News and Insights

FSR Interview with Dr. Rita Chorba

DPT, MAT, SCS, ATC, CSCS, Physical Therapist

Dr. Chorba has over 10 years’ experience guiding high performers from injuried to ready to back in action. She has worked across the spectrum of health, fitness, and human performance. Over the last decade, she has honed a craftsman approach to human performance by integrating a variety of disciplines, including physical therapy, athletic training, strength and conditioning, ergonomics, research methods, and teaching theory. Her work includes supporting military human performance.

Author: Which Running Shoes Are For Me?: A 10-step Guide to Evaluating Any Shoe.

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1 Picking out the right athletic shoes. Such an interesting topic to tackle. What originally got you interested in studying this subject?

Though I had worked with collegiate and professional runners for several years, it wasn’t until I started working with the military that the issue of shoe selection really presented as a problem. When I began working with the Marines, I observed that some running-related injuries didn’t always respond to sports medicine treatments as I would have expected. Having dealt with my own challenges with finding the right shoes (I have two different feet!) I discovered that some of the tips I’d picked up in my learning process were helpful for my clients.

2 You’ve mentioned years of planning and study going into developing the book and recommendations. How did you go about identifying the right things to look at, and when did it come together for you?

Most of the runners I had worked with in my earlier career needed only minor adjustments to their chosen shoes. Or, maybe they just needed a different model of their favored brand. However, with my military clients, a preferred shoe seemed more elusive. I started to notice that the differences between the two groups tended to hinge on the amount of time the latter group spent working and training in combat boots.

I started to learn about combat boots and their effects on the body. Research has shown that wearing combat boots, compared to other types of footwear, can change the way the foot and leg naturally move. Combat boots can also contribute to joint and soft tissue stiffness. There is some trade-off between foot protection and foot fitness. So, I began to look at the components of a shoe that followed the principles of natural foot motion and narrowed down the list to a few key aspects that seem to work!

3 I keep thinking. Selecting the right shoe. To a layperson, it wouldn’t seem to be that complicated, but knowing athletes, I’ve seen the care they take in identifying the right one. What are some of the things an average person isn’t thinking about, but should? What’s wrong with just grabbing the newest pair of Adidas?

Perhaps nothing at all. But there are safety and performance benefits to matching the type of footwear to its intended workout or sport. Changes in terrain, distance, and weather can make even the best fitting pair of street or sport shoes perform poorly for running workouts day after day. Like tires for your car (think snow tires on a truck versus racing tires on a sports car), what’s great for one set of conditions may be entirely wrong for another!

4 The arch length measurement was interesting to me. I’ve been fitted I don’t know how many times in shoe stores. They always use the Brannock Device for length and width, but the salesperson always ignores the arch length. Why is that? And why is it important to make sure you take that into consideration?

I share your experiences with being measured in a shoe store and having the arch length ignored! It seems like a simple lack of training on the part of the salesperson. They may not have been taught that some people have a longer or shorter arch length compared to the total length of their foot. It’s essential to take this measurement into account, as a difference from what the shoe manufacturer considers “average” can result in choosing the incorrect size for your foot. It can also lead to pain or injuries, as the shoe may not flex at the spot where your foot naturally bends.

5 The tripod analogy made me think of the sizing computers a lot of stores have now. You know, the ones with a pad you stand on, the computer measures how your foot contacts the floor, and tells you what shoe you should buy. Any truth to those machines? What should people watch out for when using one?

While those types of foot scanners can show your foot’s pressure points and your general arch type, they can’t measure how your foot behaves when you’re running. Research shows that many people’s arches act differently than they “should” when the foot is in motion. So, a scan while standing in place (with both feet perfectly still) doesn’t represent what happens when a person is running – landing from one foot to the other.

One thing that static foot scanners can help with is identifying large imbalances in pressure. If, for example, the scanner detects that you are putting much more than 50% of your weight on one foot, it would be worth further investigation to determine why that was so. Walking imparts forces of about 1.5 times your body weight with each step; that number increases to 4-8 times body weight with running. So, any extra load that stresses one side of your body, mile after mile, can really add up.

6 You talk in your book about the fact that no single shoe feature improves performance in and of itself, but can you talk about where you’ve seen the right shoe selection overall, improve athletic performance over time?

I think the key feature of a good shoe is that it supports your performance rather than prevents it. As elite runners know, you get better at running when you can keep showing up consistently over time. Uncomfortable or improperly fitted shoes increase your risk of injury, which could cause you to miss crucial training time.

Some runners notice that when they’ve found the right shoes, building mileage becomes more effortless. Others begin to enjoy a regular running routine without pain. Ultimately, the right shoes can allow you to focus on looking ahead to the business of running instead of down at the distractions on your feet.

7 Any last words of wisdom as people look to pick out the next pair of running shoes?

Wearing shoes that allow your feet to do what they naturally want to do can make a big difference in your running. The sheer volume of information out there about shoes can be confusing and overwhelming; the good news is that there are basic components that all running shoes share, and that you can learn to identify with ease. Whatever your running goals, a well-fitting pair of shoes will help you get there.

You can purchase Dr. Chorba’s book on Amazon.