Runners get hurt. It doesn’t matter if you’re a once-in-a-while, around-the-block guy or a shirt-off racer who logs 80km a week and keeps pacing notes. As many as 79% of distance runners have sustained a lower-extremity injury, a Dutch review reveals. “Most injuries are caused by faults in foot and leg strength, imbalances, and movement problems,” says Jonathan Beverly, shoe editor at Runner’s World. “But running in the wrong shoe can also cause problems.”

Canadian research indicates that the right shoe can help you run with less effort. People who ran in shoes they deemed comfortable consumed up to 2% less oxygen, increasing their running economy as a result. Some general rules: light, flexible minimalist shoes featuring thin midsoles and a barefoot feel are ideal for efficient runners and guys working on form, speed and foot-strengthening drills, while plush, stable maximalist cruisers that are best for heavier, injury-prone guys. Always pick a shoe that fits – no matter what the sales guy says.

In the lab, each shoe is tested for flexibility, cushioning, stability, height, and weight. Then a loyal crew of 300 road warriors puts the shoes through their real-world paces to make sure they can handle a hard-knock life on the street. Next time you walk into your local specialist running store, ask these questions:

1. Should I Go For Minimal Shoes?

This comes down to your strength. Can you pull off a perfect single-leg squat? If not, then you lack the core and hip strength to safely run in a minimal pair, and should look for something with more structure and support.

2. Where’s Your Treadmill?

All good stores that cater to serious runners should have a treadmill in-store that will allow you to test out the comfort and fit of a new pair of running shoes before you buy. This will help you understand how the shoe feels under stress and while moving – important considerations when covering serious distance.

3. Do I Need a Lot of Cushioning?

Heel and forefoot cushioning determines ground feel. Test a range of shoes to find your sweet spot, but remember: if you have been training with, say, a pair that offers a 4mm heel-to-toes drop, don’t go with anything less if you have a race coming up. Reducing your heel-to-toe drop should be done gradually, with short runs over a few months, or you run the risk of injury.

4. What’s the Deal With No-Drop Shoes?

Footwear that has no differential in height from heel to forefoot is best suited to a more efficient runner. And by efficient we’re talking sub-90 half-marathoners who could probably finish the Two Oceans in a pair of school shoes. Be realistic, or you could get hurt.

5. How Long Has This Shoe Been Around?

Like smartphones that blow up in your face, shoes aren’t always perfectly formed in their first iteration. Shoes that are in at least their third update deliver a proven combo of comfort, value and performance.

Photograph from Interpret Studios/Red Bull Content Pool