You may have heard lots of competing evidence and contradicting ideas about what kids running shoes are best for young feet. As a parent, it’s natural to want the best for your kids and being aware of what suits them best at this delicate yet ever-changing stage comes with the territory.
Understanding what makes a trainer suitable for children depends largely on their foot type and the way they run. As kids, it's unlikely they've picked up bad habits so a blank slate is in their favor. You just need to be aware of what to look out for in a great shoe and how it should feel on their feet.
As prevention is the best cure, getting children started with a top running shoe prevents injuries. More importantly, it promotes the correct running style that aids healthy structural development.
What Experts Are Saying?
There’s still a gap in knowledge of what’s the best running shoe for young feet. After examining various sources, the American Academy of Podriatric Sports Medicine differentiates the need to buy shoes specifically for running instead of multi-purpose. They also encourage trainers with elevation for the heel to toe run.
However, they fail to mention shoes with less of a heel (minimal trainers) are also suitable for running and lateral movement too. What they do emphasize is choosing a shoe that has a solid middle so it doesn’t twist in the center.
Top gait researchers in the field, Davis and Lieberman, have uncovered new findings which impress upon children the importance of shoes that allow natural gait cycle. Research also uncovers that when people run bare feet, or with minimal trainers that have little arch, feet strengthen.
Imagine young feet which haven’t yet grown accustomed to support and the structure of beefier trainers. This is why some argue its logical to choose minimal shoes for younger runners as their neuromuscular pathways are still developing. Moreover positive changes can be made which become ingrained and develop into healthy, athletically-able feet/muscles.
What Shoe is Your Child Ready For?
Minimal kids running shoes may not suit every young runner. Overloading the body decreases efficiency and increases reliance on what we give it. However, if we give kids a gradual increase so they have time to adapt then running ability and feet should naturally strengthen. However, what’s most important is finding out what your child specifically needs, or doesn’t need, whilst running.
Age Plays a Part
Toddlers and kids around the age of 5 years can generally be put in minimal shoes and adapt immediately. Due to the flexibility of their feet and innate self-regulation, they change to what feels most comfortable and stop when it no longer feels good.
On the other hand, if you have teenagers around 15 years and they’re running over 20 miles weekly, things are different. They’re probably used to cushioned shoes which provide more support. If they prefer to go for a minimal running shoe, it’s crucial to make a gradual transition. Starting with short runs and slowly increasing to longer as the weeks go by.
So as you can see, there’s always this line between minimal and protective kids running shoes. It’s up to you and your child to gage what feels best and become aware of any expert advice/techniques to help reach conclusions.
What to Look For in Kids Running Shoes…
The body is an amazing thing which can sense, especially when growing, the location of joints and automatically change to keep things balanced. This process is known as proprioception and running shoes with thin soles closer to the ground encourage this. Minimal trainers also give feet space to naturally absorb impact whilst activating neural-muscular coordination.
These trainers also tend to suit kids who take part in a broader range of activities from track to climbing. So don’t be tempted to go straight for the shoes with higher platforms thinking they’ll provide more protection.
Also it’s good to carefully consider the material the shoe is made from. Softer, adaptable fabrics give feet the freedom to move naturally and dynamically. So when reading product descriptions or going to shoe stores, ask these questions…
Questions to Ask
- Does the shoe have a good bend or does it feel stiff?
- Is it breathable and durable?
- Is there enough room in the front of the shoe to allow toes to wiggle around and branch out?
- How is the outsole? Does it cater for tougher terrains such as road or trail running without over-doing it?
- Are there cleats on the sole? If so, they should all engage the ground to balance a child’s weight evenly on impact.
The last point is especially important as cleats can cause issues for young runners around the age of 10. If there is a lack of cleats then this causes too much pressure to fall on the heel and may trigger pain. It’s best to search for trainers with many cleats on the heel to distribute even weight and reduce ankle/knee pain.
Here are some other things you should look for when buying kids running shoes. Doing so can make a world of difference to their running experience and more importantly, help prevent common injuries experienced later down the line.
Specific Things to Look for When Searching for the Right Shoe
1. Getting a shoe with the right fit
A comfortable, snug fit should be one of the highest things on your list. In fact, kids who wear trainers too small are at risk of forming deformities such as blisters, ingrown toenails and bunions. This is why it’s so important to get it right first time. Here are some ways you can do this:
- Shop at the end of the day. This is when your kid’s feet will be at their biggest and you can find a shoe with some leeway for growth and movement.
- Get feet measured properly. You may want to do this in store or by purchasing your own measuring gauge that’s designed for home use. These are great as you will get the correct length and width measurements which is crucial if you are buying shoes online.
- When measuring feet, do so both sitting and standing. A helpful tip is to measure kids when they are both sitting and standing up as the increase in body weight on the feet may cause a change in size. Always go for the trainer that fits the foot when it’s bigger.
- Try on with the right socks. To get a realistic feel for the shoe, encourage your kids to try the trainers on with sports socks they’ll wear when running.
- Check the fit when trainers are laced up. Ensure trainers are tied properly for the most secure and supportive fit without being too tight. Running trainers don’t need to be broken into and should be comfortable immediately.
- Give children opportunity to walk around before buying. Kids should get a good feel for the running trainers. Running around indoors and walking to get an idea of how they’ll feel on the road will help check for any warning signs. Areas of discomfort, scratching, irritation should be addressed and other options should be considered.
- Bring your child’s old trainers to a professional running store: a trained salesperson can check which parts the shoes are worn and glean your kids running style with that information. This means they can make an educated guess on what trainers are best going forward.
- Look at where the shoe bends: the shoe should bend where the toes bend. If it’s too forward or behind then the fit is too small/big.
- Feet should stay in place and shouldn’t slide in the trainer when your child starts or stops.
Top tip: you may have to play the role of detective and ask leading questions as kids often won’t know how to express the comfort of a shoe. If your child is a toddler, it’s common for their feet to be bigger at the top so a shoes fit may appear to be deceptive. You’ll have to check the toes have enough wiggle room inside and the trainer isn’t too tight.
2. Check the material
The material should be of high quality and comprised of breathable materials. If there are too many synthetic materials the shoe’s ventilation will be poor causing feet to overheat and odors to circulate.
Some of the best materials for kids running shoes are:
- leather for durability
- mesh for breathability
- reflective materials for safety
- foam for mid-sole cushioning
- rubber for a long-lasting outer sole
3. Ensure you seek kids running shoes specifically designed for running
Sounds logical right? You don’t want to buy multi-purpose kids running shoes at the risk they’ll miss out on protective and supportive features from running specific shoes. Children who are runners require trainers that meet the high-impact demands of running. Therefore, you’ll find common running trainers feature extra cushioning, breathable materials, gel or foam for impact absorption and a multi-directional grip.
4. Know your child’s pronation and arch
What sort of pronation style does your child have? Pronation is when the foot rolls inward when landing on the ground and is the first stage of the gait cycle. There are four different pronation types and discovering which one your child has will dictate which trainer suits them best. These are:
- Underpronation: usually kids with a higher arch will be prone to underpronation and are likely to feel more shock upon landings. People with high arches have also been found to experience more sprains so benefit from trainers with extra support around the heel and ankle.
- Neutral – neutral runners have a normal arch and will experience few issues biomechanically.
- Overpronation – With a slightly lower arch, kids who over pronate might experience extended rotation from leg to foot.
- Severe overpronation – usually common when children have flatter feet. They are subject to higher risk of injury due to poor shock absorption.
Shoes to look for based on arch type:
If your kid has a low arch or flatter feet, their feet will be more flexible. This arch needs a trainer with good control and stability. Shoes will stable heels and foam midsoles are what you want to look out for.
If they have higher arches, you’ll want trainers with high absorption and flexibility plus good cushioning on the midsole.
If their arch is neutral, then you have more flexibility in your shoe choices as most types suit this foot profile.
Bottom line: kids running shoes today are designed to suit a certain type of pronation. It’s a good idea to look out for this when shopping for appropriate trainers for your little one.
5. Know your child’s running style
Understanding the mechanics and style of your child’s running will also help you seek out the right kind of trainer. There are several ways your child might run depending on how their feet first hit the floor. If they land on their forefoot first then they need don’t need a trainer with a good amount of cushioning behind the forefoot. If your kids run from heel to toe however, they may benefit from trainers such as the Kayano 22 with gel cushioning at the front and back.
6. Know their Running Profile
Where will the kids running shoes be taking them? Knowing what they are going to be heavily used for is another important step in sourcing the right trainer. Do your kids love light jogs? Do they only run at school? Or are they more of the running enthusiast who hikes, races and goes trail running? Thinking about weekly mileage shoes cover too will help choose a pair with the right durability.
Take all these elements into consideration and you can’t go wrong when it comes to choosing the perfect running shoe for your little one. We also have a great article on the 23 best running shoes for kids in 2016 which may point you in the right direction!