style can significantly reduce the risk of injuries like sprains, fractures, and tendonitis.

Do basketball shoes help prevent injury?

Basketball shoes are designed to handle the intense cutting movements in basketball, offering stability that can protect against ankle rolls. High-top basketball shoes in particular are noted for providing extra ankle support.

Do cushioned shoes reduce injury?

There have been numerous studies with mixed results regarding whether cushioned shoes reduce injury risk. Some research suggests that cushioned shoes can help absorb shock and potentially decrease the risk of certain injuries. But other studies have found no significant difference in injury rates between runners using heavily cushioned shoes and those using less cushioned alternatives. It's best to consult with a healthcare provider or a running specialist for advice tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.

What are the different types of athletic shoes for?

Different types of athletic shoes are designed for specific sports or activities. Running shoes are designed for forward motion. Cross-trainers can be used for gym workouts or short runs. Basketball shoes support feet to handle constant directional changes and jumping. Tennis shoes are designed for lateral movements. Remember, it's crucial to wear the right shoe for each activity to enhance performance and prevent injuries.

Jul 13th 2023 Run United