Wearing the right shoes while exercising can mean the difference between a comfortable workout, and one filled with pain, or worse-injury. Do not underestimate the importance of wearing the right shoes to suit the type of workouts you do. When I incorporated skipping to my workouts I quickly discovered how unsuitable my trainers were and was forced to get a new pair which totally changed the game. With thousands of workout shoes on the market, how do you know which one is right for you?
Running Shoes Versus Cross-Trainers
Go with running shoes if you mostly jog or walk, since they’re engineered for heel-to-toe motion. Go with cross-trainers if your routine includes an activity like aerobics, weight training, or kickboxing (basically any exercise on a hard surface that involves side-to-side movement).
What’s Your Foot Type?
Runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, and early-onset arthritis are just a few problems that arise from exercising in the wrong sneakers. In contrast, shoes designed to compensate for the impact of your feet can prevent injuries and improve structural alignment and performance. To determine your foot type: Have a podiatrist examine you or get an idea yourself by looking at the soles of a pair of worn-in flats. The wear patterns show where you’re putting pressure when you walk.
Top Outer Edge Worn
You’re a supinator (or underpronator). Supinators’ feet tend to have high arches and roll outward. You will need cushioning (also referred to, confusingly, as neutral)) sneakers for shock absorption.
You’re neutral and have an average gait with equal weight distribution across the foot. You will need stability or moderate-stability sneakers, which offer a balance of cushioning and support.
Top Inner Edge Worn
You’re a pronator, which means your feet roll inward. Flat arches or low arches are common. You will need motion-control or high-stability sneakers to keep your feet better aligned with your legs.
If You’re a Supinator…
Look for soft midsoles (the layer between the mesh upper and the treads), since this type of foot doesn’t provide enough shock absorption on its own. That means the shoes’ soles will tend to be more flexible. You can also usually spot them by the shape of the sole. A cushioned shoe cuts in at the arch, resembling a kidney bean. In many cases, this foot type has the most freedom and can wear whichever sneakers feel best at the store.
If You’re a Pronator…
Look for shoes that are a contrasting color (often gray) near the arch. This indicates the presence of a dense material that provides reinforcement to keep the arches from collapsing. The shoes tend to be fairly stiff and will flex only near the toe area. The added support can sometimes give these sneakers a boxy appearance.
What’s Up With Those Funky Shoes That Look Like Gloves for Feet?
They’re designed for barefoot running, a new movement that tries to replicate the unshod experience using barely-there shoes. This practice, which borrows from indigenous peoples who don’t have the luxury of the latest Nikes, supposedly strengthens the foot muscles and allows the feet to move more naturally. But is it safe? If you didn’t grow up running on bare feet, it’s extremely risky, resulting in everything from stress fractures to arthritis. Feet not only need protection from hard, uneven surfaces but also require customized support for their unique structure.
Now let’s break things down by the type of workouts:
While it can be tempting to shop for the biggest bargain at your local department store, investing in a quality running shoe is money well spent. Wearing poor quality shoes that don’t fit your unique anatomy and training goals results in problems. A good running shoe will offer the right amount of cushion, flexibility and breathability, but what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. In order to determine the right running shoe, it helps to know a little bit about your foot type (low, normal or high arch) as well as your pronation (how much the foot rolls in or out when it makes contact with the ground.) Most specialty running stores offer a free analysis of your foot and gait to find the best shoe for you.
Purchasing a quality walking shoe is a smart investment if walking is a primary mode of exercise for you. Although some running shoes can be used for walking, the inverse isn’t usually true. Walking shoes are more flexible through the ball of the foot to allow a greater range of motion through the roll of the forefoot. They also have greater arch support to protect where the force is heaviest on the foot. The type of walking shoe you need will depend on a number of factors, including your foot and the typical walking terrain.
Cross-trainers or aerobic shoes are suitable for a wide variety of activities other than walking or running. They are also an option if you participate in many different kinds of activities without a primary mode of exercise dominating your workout schedule. In this case, cross-trainers might be better (and less expensive) than buying a number of activity-specific shoes. Cross-trainers tend to have a wider outsole, lateral support all over (for activities that take place in directions other than forward motion) and additional support for the heels and legs. Lateral support is important for the side-to-side motion of activities like aerobics classes and certain sports.
If you do participate frequently in a specific sport like basketball or tennis, it’s worth investing in a shoe designed for the sport and the surface you’ll be playing on. You can even find shoes for aquatic activities like water aerobics that help increase the force of buoyancy in the water and also help protect the foot from minor cuts and scrapes.
Cycling shoes have a stiffer sole that gives extra support and efficient energy transfer as you pedal away. They also protect your feet while riding and can help prevent foot cramping and fatigue more effectively than a traditional shoe. The type of bike pedal you have will also determine the kind of shoe needed. For example, platform pedals don’t require a special type of footwear, but clipless pedals require special shoes which have a cleat fitted into the sole.
Weightlifting can encompass a wide variety of workouts, from a strength training video at home to a CrossFit class that incorporates Olympic powerlifting and plyometrics. The type of workouts you do will determine which kind of shoe is best.
In general, if you are participating in an activity more than a few times each week, it’s a good idea to buy a shoe designed specifically for it. It can be tempting to buy the first pair of shoes you find on sale, but many times, you get what you pay for. Poor-quality shoes can lead to poor-quality results (and injury), so do your homework before deciding which shoe is right for you. Your body will thank you for it.