How to choose running insoles
The human foot, together with the knee, contains 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons. If we also multiply this figure by two we realise that we have, in our feet, strong and complex mechanical structures.
There is good reason for this. The feet are our point of contact with the ground, every day they withstand the weight of our body and allow us to maintain our balance and move forward.
Just by walking we generate, with each step, a large number of pressures and forces in the foot. Imagine, then, running, with more speed and force. According to calculations of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, during a race of 16 kilometres our feet hit the ground about 15,000 times. And each impact with a force 3 or 4 times greater than the runner’s weight. It is obvious that, with this effort, it is important to take care of our feet to prevent and treat possible injuries that may seriously affect not only the running activity but also our everyday lives.
Below we explain how the use of running insoles can help you, what characteristics they should have to be effective and how to choose the best ones for you.
Running insoles: what are they for?
As we mentioned, when running we add a heavy workload to our lower extremities. If to this we add the fact that no runner has a perfect footstep and today the majority run on hard surfaces such as asphalt, it is obvious that we need some type of “external help” to protect our body against these extra efforts. The question is when running lots of kilometres and above all when there is a risk of recurring injuries, running insoles can help improve the sporting performance or avoid injuries.
The insoles can provide balance and stability, or reduce and spread the loads on the foot. This applies particularly to impact exercises (those that oblige us to raise our foot from the ground, such as running or tennis, football, basketball, rugby, etc.), in those in which the vibrations of the impact generated in each footstep are transmitted through the body. These vibrations can eventually affect the joints (ankles, knees, hip, etc.) and/or overloading tissues and muscles.
To be precise, some of the most common sports injuries among runners are patellar tendinitis (produced by an overload on the tendon caused by repeated movements), the stress fracture of the metatarsals (as a consequence of the continued impact in running) or plantar fasciitis (in which it is also important to reduce the weight supported by the heel).
Additionally, we should realise that you don’t have to be an elite athlete to use insoles. The use of insoles can be beneficial for doing sports such as running, but also at work and even in leisure activities (walking around the city, hiking, dancing, etc.).
Practical guide: how to choose your running insoles
Everything you need to know before buying your running insoles.
First of all… know yourself
1. What are your weak points?
The first thing is to analyse your running technique and listen to your own body. You should know yourself and identify your weak points.
What is the width and frequency of your stride? Did you know that in long strides with less frequency there is greater muscular and articular tension? Have you thought about doing exercises to improve your stride and improve your performance? Are you pronate, supinate or do you have a neutral footstep? Does the sole of your shoes wear out unequally or exaggeratedly? Do you wear orthopaedic insoles? Have you had any previous injury? Do you have difficulty in recovering after exercise?
Insoles can help compensate imbalances or disparities and viscoelastic materials can reduce the vibrations of the impact the body receives (in each footstep) on running, which would help reduce the risk of suffering another injury.
2. What are your training habits?
What are your routines? How often do you go running?. Do you take your rest days? Are you thinking of increasing the intensity of your training? Did you know that injuries are often the result of a brusque increase in activity? Are you complimenting your running with other sports and exercises?
To improve sports performance we recommend including series and repetitions, changes of rhythm (more effective if done on varied terrains) in the training, and specific exercises to work on strength. Another aspect to take into account in order to run better is the importance of combined training: by doing several sports in the week (cycling, swimming, walking…) you can maintain the aerobic work resting from the routine of running.
All these questions are important before tending towards one or other type of insole. We should think about when and how we are going to use the running insoles to optimise their design and benefits to the setting and context in which we are going to use them.
Therefore, if what you do is high-intensity running or extreme sports you should go for a high technology insole especially designed for it. If you like doing sport in general (running, football, basketball, tennis…), look for an insole suitable for all types of outdoor and indoor activities.
3. In what type of environment do you train/run?
Track, asphalt, mountain… Think about the context in which you are going to use your insoles for running. Do you like doing trail running? Do you train in urban settings (streets and parks) or do you prefer to run in wilder terrains? This also conditions the footwear you use.
Running in woods, mountains, deserts… means encountering irregular or hostile surfaces and steep slopes, which requires, among other things, greater muscle building work and effort (whether in the gym or in a functional training with loads). Races with gradients also involve greater changes of rhythm. Asphalt, in contrast, for being a hard surface, has less capacity to absorb impacts.
The use of running insoles can help provide stability and balance, and can also contribute to absorbing and dispersing the vibrations the foot receives in each stride.
4. What it your sports footwear like?
It is just as important to do sport regularly as it is to do it with the suitable equipment. In the case of running it is especially important to take care of our feet with the appropriate sports shoes and running insoles.
Generally speaking, running shoes must have a flexible instep and must also contribute to the stability of the runner and absorb the impact of the foot in contact with the ground. Other aspects to take into account are the weight of the shoes (the lighter the better) and that the sole is long-lasting.
In the case of trail running, the sole must be even more resistant and with a good system of strengthening and protections for holding the foot well. Shoes with spikes provide greater hold on soft surfaces such as earth and grass.
If you are looking for insoles that adapt to all types of situations you should make sure they are thin and light. Ensure that the insoles are easy to place in your regular and sports footwear.
Second… What are your looking for or need from running insoles?
Protection. Are you looking for absorption and reducing the impact your body receives when you run?
Which at the same time protects you and resists the repetitive movements that are made when running.
There are running insoles with viscoelastic properties (that absorb the energy of the impact) that can be placed beneath your personalised insole. Or you can use some ergonomic running insoles, which adapt to the plantar anatomy and with them replace the original insole of your sports shoe.
Performance. Do you want to improve your performance?
Running insoles provide us with balance and stability, spreading the load the feet receive and providing them with greater purchase. All of this helps to optimise the movement at the very moment of running, and also contributes to preventing injuries, which without doubt will aid you in continuing training and, therefore, improving your performance. This also means you can enjoy your training and feel the motivation to continue (pain is the athlete’s greatest enemy!).
So that the insoles are really effective they must fit your foot correctly and be relatively light in order to help you improve the running technique, along with the pertinent exercises.
Additionally, and although it may seem otherwise, the fact is that an important point of training is rest: it allows you to assimilate the work done, avoid overloads and therefore help prevent injuries.
In this sense, if what you are trying to do is reduce the recovery time between training sessions, you usually have aching muscles, or in general you have problems of circulation, some insoles that help the blood flow and oxygenation of the tissues will help you.
Third… What do insoles offer you?
Your health and wellbeing is the number one priority. The aim of using running insoles is to take care of your body, reduce the risk of injuries and improve your sporting performance. Before buying your running insoles, ask yourself… Who has designed them? Is it a brand recognised for its experience in the medical sector? Are the absorption properties announced with the insoles certified?
Medical devices vs consumer products
In the same way that the insoles can help to absorb and dissipate part of the harmful vibrations that are caused by each step/stride, the use of an unsuitable insole may alter our way of treading and cause a pathology that, although may not appear in the short-term, may later have serious consequences for our health.
We are not buying any old product and, for that reason, when purchasing running insoles we have to ensure that they have a medical device certification of the European Union. This tells us that the product has passed a series of processes and controls to be recognised as a health product with which its information, security and quality is guaranteed, as well as compliance with the specifications and efficiency of the product. However, above all, we must be sure that the insole we buy meets our personal specific needs.
Gel vs viscoelastic materials
Some materials such as gel may seem to offer a greater feeling of comfort at first, but you must ensure that your insoles really absorb and dissipate the energy generated in each step/stride, without “rebounding” it to other parts of the body. Viscoelastic materials such as NOENE can absorb the energy of the impact (NOENE absorbs 92% of the energy) (*).
(*) Study with 21 runners: evaluation of the capacity to absorb vibrations during the race. Drop test made with 7 different insoles: of Eva, with gel insert and with NOENE material. Drop Test, December 2013.
Comfort and stability
Do the insoles adapt to your foot and way of walking/running? Running insoles must contribute to a more comfortable stride and must do so subtly, without the runner noticing something strange inside the shoe.
It is also important to check that the “sensation of contact” with the ground is maintained, since this can be lost especially with thick insoles.
Do you like going running in the rain? Do you have the sensation that your feet sweat a lot?
Even without reaching these more extreme circumstances, the fact is that insoles are designed to be used in a closed space, such as a shoe, ands in direct contact with the feet. To avoid bad odours and the growth of bacteria, you should go for running insoles that are breathable and antibacterial.
It is also important to ensure that they are easily washable to lengthen their use.
To sum up… running insoles: health and wellbeing
As we said, running insoles can contribute to improving our health, minimising the impact that our body receives in each stride. That is why we once again stress the importance of always using prestigious manufacturers and brands, recognised and certified for their experience in the sector.
The use of running insoles must translate into wellbeing for the runner. So if you end up buying running insoles, try them and reflect…
- Do you run naturally?
- Have you noted any change in your stability/balance?
- Do you feel secure running?
- Do you continue noting the same contact point with the ground?
- How do you feel on finishing the training session? And the next day?
These “sensations” are also important so that the runner can exercise with peace of mind, without the words “pain” or “injury” appearing like a mantra at every stride.
And on not having to think about it, the rider will be able to focus on running. On improving. On enjoying. Because that is what running is about.