running shoe terminology

Running Shoe Terminology – Getting to know the Basics

Running shoe terminology can be very confusing, especially for those that are new to running or those looking to get into running.  It can be a little demotivating when you are researching running shoes and you run across so many things you have to try and look up to better understand the conversation.  I wanted to make this extensive page to help those better understand some meanings of all running terms.  I tried to keep this as SIMPLE as possible.  I did not want to bomb this page with running terms that are so unfamiliar, you may never see them.  I could easily continue on for days with just pure running shoe terminology.  Please leave a comment if you have anything you would like me to add.  I have separated the terms into Three sections.  You can click on any of the three sections and it will scroll you to that portion of the page.

1.Different Types of Running Shoes-This terminology explains all the different types of Running Shoes currently available.

2.Different Features/Parts of Running Shoes- This terminology covers different parts and features you may find in a shoe.  The purpose of this section is to help you better understand how running shoes are made and what all of the fancy features are.

3.Running Terms-  This final section discusses the actual running terminology.  Ranging from different foot motions, to different race terms, and expanding into different forms of running.


1.Running Shoe Terminology — Different types of running shoes



Cushioned Running Shoes-“cushioned” running shoes are usually a sub-category for a running shoe.  If a shoe offers a lot of cushioned, it can be called a Cushioned running shoes.  Maxed cushioned shoes are typically more suited towards heavy runners or those who simply prefer a lot of cushion for extra added comfort.

Light-Weight Running Shoes- Running shoes that may be considered lightweight are simply as described, lightweight.  I would reckon a Men shoes Size 9 could not weight more than 9 ounces to be considered lightweight.  A women’s size 7 should weigh about an ounce less than that, no more than 8 ounces.

Minimalist Running Shoes- A lesser known type of running shoe.  This running shoes embodies the idea that a runner should run naturally almost “barefoot.”  These shoes typically are lightweight, offer little cushion, and are very close to the ground.

Motion-Control Running Shoes-I would consider this shoe to be a “Super Stability Shoe.”  Basically it has very specific features to control the motion of your foot, to prevent your ankles from rolling inward or outward.  Made for heavy-pronators.

Neutral Running Shoes- Offer very little to no stability features.  These shoes let your feet take their natural stride.  These are for people who neither pronate or supinate.

Stability Running Shoes- Pertain to most runners.  Stability running shoes offer assistance to those who pronate.  There are different grades of stability shoes, some offer some stability, others offer a lot.  Usually, the more stability features a shoe may have, the heavier it may become.

Racing Flats- Designed for long-distance running and road racing.  These shoes are extremely lightweight and are made for performance.  They should lack any extra support or cushion because of this.  They are very similar to minimalist shoes.

Trail Running Shoes- Specifically designed for trails.  They shoes will typically have a thicker tread on its outsole(bottom part of your shoe)  This allows for much better traction for a lot rougher terrain, such as dirt, rocks, hills, mountains, ect ect.

Walking Shoes- Walking offers a vastly different motion than running.  That is why walking shoes are becoming more and more popular.  Focused on the specific motion of walking, runners should not attempt to run often in these types of shoes.

2. Running Shoe Terminology — Running Shoe Parts and Features

D Sizing- The base sizing for Men’s Shoes.  You should be able to tell the sizing of a shoe because it’ll be right next to the number, such as “9-D” or 9 D)  Women who have wide feet may want to try men’s sizing.

2E Sizing- Refers to an increased width of the shoe, especially in regards to the toe-box of a shoe.  Those with wider feet should look for E sizing.  It will appear such as “9-2E.”

4E Sizing- The widest sizing in Men’s shoes.  Those who have very large feet or struggle deeply to fit into the D or 2E sizing, should definitely give 4E sizing a try.  It will appear such as “9-4E.”

Achilles’s Notch- Typically appears as either a “V” or “U” shaped indent in the collar.  This is supposed to decrease pressure and irritation on an Achilles’s tendon.

Aglet- Probably the weirdest yet simplest of all terms.  It is simply the tips of the laces. (usually made of plastic)

Breathability- How well a shoe takes in and takes out the wilderness.  This includes air and other weather conditions such as rain, snow, and wind.  The greater breathability a shoe has, the more that comes in.  It can be considered great when running in heat but it can also help freeze your feet in the winter.

Collar- Located near the top of the heel area of where you put your shoe in.  Typically it is somewhat padded all around to prevent any irritation.

Dual Density- Typically refers to the midsole.  A two different density layered-midsole.  The area closer to your foot, or the center, is composed of a softer material that helps cushion the shoe, and the outer-layer near the sole of the shoe, is a harder layer that may help stability as well as durability of the shoe.

EVA– Typically found in older shoes, a type of foam material that may be used throughout the shoe.  Manufacturers these days seem prefer to use lighter and more foamy materials.  That is not to say EVA cannot still be effective.  EVA is still probably the cheapest way to make a decent sole, so you will probably find EVA in more lower-quality type of shoes.

Flex Grooves- Grooves that often run from the midsole to the fore-front of the shoe.  This allows the shoe to become more flexible.  It is a common practice among modern shoes.

Flexibility-  How flexible a shoe is, is basically how well you can take the heel of the shoe and the toecap of the shoe, and bend it to your will.

Heel Counter- Usually made of plastic, sometimes wood or metal, located around your heel.  The purpose of the heel counter is to add stability and lock your heel into the center of the shoe and prevent it from slipping.  Usually covered by plenty of foam so you cannot feel it.

Insoles- Usually a removable piece of foam from within the shoe.  Most shoes come with detachable insoles.  Some add cushion, some add a deodorizer, some simply help stability or the fit of the shoe, and sadly, there are some that seem completely worthless.

Laces- Simpliest term to define.  The materials that loop through the tongue to give your shoe a nice and snug fit.

Last- The entire mold of the shoe.  To best picture this, imagine outlining a shoe around your barefoot.  That is the last of the shoe.  From the toe-width of the shoe, to the shoe heights, shoe lasts determine the exact fit of the shoe.  When a person talks about a shoe’s last, they are talking about how it fits.

Medial Post- A stability feature located directly in the midsole of the shoe.  The medial post is usually a harder density than the rest of the midsole and is usually a different color so it is able to stand out.  The purpose is to stabilize the foot and prevent some pronation.

Mesh- A material used in most modern running shoe’s upper’s.  Mesh is typically a stretchy material that allows the breathability of a shoe.  It is often simply the outter most layer of an upper.  A lot of shoes have a thin material under it so shoes are not too breathable.  A Shoe’s mesh may help a shoe become more lightweight and is usually cheaper for the manufacturer.

Midsole- Looking at a shoe from its side, you will see the midsole being the layer in between the upper and outsole of the shoe.  It will run across the entire shoe just like the outsole.  The feature is often used to help foam the shoe and create more cushion within the shoe.  It can also help the durability of the shoe.

Outsole- Pertains to the bottom of the shoe.  It’s the outtest most layer.  It will be the layer that smacks the ground as you run.  You may hear the thickness of the outsole referred to as the thickness of the “tread.” Running shoes typically have thinner outsoles while other types of shoes made to cause a lot of traction, like trail running shoes, often have thicker outsoles.

Ride- Refers to the smooth transition from foot to road back to foot.  Usually a smooth ride mines it is efficient.  This means there is little wasted movement in a run.  It does not feel hard on a foot to run.  Factors this could include is how much cushion is in the shoe, flexibility, overall fit, maybe traction.  Basically just about everything goes into how a shoe “rides”

Reflectors- Any portion of the shoe that may reflect any sort of bright color or light.  Reflectors are used on some shoes to help the shoe be seen.  This typically helps runners who want to be seen by others, such as runners who may run in the dark.  Nobody wants to get hit by a car.

Rubber or “Blown Rubber”- Usually what the outsole is made out of.  Rubber is not only durable in most running shoes but allows provides some traction.

Shank- A supportive structure towards the bottom of the shoe, inbetween the insole and outsole of the shoe.  In running shoe terms, it usually is made to help the stability of a shoe, and if you can feel the shank to the point of irritation, the shoe does not have enough cushion.  It is rare that a manufacturer will place in shanks that will cause any irritation though.

Sockliner- The lining of the inside of the shoe.  It is what you feel around your foot while you are wearing your shoes.  It can help form the fit of the shoe as well as create more cushion and comfort.  A new popular sockliner called the ComforDry X40 Sockliner is coming out in a lot of newer shoes lately.  It is said to create up to 40% more bounce back and durability, but I find that to be an exaggeration to say the least.

Shock Absorption- How well a shoe absorbs shock away from your feet, legs, and the rest of your body.  While most shoes absorb shock well with well made midsoles and cushion, some shoes take it as far as using actual shock spring absorbing features.

Sole- The complete bottom structure of the shoe.  It is usually comprised of three parts.  The insole, Midsole, and Outer-Sole.

Toe Box- The area within a shoe that your toes are.  You want the toe box to not squish your feet.  You do not want it too narrow but you do want to leave a little room for your feet to go forward.  This is because the foot usually swells while running.

Toe Cap- Similar to what you may find with a steel-toed boot, the toe cap just covers the area above the toes.  Some shoes make obvious toe caps, but that is pretty rare in running shoes.

Tongue- Usually the plush, mesh, or softer material between your feet and the laces.  A nice tongue will allow the laces to go fairly tight but still leaving your feet fairly comfortable.

Vamp- Part of the upper that covers the toes and side of the toes, and part of the side of the foot.  I usually interchange the term vamp and upper to avoid confusion.  They are almost one of the same.

Upper- The upper is the outer-top layer of the shoe that covers the top 1/2 of the foot.  This may include the vamp and tongue or anything else that may be covering up the shoe.

3. Running Shoe Terminology — Running Terms

5k- 3.1 Mile Race.  You can often find many of these races at local running events.

10k- 6.2 Mile Race.  It’s also a very popular race.  You can find several of these through your local running clubs and events.

1/2 Marathon- It consists up to 13.1 miles.  It’s quite a feat.  If you’re looking to start a 1/2 marathon, I highly recommend checking out some training programs to help you get started.

Aerobic- A High intensity form of running.  This form of running is putting your body to the limits and you should not be able to hold this pace for long, maybe 30 seconds for some.  Think of it as a super fast paced made for extremely short distances, such as a full out 100 Meter sprint.

Anaerobic- Quite the opposite of Aerobic.  It is a much slower and consistent pace.  It will be different for each runner, but the better a runner is conditioned, the faster or longer this pace/distance may be.  Think of it as a slow and steady pace for long distances.

Arch- Arch of your foot is while you stand, how much the middle of your foot may be off the ground.  The arch of the foot is a big factor in how your Gait or type of running shoe you may need.

Dynamic Stretching- The form of stretching that requires a lot of movement.  Stretching such as walking lunges or knee-highs.  It is the opposite of static stretching, such as toe-reaches.  Dynamic stretching is recommended to athletes.  Static stretches are not.

Gait- Simply stands for your foot-motion.  When a runner refers to his gait, he is referring to he he runs.  Runners are either over-pronators, under-pronators, or run neutral.  There is no “perfect gait”  There are much too many factors that go into having a perfect gait.

“Hitting the Wall”- Refers to your body shutting down.  This happens quite often to unprepared runners trying to do too much, too soon.  Take for an example, a new runner improperly training for a marathon.  He or she will likely “hit the wall” before the race can be finished.

Junior- Most agencies and running associations refer to Junior runners as runners at or below the age of 20.

Interval- A fixed time for a specific exercise.  For example, you may have a running routine, where you walk for a 1 minute, run for a minute, and repeat 10 times.  Those would be 1-minute intervals.

Marathon- At 26.2 miles, this is the prized race for most runners.  With huge events such as the Boston Marathon, to thousands of local marathon events.  While there are longer distances to run, this is usually a huge milestone for people to attempt to accomplish and requires a lot of training.

Master- Within the U.S., this simply stands for runners over the age of 40.  In a lot of other countries, Masters may simply be called “Veterans”

Maximum Heart Rate- The highest heart rate given a certain time frame or exercise.  Usually represents the highest intensity portion of the workout.

Neutral Runner- A very lucky runner who naturally, or through a lot of time and hard work, does not either pronate or supinate.  This means their form of running is least likely to cause any injury and requires the least amount of support in a shoe, if any.

Mile- Simply 1600 Meters.  Each quarter mile consists of 400 meters, or one lap around most racetracks.

Over Pronation- The motion of the foot where your ankle rolls inward.  Most runners pronate to some degree.  The more you pronate, the more stability you will want to look for in a shoe.  I would see a shoe specialist to find out more about your specific foot motion.

Pace- Time divided by distance.  So if it took you 8 minutes to run 2 miles, your pace is 4 minutes per mile.  You can do this the other way around as well.  Feel free to use any sort of distance/time measurement as well.  You can have a 5k, 10k, 100 meter, marathon pace among just about anything else anybody could come up with.

Static Stretching- In the modern day era, this is a frowned upon method of stretching.  This form of stretching requires a person to stay in one spot and simply attempt to stretch.  Studies have shown this form of stretching does not decrease the chance of injury nor does it help boost performance.  Try Dynamic Stretching instead.

Strides- When runners talk about strides, its basically a certain amount of steps taken.  Such as a 100-Strider.  Its simply a running exercise in 100 steps.  Do not confuse this with how much distance you get for each step.  You do not over to over-stride.  Its just your normal stepping/running distance, with a specific number of steps.

Supination- The opposite of over-pronation.  Instead of your ankles rolling inward, they are rolling outward.  While this is not very common in a runner, it can be very dangerous.  I would recommend seeing a shoe specialist to find out your specific foot motion to help better understand what you should be looking for in a shoe.  That is the easiest and more sure fire way to get it done.  They are usually free at any shoe specialist store.

Taper- This often refers to training programs or relax days.  It’s basically the idea of “tanking.”  You want to “tank” or “taper” because you do not want to let your body go through too many constant days of running.  So a runner may run 3 days a week, and “taper” a fourth for example.

Tempo Runs- It is a faster-paced run that you can get into and hold for a considerable distance.  This is usually done by more advanced runners.  For Example.  If i was running 10 miles on any given day, I may run easy for the first 2, then tempo run the next 6, and go into cooldown for the final 2.

Threshold Runs- This is often confused with a Tempo Run.  A threshold run is your fastest possible speed before your body can start to put you out of breath.  That being said, Threshold runs are usually faster than tempo runs and there will be no way you can hold a threshold run as long as a tempo run.

Under Pronator- See Supination.

Warm Up- The idea of warming up before you go on your run.  This usually includes a walk, a light jog, and dynamic exercises.  Its important to warm up your body pre-run, especially when the weather conditions are not ideal.


Conclusion to my Running Shoe Terminology

I really hope this helped some people out.  I recall when I did not know a lot of these words when I was getting serious with running and doing everything I could to improve.  Thanks.  Please comment on your thoughts and anything you may want to see added.  I tried not to be too extensive since I know a lot of the words I could have added I personally hardly ever use.

If you’ve found this guide useful, check out our guide on deciding what kind of running shoes would be best for you.


One Response

  1. Peter October 10, 2015