Buying New Running Shoes – Part 1 Shoe Anatomy

Buying new running shoes
Buying new running shoes

(Estimated reading time 3mins)

Buying new running shoes has come a long way in the past couple of decades. Because of material changes and new tech, it has become a lot more complicated. But one thing that is constant is the anatomy of running shoes. So before going out and buying new running shoes, have a quick read through this blog. You’ll be able to impress the shoe salesman with some new “techy” words.


The top of the shoe. This is what covers the your foot and holds you in the shoe. Uppers have changed a lot even in the past few years. Gone are the days of sewing/stiching add-ons like the logo or brand name. Companies these days are reducing what is on the upper to make the shoe as light as possible. One piece uppers are more common now so the shoe fits more like a sock and not a stiched piece of material. 

The toe box

Like the term suggests this is the box that the toes sit in at the front of the shoe. Depending on the shoe brand this may be narrow, wide or in between. Toes need room to function. Toe boxes should accommodate the digits and not squash them. Traditionally brands like New Balance have a broad toe box while Nike are narrower. This is more to do with aesthetics than function. 

The heel counter

The back of the shoe that surrounds the heel is the heel counter. This can be soft/flexible or firm. Firmer heel counters are made of thermoplastic and are positioned externally on the shoe these days. More minimalist shoes will go for a soft/flexible heel counter. The depth of the heel counter is also important in terms of slipping out of the shoe and if you wear orthotics it is best to look for a deeper heel counter. 

The mid sole

Foam material that is designed to cushion the foot and absorb ground reaction force is known as the mid sole. This can come in various densities and may or may not have a thermoplastic shank at the arch level for added control of the midsole. 

The out sole

Some shoes don’t have an outsole and just use the midsole as contact between the runner and surface. Therefore this can wear the shoe out significantly faster. Outsoles are generally made of rubber which may be thicker in strategic places to reduce wear and improve shock and traction.  

The flex groove or siping line

This is an important aspect of a shoe which is often overlooked. The position of this line is critical for a good fit and performance. The flex groove or siping line is the groove within the outsole which should bend where the toes bend. This will be investigated further in another blog post. 

The heel drop or pitch

This is one of the more debated aspects of a running shoe. The pros and cons of “High Vs Low” heel height is a blog post for another day. Basically it is the difference in midsole height between the forefoot and the heel. If the heel height is 22mm and the forefoot height is 10mm the heel pitch/drop height is 12mm.  

The posting or control

This is also an aspect of a running shoe that receives a lot of discussion. The benefits and detriments of “control” and “posting” of the running shoe is not well understood. Shoe companies will sometimes categorise their shoes into a neutral or motion control shoe (sometimes broken down into further categories). What this means is that extra high dense material is placed on the big toe side of the heel or arch. The theory is that the harder, more dense material in the midsole will not deform at heel strike/midstance thus limiting the “pronation movement of the shoe”. This is a complex area of lower limb biomechanics and will be discussed further in future blog posts.

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