Choosing the right running shoe is key to speed, agility, and injury prevention.

Anatomy of a Good Running Shoe

Shopping for running shoes is no easy feat (pun intended), with hundreds of styles and designs to choose from at a wide range of price points. And there’s no general “best shoe”  – you need to find the shoe that’s best suited to your gait, foot strike, pronation, and other quirks of individual anatomy.

Before you shop, review this guide to running shoe construction and fit, which highlights the components you want to take into account as you choose what works best for you.


Usually made of rubber, this is what most of us commonly call the sole. Variations in the bottom surface are important; bigger lugs add traction, while a thinner outsole is lighter weight and better suited to speed on pavement.


This describes the upper part of the shoe that covers your foot; in other words everything but the sole. It can be made of fabric, leather, mesh, or a combination. Sturdier uppers hold feet more firmly in place, while lighter and softer materials are more flexible. Breathable mesh keeps feet cool in summer, while in rainy weather you may want a denser fabric or leather to keep feet dry.


The slice of foam between the upper part of the shoe and the outsole, which can be thicker or thinner depending on design. An extra cushy layer of foam can help protect knees, hips and back from impact but may add weight.

Heel Collar

This is the higher, padded area at the back of the ankle. If you want additional stability and balance, look for more padding here. A higher or firmer heel collar can also help protect Achilles tendons.

Toe box

This refers to the area containing your toes, which can be roomier or more streamlined depending on design. Make sure your toes have plenty of space, as a condition called black toenail can develop from toes striking the front of the shoe.

Other Terminology:

  • Toe cap: The slice of rubber protecting the front end of the shoe from wear.
  • Tongue: The piece of fabric underneath the laces.
  • Achilles notch: The scoop or v-shape in the heel collar.
  • Shank: The smooth section of the outsole underneath the arch of your foot.

For more information on how to choose the perfect running shoe for you, see this in-depth gear guide. It’s always advisable to go to a professional running store, where the sales staff have the experience and training to perform a gait analysis and check for proper fit.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.