Shoe terms you should know, explained
Published: May 7, 2019
Last modified: April 14, 2021
Invest in items that separate you from the ground, they say. Your bed, car/bike tires, and, of course, shoes. When it comes to selecting the right shoe, however, there can be a lot of (confusing) jargon associated with footwear, and feet in general as they pertain to shoes, from the type to the actual descriptions of a footwear’s construction and anatomy.
Familiarize yourself with all shoe jargon with this glossary of shoe terms.
Gait: The way in which you run or walk. There are a number of primary descriptions including being a heel-striker, midfoot-striker or toe-striker, which specifies the first point of contact with the ground upon impact. Because people have varying gaits, there’s no one-size-fits-all shoe. Your pronation (see below for that explanation) is influenced by your gait.
Pronation: The side-to-side rolling movement of your foot when impacting the ground. Naturally, the foot has an inward-rolling motion, meaning you land on the outer part of your foot, and proceed to roll inwards until your foot is flat on the ground, before subsequent take-off.
Overpronation: The tendency to over-inward roll upon impact and through to take-off. You’re likely to see additional wear on the inner edge of your shoe’s cushioning.
Supination: The tendency to under-inward roll – in other words, to outward-roll – upon impact and through to take-off. You’re likely to see additional wear on the outer edge of your shoe’s cushioning.
Arch: Your arch is the curve of your foot that is either normal, high, or low. Often, you can determine whether you have flat feet or not through the use of a foot arch test, which involves wetting the bottom of your feet, and stepping on a piece of paper to see the outline of your foot. If you’re unsure, check out your local foot specialist shop like Feet First Clinic.
Upper: The material that wraps the foot and attaches to the midsole. This is the bulk of the shoe excluding the midsole and keeps your foot in place.
Overlay: The overlay is an additional layer of material on top of the upper. Overlays are useful for extra support, varying breathability and sometimes used to add a waterproof element to a shoe, like, for example, Nike’s “shield” running shoes which offer protection against rain and snow.
Eyelets: Shoelace holes.
Tongue: The tongue is the material that sits on top of your foot and under the sock laces non-slip-on shoes have a tongue.
Sock liner: The sock liner is the shoe’s inner material. The material is called a sock liner because it wraps around the foot like a sock. The material is often a few millimetres in thickness and can wear down and suppress over time, moulding to your foot.
Toe box: The area at the end of a shoe which houses your toes. The width of the toe box is particularly important for people depending on whether they have narrow or wide feet. Remember, the width of your foot is important too, and not just the length (size).
Drop/offset: Most shoes, besides Altra, have a drop greater than zero. The drop of the shoe is the difference in heel height versus toe height. If the shoe has a drop of 8 mm, for example, the heel is 8 mm higher than the height of the toe where the foot sits.
Outsole: The outsole, also known as the sole, is the base of the shoe and features treads and grips that are the shoe’s last line of defense between you and the ground.
Midsole: The midsole of a shoe is where the cushioning lies. Your foot sits on the midsole, separated by the in-sole (the removable sole inside your shoe), and provides the support you need. Often times, the midsole is made of Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate (EVA).
Stability: Mild pronators, or heavier-set runners, should consider stability footwear as the shoe doesn’t have as much support as a motion control shoe, but more than neutral footwear. Stability footwear often features extra support (called a medial post) on the inner side of the shoe side to prevent arch collapse.
Neutral: Shoes with neutral cushioning are built uniformly with no additional features to compensate for your gait/running pattern. Cushioning is often softer than motion control and stability footwear and is designed to absorb impact rather than correct running form. Regular pronators and supinators should consider neutral footwear.
Motion control: Motion control shoes are pretty self-explanatory; they’re designed to control the side-to-side range of motion of your gait. So, if you overpronate, motion control shoes have systems in place including stiffer heels and additional support on the inner medial side of the shoe to prevent additional inward roll beyond what is normal. Mild- to severe-overpronators should consider motion control shoes.
Orthotics: Custom insole inserts based on your feet designed to provide corrective measures to your running gait.
All these terms are good to know when deciding on a pair of shoes. For more in-person assistance, to have your gait analyzed, feet properly measured or to see if custom orthotics are right for you, check out Toronto’s Feet First Clinic on Bloor Street West. You can contact us at 416-769-3338(FEET).
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You do not need a referral to become a patient at our foot clinic. Schedule an appointment by using the Appointment Request form below or contact the clinic at 416-769-FEET(3338).