Which pair to buy for stability, cushioning, speed, and energy return.
Running is a simple sport. “All you need is a pair of shoes,” right?
Have you walked into a running specialty store recently looking for “just a pair of shoes?” The sheer number of brands, styles, technologies, and features is enough to overwhelm the most seasoned marathoner, let alone someone first taking up the sport.
That’s why one of the most asked questions Runner’s World receives is some version of: “What’s the best shoe for me?” To help answer that this time around, we linked up with the happy runners at Brooks Running, whose shoe finder promises to help identify your perfect pair in a time most would be proud to have as their mile PR: five minutes or less.
First, we identified the shoe features you’re most likely to encounter. Next, we defined them so you’ll know what you need based on how and why you run. Finally, we asked Brooks Running to recommend a shoe for each.
Stability shoes are great for runners who are looking for something comfortable that can help keep their form in line, but don’t like the feel of extra fluffy, thick cushioning. Basically, stability is to cushioning as memory foam is to goose down.
Previously, “stability” was the go-to for any runner showing the slightest sign of overpronation. Pronation is the natural inward rolling movement of the foot as it lands to distribute the force of impact as you run. Overpronation is when the foot rolls inward to an excessive degree.
Stability shoes used to be easily identified by a rigid, clunky horror show of an outsole that practically screamed, “I am big and heavy and I demand that you stop pronating!” and they were summarily thrown at overpronators by rote. Fortunately, thanks to more modern design and reliance on research, today’s stability shoes aren’t so scary, and they also aren’t exclusively designed to overcorrect running form.
Best Brooks Running shoe for stability: Adrenaline GTS 19
The Adrenaline GTS 19 utilizes Brooks’ GuideRails holistic support system, which allows your body to move how it naturally does while gently assisting it along a natural path. Think of it like bumper bowling for your feet.
Rather than “correcting” your stride like those unwieldy old stability posts, GuideRails work with your natural footfall. This helps prevent injuries and offers a smooth ride for overpronators and neutral runners alike. A moderate amount of cushioning keeps things comfortable for days when you need to put in serious mileage.
If you know you’re injury-prone and need a bit of extra support—or you’d rather not find out but prefer to avoid lower back pain and sore feet after long runs just the same—you ought to consider a cushioned shoe.
Determining exactly how much cushioning is best for you can be a bit of a Goldilocks situation: Most people don’t want their ride too soft or too firm. If you’re new to what some testers describe as “running on the moon,” ease in slowly. It’s easy to step into what feels like a pillow for your feet, get over-eager, and ramp up the mileage too quickly. But doing that will put you at risk for injury more so than cushioning will protect you from it. Generally, it’s best to ease in slowly with any new shoe.
Best Brooks Running shoe for cushioning: Glycerin 17
The Glycerin has always been Brooks’s plushest trainer, and the current version still holds the title. Testers have described the Glycerin 17 as “the kind of shoe you wear all the time—even when you’re not running.”
The impressively soft DNA Loft midsole—a blend of air, rubber, and foam that adapts to your stride while also protecting your feet and legs from shock—and a mesh upper keep things light and stylish. These shoes look too sleek to give away just how cushy they feel.
How can a shoe be “fast?” Isn’t it the runner’s job to be fast? Well, that sort of depends on how you define “fast.” When you’re talking shoes, “fast” means a snug fit, super lightweight, and a firm base that you’ll sometimes hear people describe as feeling “snappy.” Basically, a fast shoe doesn’t waste any extra weight, material, or resources on any added features. When you put it on, all that matters is the run.
Best Brooks Running shoe for speed: Hyperion
The Hyperion is light and fast. Or, as our test editors once put it, “a racing flat for most of us.” That’s due to the soft, smooth, finely woven upper providing a sock-like feel and a snug fit delivering “ready to rip the pavement” confidence. The BioMoGo DNA midsole is thin, but since it’s a blend of foam and gel, it provides just the right touch of cushioning, while Propulsion Pods in the forefoot offer traction and that snappy rebounding action as you push off.
“Energy Return” has long been a complicated and misunderstood term in the running world, but essentially it boils down to “bounce.” You use a certain amount of energy every time you pound your foot into the pavement, and a certain percentage of that force sinks into your shoe’s cushioning as heat. Energy return refers to how much of that input force is recovered on the rebound. The greater the energy return, the more propulsive the sensation.
For many runners, shoes that seem to feel spring-loaded are the ones that allow the body to do its most efficient work. Responsive shoes, with their high-tech cushioning, should make you feel connected to the ground and energetic on the pickup of each stride but still comfortable. If you enjoy feeling the ground beneath your feet and want to get in some quality speed work and fast 5Ks, consider a shoe with great energy return capability.
Best Brooks Running shoe for energy return: Levitate 2
The Levitate was designed to be the most responsive Brooks Running shoe to date. To pull it off, they created the DNA Amp midsole. This foam allows you to enjoy a soft ride while it revs you to go faster, no matter the pace or distance. As one RW tester put it: “The responsiveness in this shoe makes you feel like you can run hard with confidence, or run easy and smooth.”