Let’s face it, our feet take a beating over the course of our lifetimes. Human beings are bipedal ambulatory creatures and we spend a great deal of our time standing, walking, running, and jumping from the moment we transition from crawling as toddlers until our oldest age. If you are a regular exerciser, your feet are actually working overtime. So, it’s really important to take care of them. This is why it’s so important to make sure you choose the right athletic shoes.
Why it matters.
Wearing the wrong athletic shoes could result in a less effective workout. More importantly, it could cause injury. For instance, wearing shoes with a thin tread while hiking increases risk of ankle sprain. Wearing cross training shoes while jogging can lead to sore feet, shin splints, plantar fasciitis and other injuries.
Talk to any podiatrist and you will find that most agree that choosing the right athletic shoes is as important as the workout itself. Our bodies are highly connected. When something is off in one part, it can affect many other areas. The positioning of your feet while you move can affect the alignment of many other parts of your body including muscles and joints.
Different workouts require different motions from your body. The best shoes are designed to provide just the right amount of support at the right angle given your chosen activity. Decent quality athletic shoes are not cheap. If you are going to invest in shoes, make sure they support your exercise goals and don’t work against them.
Consider your workout.
The first step to choosing the right shoe is to determine what kind of motion your workout requires. Exercises such as walking or hiking require mostly linear motion with little impact. In contrast, running is similarly linear, but is high impact. Workouts like high intensity interval training, boot camps, dancing and kickboxing involve a lot of direction changes.
Running Shoes – Running shoes should be cushioned and to disperse force when landing. Choose shoes with a good cushion. Next, wiggle your toes in the toe box. There should be a finger-width distance between the toes and the end of the shoe because feet can swell slightly when running. Finally, pay attention to heel rise in a running shoe. The heel should be slightly higher than the toes to facilitate forward motion.
Walking – Look for a light weight shoe with some shock absorption in the heel and especially in the ball of the foot. This will help reduce heel pain as well as burning and tenderness in the ball of the foot. A shoe with a slightly rounded or sole helps to encourage the natural roll of the foot during the walking.
Cross Trainers – Cross-training shoes combine several of the above features so that you can participate in more than one sport. A good cross trainer should have both flexibility in the front of the foot needed for running and lateral control necessary for activities like dance fitness classes, kickboxing, HIIT workouts, etc.
Sports Specific Shoes – this would include shoes for basketball, tennis, golf, cycling, hiking, etc. All of these sports involve specific repetitive movements. As a result, it is highly recommended that you purchase shoes designed exclusively for these sports.
Measure your foot frequently. Believe it or not, our shoe size can change in adulthood, so measure before buying. Keep in mind that sizes often vary between brands, so go by what fits, not by what the stated size of the shoe is.
Shop toward the end of the day. Feet swell over the course of the day; they also expand while you run or walk, so shoes should fit your feet when they’re at their largest.
Try shoes on while wearing the type of socks you will be using when engaging in your workout. If you wear orthotics, bring those, too. Shoes need to fit with the orthotic inside.
Don’t assume that shoes require a “breaking in” period. Proper shoes should feel comfortable right away. Walk or run around the store a bit to make sure they feel good in action.
Use the rule of thumb. There should be about 3/8-1/2 inch between the front of your big toe and the end of the shoe — about a thumb’s width. The heel should fit relatively tightly; your heel should not slip out when you walk. The upper part of the shoe — which goes over the top of your foot — should be snug and secure, and not too tight anywhere. Finally, you should be able to wiggle all of your toes when the shoe is on.
Know when to replace your shoes. Once the back of the sole is worn out or the shoe feels uncomfortable or less supportive, it’s time to reinvent in some new kicks.