Running Shoe Anatomy
Updated: Aug 13, 2018
You may walk or run in them daily, but how well do you know your running shoes? With so many different brands (e.g. Nike, New Balance, Brooks, ASICS), styles (e.g. trail, road, cross-training), and types (e.g. minimalist, neutral, stability), it can become overwhelming to know which is right for your feet.
This post is not meant to cover all the details of every running shoe, but instead, to go back to the basics and learn the different parts of the running shoe and what their purpose, or significance, is. Below I have listed and detailed the more important aspects of a typical running shoe. In some instances, I have also given some tips and tricks that may be helpful the next time you are out shopping for your next pair.
1. Heel Counter
The heel counter is the back end of the shoe that holds or locks in the heel. With minimalist shoes, the heel counter tends to be flexible and can be compressed. In other running shoes, there is often extra material on the heel counter that causes it to be stiffer. The purpose of this is to add stability, control movement, and give support to the foot; therefore, the more rigid the heel counter is, the more stable the shoe is.
2. Outer Sole
This is the outer bottom part of the shoe, often made of rubber. With trail running shoes, you may notice the tread is more significant than road shoes. This is to help with traction along the uneven terrain and going up and down hills or mountains.
The outer sole is also the part of the shoe that often shows the most wear and helps physicians learn more about your foot type and the way you run. In the simplest way of explanation, if the wear is along the medial, or inside, part of the outer sole, you are a pronator (or over-pronator) and if the wear is along the lateral, or outside, part of the outer sole, you are a supinator.
The midsole is the section above the outer sole. Most running shoes have a midsole comprised of ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) or polyurethane (PU). EVA is a light-weight foam material that provides cushion but will compress, or flatten, over time. PU, on the other hand is more durable, making it longer-lasting, but it is heavier than EVA.
4. Sock Liner
Sock liners provide some cushion for the feet. In most, if not all, running shoes, the sock liner is removable, allowing it to be replaced with a more cushioned shoe insert or a supportive orthotic. Like the outer soles of shoes, the sock liners can help provide further insight into a person’s feet, showing where they put most of their pressure and how they walk.
The tongue of the shoe lies underneath the shoelaces. The top side may have loops in it, which can help keep the tongue in place when the shoelaces are placed through them. Tongue pads can be added to the underneath side to help with foot slippage while inside the shoes.
These are the small holes where the shoelaces get passed through. There are several techniques for lacing your running shoes, whether you have a wide forefoot, narrow heel, or bony prominences. Check out my video on these different shoelace techniques.
7. Toe Box
The toe box is where the forefoot and toes sit inside the shoe. This space is used when determining shoe width. See the chart below for the different widths and check out my blog on how to properly fit your shoes, where I explain how to measure the length and width of your feet at home.
DISCLAIMER: The above information is meant for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please contact the doctor, or your own healthcare professional, should you have questions or concerns related to your health.