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Two Game-Changing Qualities Your Running Shoes Should Have

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Buying running shoes is complicated. Do you want sneakers that propel you forward or absorb impact? Support your arch or control your pronation? Are you sprinting or walking? It'd be nice if they came in a cool color (you will be out in public in them a lot, after all). Oh, and they should feel comfortable on your feet. But let's be honest—you probably can't have it all. So which features matter most? (Is It Dangerous to Run in Old Running Shoes?)

This last trait may actually be the most important, says a new study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine. When researchers from the University of Calgary set out to study the relationship between how running shoes prevent injuries, they found there's been a huge amount of innovation in sneakers over the last hundred years. Not surprising—we have a heck of a lot more options around traction, stability, flexibility, lift, and about a thousand other factors than Katherine Switzer did. (Check out 9 Running Shoes with High Tech Soles.)

While there's been a lot of technological advancements, the study authors wondered how much of them are actually protecting your joints and muscles. They found the two greatest indicators of a safe running shoe are "comfort filter" (how comfortable it is) and "preferred movement path" (what type of exercise you're going to do in them).

The sales staff at your local athletics store is going to sell you on the arch support, toe protection, and breathable fabric—all the latest technology from the industry, because those are the features that distinguish shoe to shoe on paper. And those features might really help you run faster and safer. Previous research has shown it's helpful for sneakers to be as thin as possible to promote natural movement, or provide tons of cushioning and support, or that you should match your running shoes to your terrain. But at the end of the day, the most important factor in preventing injury is your shoe's comfort level, according to this study.

Luckily, the researchers found that as runners, we intuitively choose the product that will protect us the most because we choose what feels comfortable (assuming you test drive them). And while pronation, ankle protection, and shock absorption are all important, you also need to consider whether all those features are right for you. Only you can pick the perfect sneaker for yourself and your activities. As for which you should consider testing out, check out our editor-approved Best Sneakers to Crush Your Workout Routines.

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