Walk into any running specialty store for a new pair of shoes and you're likely to encounter a store associate trying to upsell you a pair of performance insoles. Now, we can't blame the hustle and thirst for another sale by the employee, but is there any merit to this retail strategy? Are insoles worth the extra coin, especially have you dropped anywhere from $150–$250 on your running sneakers?
The answer isn't necessarily cut and dry. First, though, let's lay down some basics behind this footwear-based accessory.
What are running insoles?
Insoles are designed to give the inside of your running shoes more comfort and support than what's offered by the shoe's build itself. Also referred to as inserts or orthotics, these add-ons can come in a bevy of styles specific to different training needs. Some insoles plump up the underfoot cushioning to make you feel like you're running on clouds. Others may boast a more rigid frame construction to help add responsiveness and spring to your toe-offs. There are also gait-specific insoles that can create a cradling sensation across your footprint to give you the perfect mix of support and comfort whether you're a pronator, neutral runner or supinator.
To boil it down, insoles are simply structured additions that sit between your foot and shoe bed, designed to help improve comfort, reduce pain and give your runs a more enjoyable experience.
Don't your shoes already come with insoles?
Well, yes and no.
Running shoes straight from the box do feature an insole-like component that sits atop the shoe bed, but they're more of a liner per se. Take one out and compare it to an aftermarket insole and you'll find the original equipment typically lacks the thickness, structure and cushioning you can experience from third party options.
In essence, sock liners act as sort of wrapping paper for the tech found in your shoe's underbelly. These components are what give your steps the spring and comfort you feel when wearing your trusted kicks, not the liner itself.
What can insoles do?
Quite a few things, actually.
Aftermarket running insoles can be excellent for giving your footwear a more personalized fit that's attuned to your gait. This can help lessen common pain and discomfort experienced with unsupported footwear while giving a better sense of coziness to your feet and toes. The added support can also be great for helping correct alignment issues in your step, forcing your foot to work through your stride in a more natural plane. Lastly, the extra structure and cushioning can help absorb the shock and energy of pounding the pavement, trail or treadmill belt, making for a less stressful endeavor overall.
Of course, not every insole packs all these perks into one silhouette. You'll need to narrow down your wants before purchase and then find a model that suits what you're looking to improve or correct across your footbed.
Does everyone need aftermarket running insoles?
Despite all the benefits of running atop aftermarket insoles, they're not a necessity by any means. You can likely skip the extra purchase if you're not experiencing any noticeable pain or discomfort during your runs. Additionally, if you are experiencing pain mid-training, that doesn't mean insoles will cure your aches. These accessories can help alleviate foot motion within your shoe, but if your problems stem from a breakdown somewhere in the kinetic chain, insoles aren’t going to help.
With that said, though, insoles remain a popular purchase for a reason and have been shown to help with many running-related ailments. Below are some signs that it may be time to step up your footwear setup with quality insoles.
Signs You May Want to Purchase Running Insoles
You experience pain across the foot and ankle.
Insoles can be a worthwhile option if you notice discomfort that stems beyond the typical soreness you feel post-run. This ache is sharper and more intense, with heel pain being a common indicator of lagging support. Insoles can help provide better shock absorption and structure in this area, perfect for treating conditions like plantar fasciitis or problems associated with heel striking.
As stated above, though, that pain and soreness could be tied to a breakdown along your kinetic chain. If you're unsure of an ache's root cause, it's best to see a podiatrist for more professional guidance. These experts can help you chart a course for improved comfort, which may or may not include adding insoles to your daily trainers.
Your shoes are unevenly worn out.
If you’re unsure about your running gait and whether your step needs a little correction through insoles, take a peek at your shoe’s outsole. If the tread is worn more so on one side or the other, this can indicate that you’re rolling toward that side through your transitions. Excessive wear on the inside of your sneaker can mean you’re overpronating, while less tread along the outer edge can indicate supination. Realignment through insoles can be accomplished, which can help extend the longevity of your sneakers while also getting your feet back on a more natural path.
It’s also helpful to look at your shoe’s heel when making this outsole analysis. More worn heels could mean you’re heel striking more often than not, which can place a lot of stress at this area and lead to heightened pain. It may be wise to beef up your underfoot cushioning if this is your case, for improved comfort and injury prevention.
You're not satisfied with the underfoot cushioning you currently run in.
Maybe your go-to runners just aren’t delivering the same plush excitement they once had when they were new. Maybe you purchased the kicks for their impressive upper or tread pattern, but feel there’s something missing when it comes to underfoot feel. Maybe you’re just tired of being tired and want a little cushioning to go along with your stride. That’s sort of the beauty of insoles — there’s no big leap to make if you want to give them a go (outside of the initial purchase, of course).
If you are curious about running on insoles just for the comfort, though, it’s important you find a fit that’s right for your step. Not only will this give your kicks that ultra-personalized cradle, but it can help defend against developing unnecessary issues. Like an ill-fitting sneaker, wearing the incorrect insoles can lead to more harm than good. So, get it right from the start by having a clear understanding of what your gait type is, what you’re looking to accomplish underfoot and where you seek to see the most benefit.
Think you're ready to switch up your sneaker build with a quality pair of insoles? Below are just some of our favorites on the market today. For a more comprehensive list, read our guide to the best insoles for training, running and everything in between.