Who’s the expert in buying running shoes?

I warn you.  This is a rant.

I was recently in a well-known store that sells running shoes and happened to witness a lady wanting to buy running shoes. Great. It’s approaching the start of the new year, maybe a resolution has been made and it includes getting fitter/being healthier or some such goal related to why someone may take up running.

Superb. Good on her.

However, what I witnessed was nigh on bullying from the shop assistant who looked too young and to be frank (going by the state of his own trainers) lacking in knowledge and expertise fit enough to advise.

The customer was put through the mind-boggling and mystifying kerfufflement of gait analysis, made to have their feet analysed on a pressure plate (why? this wasn’t explained), do squats (also not explained why), run on a treadmill to ‘assess’ their gait and then told they ran neutrally. But, she was then bullied into having custom molded insoles fitted….even though “there’s no obligation to buy”.

Why would someone with neutral gait even need custom orthotics?

Poor woman was so baffled and she obviously wasn’t being listened to.

I heard her say, after being asked to run on the treadmill and asked “are you ok with that” she said – “No, not really” only to be shown to the treadmill and made to run. So she wasn’t happy about, wasn’t dressed for it, but made to get on the treadmill anyway.

I had real difficulty keeping quiet and ended up sneaking a few words to her other half, telling them to resist being pressurised into buying the shoes, let alone the orthotics as it was highly unlikely they would be required from a biomechanical perspective.

If orthotics are required it is relatively rare that they should be used long-term.

You wouldn’t go round with a neck brace on permanently, so why treat your feet differently?

If they’re needed short-term (perhaps to alleviate the pain from achilles tendinopathy) then it’s a short-term “crutch”. They aren’t something to be bullied into buying especially if the premise is that you have something odd about your gait or that you have dysfunctional feet that need correcting.

I’m sorry, but I do have to rant.

The sales guys are doing their best, they are following their bosses orders, but by their very nature they are there to SELL you something, anything, and one way they are trained is to baffle the bejeezus out of you and convince you that you need something you most likely do not. In sales it is all about the extras, and the more shoes with insoles that they sell, the better the profit margin, the happier the guys are in head office, and the better the sales force feel. Although it seems to be about giving you a better experience, it isn’t. It’s about money. Your money, in their pockets.

If you are going to buy shoes, buy all means go to a reputable shop but speak to the sales assistant, ask them about their running experience, what shoes they use, how long they’ve been running.

When they talk to you about how your foot biomechanics work….they are most likely to say that your foot pronates when you walk/run……of course it does. Everyone’s feet pronate as you move, otherwise your biomechanics would be really screwed up and it’s likely you would be in pain somewhere. The very nature of how the bones, tendons and muscles are all linked up mean that as you rock your foot forwards it will pronate. Heck – even science isn’t entirely sure exactly where normal pronation finishes and overpronation starts.

“the body absorbs the impact of the foot by rolling in pronation” http://www.physio-pedia.com/Gait_Cycle

“Pronation is a normal part of the gait cycle” Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine,  edited by Lyle J. Micheli, M.D.

If your feet actually do over-pronate and that causes you a problem either in your foot or higher up in the chain (eg knees or hips) then wouldn’t it be better to know why, how to fix it and work on exercises that strengthen if there’s a weakness, stretch if somethings tight??

Do not let the sales assistant convince you that you have something biomechanically wrong with you unless they have a suitable qualification such as a degree or masters in biomechanics.

Now. Returning to the customer.

I have been that customer.

I was that person just starting out on the journey to becoming a runner. But at that point standing there in the shop for maybe the first time buying “technical” running shoes, you do need guidance and reassurance. There’s no wonder so many people are sold so many shoes.

But this customer particularly struck a chord with me. A little nervous, unsure, and just wanting to find someone to celebrate the fact that they actually want to give running a go. What they really wanted was to be sold a bargain pair of running shoes and given a whole heap of encouragement to get out there and have a go. You want to be buoyed up and made to feel proud for even thinking “I want to run” not bullied and confused with technical stuff.

New Year Resolutions

Road shoes with very little grip

So if you are someone who’s set a resolution that includes buying new trainers….please please please just buy some that feel comfortable and have the suitable grip for the terrain you’ll be running on. Yes – the research actually supports going out and just buying comfy shoes!   The sparkly new range at top price really aren’t that different from the discounted sales stock. After all, the shop assistant would have gladly and willingly sold the discounted pair last week at their full extortionate price.

If you spend just £25-40 on a pair and use them a few times, don’t like it, then you’ve not wasted lots of money. But, if that small investment means you decide you want to run regularly then great. Then you can start to think about the style of shoe you might want.

Fell running shoes with good grip

Fell running shoes with good grip

Ultimately though, it always comes down to what fits your foot – from a narrow/wide point of view, what drop the shoes have, and how much cushioning you want.

Evolutionary-wise, we are technically way ahead of where our bodies are. We are designed, as a creature, to be unshod – not to wear shoes. But, we are brought up wearing shoes, socks, even in hot summers we wear sandles. OK so there’s a protection thing – we need to ensure we don’t hurt ourselves on the surfaces we travel over. But, do we really need masses of cushioning? I’m not saying that beginners should go minimalist/barefoot straight away, but perhaps it should be a consideration once you know you are going to get out and run on a regular basis.

The only important factor in all this is that we move more.

That we get encouragement when needed, guidance in a way that we understand – we are listened to – and not confused into handing over our hard-earned money on something we already either feel guilty about or regret even before leaving the shop.

So, who is the expert in buying running shoes? The answer is, you are. You know what fits your foot.

Trust your gut and don’t be bullied.

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