Shoe Anatomy – What Are The Parts Of A Running Shoe?

Natalie Cecconi
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Outer Sole

You can think of the outsole as the bottom section of the shoe. The outer sole provides the primary contact points of the shoe and where your heel, midfoot and forefoot touch the ground. A good outsole has to be able to provide a solid foundation for a stable ride. It should provide enough stability and traction for you to run without slipping or twisting your ankles.

The outsole plays an equally important role for off-road running. It provides a firm grip to ensure that you don’t slip and twist your ankle in uneven terrains.

An ideal outsole also has to be durable enough to withstand the abuse of your training for years at a time.

What are the best materials for an outsole?

The best materials for an outsole include rubber and nylon. Rubber soles are fantastic because they are shock absorbing and also provide a solid grip. They are also durable and can better withstand the abuse of running.

Nylon soles are also light and comfortable to run in. However, they provide less stability and don’t last as long as rubber.

Combining the two materials can lead to a very durable outsole that is comfortable and stable at the same time. It’s difficult to tell what materials a shoe is made of just by looking at it. So, don’t judge a shoe based on how it looks.


The midsole, or foot platform, comprises the completely or mostly completely enclosing area of the shoe – the platform on the sole of an athletic shoe. It may be cushioned or not, may be flat or arched, and the surface may have grooves to increase traction and add cushioning.

The midsole cushions your foot and absorbs the force of your body landing as you run. It may also serve to tweak your stride and add stability.

Because of all of these functions, the midsole is very functional and highly significant in the running shoe, and is the part of the shoe that is most often made of shock absorbing materials, such as foam, sponge, or air and that makes the shoe fit comfortably on your feet.

High-quality foam is used in modern athletic footwear, which provides a lot of cushioning, and is lightweight as well as shock-absorbing.

However, foam becomes compressed as you use it, reducing its ability to cushion impact, so the foam must be replaced for the shoes to run properly over time.

Medial Post

The medial post is a U-shaped structure located in the center of the sole of the shoe. Its sole purpose is to distribute the pressure of the impact evenly across the arch of the foot.

Some shoes also have a second medial post at the front of the foot to help keep the foot from rolling inward.

This is especially important for runners who are pronators who have a tendency to roll their feet inward.

Proprietary Foam by Brand

All shoes are made from a combination of fabric and foam. The combination of three main properties – cushioning, stability and support– will determine the type of shoes you want to use and how you should use them.

If you are a beginner or not someone who runs often, we suggest that you get a pair of shoes that will provide comfort and cushioning. Cushioning is important in running shoes since it absorbs shock, provides protection and relieves stress on your joints. Nike and Hoka One One are two brands that make foam shoes.

Hoka One One shoes are the ones with extra cushioning. These shoes are ideal for overpronate-ing feet. This is a type of foot motion in which the foot rotates inward, causing extreme rotation, excessive pronation and in some cases pain. Hoka shoes have an added extra layer of foam in the midsole to provide more support to the foot and ankle.

Nike makes shoes with proprietary foam which they have spent years perfecting. Nike’s own foam is called Nike Zoom Air, and it basically consists of hollow molecules with larger air pockets between them, which provide more cushioning and less weight. Another proprietary foam technology is called Nike Element Shield. This kind of foam absorbs shocks, which gives runners a good feeling when they are running.

Carbon Fiber Plate

Friction between your feet and the surface of the shoe can cause blisters.

This is why some manufacturers add plates made of carbon fiber, which increases the surface area of contact to reduce friction.

For example, the Adidas Energy Boost (left) has such a plate.


The upper is the most important part of the shoe and it undergoes the most wear and tear. It’s the material that is in direct contact with your foot and protects your foot from the elements.

The upper comprises of the following characteristics:

The top, side and bottom of the shoe and to some extent, the tongue.

In the newer running shoes, you can see that they have very few seams. This is what is known as the ‘seamless’ upper.

With a seamless upper, there is a reduction in the friction between the two materials, especially when you are doing a lot of fast foot movement.

The tongue of the shoe is also known as the ‘toe box’. The tongue is connected to the shoe at its front and top. It’s located at the front of the shoe where the laces are located. The tongue, depending on the shoe and the manufacturer, can be made of rigid cloth, plastic or other materials.

Your feet move a lot while running so it’s important that the upper material of your shoe is breathable.

It should also have features that will keep the water outside your shoe.

Heel Counter

The heel counter is the part of the shoe that makes contact with the rear of your heel when the shoe is on your foot. It provides the rear of the shoe with structure and also helps to lock your heel into place, preventing your foot from sliding forward.

Some heel counter designs allow for some flexibility, which can feel more natural on your foot. However, the critical feature of the heel counter, no matter how flexible, is how well it holds your heel in place.

Heel Collar

Heel collar is the area where the heel is directly attached to the middle section of the shoe. It is the rubber that begins the break in process. It is very important that the heel collar not be too big or too tight.

Generally, the smaller the heel collar size the better.

This is because your heel wants to be cradled by a snug heel collar but not cut off from energy return. The heel collar holds the foot firmly in place; it acts as a lever point to propel the body while running. The best running shoes have a snug fit. The heel is snugly held in place, but there is still room in the front of the shoe for some space for the toes.

Heel and toe drop are two very important dimensions which we will discuss next.

Heel drop is the heel height expressed as a percentage of the shoe’s overall height. There are three major terms used to describe this dimension:

Flat – No heel to toe drop; your foot is resting on the ground throughout.

Insole/Sock Liner

Carefully look at the insole/sock liner. You will notice that it is a separate piece to the sole of the shoe.

The purpose of the sock liner is to help absorb sweat produced by your feet and to prevent it from building up inside the shoe.

It is typically perforated and made of a breathable material such as cloth or mesh that allows for air circulation. It is also placed in a shoe so that it is aligned with the foot arch or the highest point of your arch.


The tongue is the part of the shoe that goes under the laces. It springs over the top of the foot and is designed to keep your foot in place. Some shoes have a particularly padded tongue, while others still have a thin layer of fabric that makes the shoe more breathable. A shoe without a tongue, however, is often quite uncomfortable.

What it’s Made Of: The tongue is mainly made of the same stuff as the shoe itself. So, the usual synthetics and some mesh (aka the front part) of the shoe.

Uses: The tongue’s primary purpose is to hold the foot together; to prevent it from moving. Its secondary purpose is to make the shoe watertight.


Laces on a shoe add an extra element of precision and control when dressing your feet.

If you have flat feet or pronation issues, I highly recommend using laces.

Laces are an essential part of shoes, much like your hands are essential for your ability to write.

To choose the best lace up shoes, go for a shoe that has a tongue and with a lace that passes through a lace hole to the shoe.

The tongue of the shoe is important as it protects the foot and locks the foot into the shoe.

Quality laces should also go through multiple lace holes to be locked in place in case the shoe senses pressure.

This prevents your lace from busting if you have a little too much jogging to do.


The part of a running shoe that actually touches your foot is the “last”. It’s the form that determines the shape and feel of a shoe.

Depending on the shape of your foot, there is a last that is going to fit it better than others. Some lasts are designed with a slightly wider toe box to accommodate toes that might be a bit larger than average.

The last helps determine how the shoe will fit. It can also affect the performance of the shoe. For example, flat lasts tend to make shoes more stable or less responsive (less flexible).

Straighter lasts are typically thought of as more stable. Rounder lasts are typically thought of as more responsive.


The bottom of the last (the part that touches the ground) is the base of the shoe. The base should allow the shoe to provide you with a stable platform.

The base should also allow for a smooth transition from heel-strike to toe-off in order to help you run more efficiently.

The base of the shoe can also impact your running form. A wider and heavier base provides more stability, and a thinner and lighter base provides more flexibility and responsiveness.

Final Thoughts

I hope this shoe anatomy guide has given you a great understanding of the types of shoes you can find on the market and the variations between them.

Let’s recap the main components of a shoe.—


It’s not only the shoe type that makes running comfortable and easy to do but the technology integrated into the shoe design.

Substandard technology is the number one culprit in shoe fatigue, discomfort, and injury.

You could be paying a lot more for the shoes with fancy names on the side, but if they don’t include the technology your body needs, the extra cash isn’t worth it.

Fortunately for you, we have done the research for you, and we highlight the shoe applications that provide long-lasting comfort and prevent injuries.

Run with a great pair of running shoes from brands like Asics, Brooks, and Nike. They will help you maximize your performance, minimize the chance of injury, and enhance your comfort as you run.

When selecting a shoe, ensure that the shoe will fit your foot shape- its length, width, and volume.