5 times you should never buy running shoes online

Mar 7, 2016 at 11:30 a.m. ET
Image: Rohappy/Getty Images

Not to brag or anything, but I have more pairs of athletic shoes than stilettos. As a girl who loves her workouts, nothing is more important to me than having well-supported ta-ta's and tootsies. So I will invest in good shoes (and bras) to make sure I'm working out healthy and happy for years to come.

And when it comes to buying all those pairs of fancy running shoes (and cross-trainers and minimalists and dance shoes and...), I'm pretty much a dedicated Internet shopper. Two-day free shipping, online sales, plus an endless assortment of styles and colors? I'll take two, please. But it turns out, while I may be saving some cash, I may not be saving my feet.

Online shoe shopping may be fun (too much fun late at night, I'm afraid) but there are some times when you should skip the virtual cart and go straight for the real deal.

More: How to find the perfect running shoe for you

1. When buying your first pair of running shoes

"Your feet are shaped by genetics, bone structure, soft tissues, age and even trauma and disease," explains Ken Jung, M.D., a foot and ankle surgeon at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, "and so are very unique to you." This means that if you're starting a new sport, training for your first marathon or new to exercise entirely, you should head to a brick-and-mortar sports store where you can try on a variety of styles and — this is the important part — run around in them. Any good store will let you take a few laps around the perimeter, where you can do a few jumping jacks or even bust out some burpees to make sure the shoes are right for you. The salesperson can also help you find a shoe specific to your sport to help things run more smoothly. Once you know the brand and style you like best, then feel free to reorder online!

2. When you are pregnant

Surprise! If you're like 60 to 70 percent of gestating women, you're growing your feet along with growing your baby. A study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation found that not only do the majority of women's feet grow longer and wider during pregnancy, but your arches flatten out as well thanks to hormones that relax the ligaments in your body. And, sadly, these changes are usually permanent. Add to that the swelling that is common in the last stages of pregnancy and it's no wonder your trainers are feeling tight. This is no time to play guess-your-size online; instead head into a store where a salesperson can measure your new feet. (And you can pick out an adorable pair of Weeboks while you're there too!)

3. When you are injured

Tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and shin splints are all common running injuries, Jung says, and they can be exacerbated by your shoes. Many people will try to run through the pain, hoping it will just get better on its own, but that's a recipe for disaster, he says. If you're having chronic pain, you probably need to see a sports medicine doctor or podiatrist to get to the root of the problem. They can also steer you toward better-fitting shoes or fit your shoes with temporary custom inserts to help fix your problem.

4. When you have "special" feet

You may have heard terms like "over pronation," "high arches" or "mid-foot strike," but chances are you don't really understand them. Everyone has a different stride, Jung says, and that affects the way your feet and your shoes work together. Most of us decide what kind of feet we have either from self-diagnosing or on the suggestion of a well-meaning gym trainer or store clerk. But he says you should never trust a non-medical assessment of your gait. He explains that he's seen far too many patients who've been misled and have developed pain because of it. For instance, he says that many people think that if you have high arches you need extra arch support when actually the opposite is true. "If you don't have pain, look for a neutral shoe," he explains. If you do have a special need, whether from a dysfunctional stride, foot strike or an anatomical issue, then you ought to shop in a physical store first.

More: 6 best running shoes for ladies with really high arches

5. When you have poor impulse control

This isn't exactly expert advice, but speaking as a shoe-lover and online shopper, I can tell you it's a lot easier to overspend and impulse buy online. When you have to physically carry your purchases through the store and watch a cashier ring them up one by one, it feels a lot more real than adding five pairs of shoes to an online cart, then waiting for them to magically arrive on your doorstep. I've fallen victim more than once to the twin rationalizations of "I can always return them if I don't like them" and "They're on a killer sale..." which is why I currently own a pair of gorgeous foil-printed Nikes that have been worn exactly once and haunt me every time I go into my closet. The truth is, you probably won't go to the effort of returning them and — repeat after me — there will always be another sale. Put down the mouse.