5 Tips for Choosing the Right Athletic Shoes
Step into high gear this summer with your best foot forward by making sure the kicks you’re wearing are giving you the support you need to go the distance.
Be Aware of Your Shape
Our feet, like many parts of our body, are made differently. Knowing the shape of your feet allows you to eliminate a variety of shoes that do not match your feet’s structure. One way to determine what kind of shape your feet have is to conduct a “wet test”. It’s simple; wet your feet and stand on dark paper. Once the moisture from your feet creates an imprint, observe the curve made between the ball of your feet and heels. Your result will fall under one of three categories: fallen arch, high arch, or a neutral arch.
With a flat foot, you will notice that the outline of your foot is shown almost entirely. You will see there is no curve to your shape. That is because people who have flat feet have a fallen arch, where your foot is so flat that your ankles and feet overpronate (roll inward) to provide support during movement. Overpronation causes more stress on your heel and the inside of your foot since your body is compensating for the unsupported arch.
High arches have very distinct imprints. The curve of the foot is very acute, making your feet look very slim. People with high arches tend to roll their ankles outward during movement. This is called supination or underpronation. Those with high arches feel more stress on the outer edge of their feet and their little toes.
A person who displays a neutral arch will see a regular curve in their feet’s imprint, neither too thin nor the entire foot. The curve will show an inward direction, but not by more than ¾ of an inch. People with neutral arches tend to distribute movement and impact evenly, causing their feet to land normally on the ground.
Match Your Shoes to Your Activity
All shoes are not made equally. Each shoe has a designated purpose for providing support and protection for a particular activity. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, athletic shoes fall into seven different categories:
- Aerobic Activity Shoes – For running, walking, jogging, hiking, and training.
- Court Sports – For basketball, tennis, and volleyball.
- Field Sports – For soccer, football, and baseball.
- Winter Sports – For figure skating, ice hockey, alpine sports, and cross-country skiing.
- Track and Field Sports – For competitive runners that have specific needs.
- Specialty Sports – For cycling, golf, and dancing.
- Outdoor Sports – For hunting, fishing, and boating.
It makes sense that one would wear specific shoes for field sports, so why would you wear walking shoes for running? Knowing what type of shoe you need for a specific activity prevents you from discomfort during and after exercise, as well as prevents injury. Shoes that are made for a specific activity are meant to be comfortable and support your movements, as well as allocate pressure accordingly.
Most people are in the market for a good walking, running, or cross training shoe. Each are designed for specific movements and support. If you frequently engage in two or more of these activities, you should have a pair for each activity.
How to Try on Shoes
Before you walk into a store, you should be aware of two things: your foot type and the kind of activity the shoe will be used for. Most specialty athletic shoe stores can provide you with a shoe that meets your specific needs and that is tailored to your activity level. As a consumer, you should be guarded with some knowledge about your potential purchase.
It is suggested to try on shoes at the end of the day, after you’ve been on your feet for several hours. Since your feet swell up after long hours of movement, your feet will be at their largest size when you try on shoes, allowing you to capture the greatest size your feet will be.
Bring along the socks you normally wear for that activity. This will enable you to immediately feel the comfort level of the shoe in a state that is natural to you. Shoes should not feel tight or rigid, rather you should immediately feel supported and relaxed as soon as you take several steps around the store. Try running or doing some squats, lunges, or jumps in the shoe to feel its movement with your body. Make sure to move your feet back and forth, checking for some wiggle room at the top of the shoe (about the width of your thumb) but not a loose heel. You should immediately feel comfortable in your shoes.
Interestingly enough, there are different shoelace patterns that provide you with a variety of support. Ditch the standard shoelace pattern for some more appropriate ones found here.
When to Kick Your Shoes to the Curb
Your shoes do have a shelf life and the longer you delay that life, the more you put yourself at risk for pain and injury. Depending on your type of activity and your foot shape, you should adhere to the following guidelines on when to replace your kicks.
- Running shoes should be replaced every 350 – 550 miles. This mileage depends on your frequency but usually occurs between an average of 8 – 12 months.
- Cross trainers should be substituted between 60 – 100 hours of activity.
- Those who overpronate will see wear around the heel and the bottom of the shoe’s inner side.
- Those who supinate will see wear underneath the toes and the outer edge of the shoe.
Remember, these are just guidelines and you should replace your shoes when you notice signs of wear that compromise your feet’s health.
Find Your Style
Running shoes tend to have more visual appeal than cross-trainers, but that shouldn’t stop you from buying the right shoe. If you are a runner, look for a shoe that provides a reflective strip to enhance your visibility to others during nighttime runs. Since your feet are constantly moving, reflectiveness creates a visual cue to drivers that you are present. Running shoes tend to be flexible and lightweight to provide stability and cushion while engaging in powerful movements. Conversely, cross-trainers (perfect for group fitness classes) are bulkier than running shoes since cross-trainers are designed to provide you with lateral (side to side) support and extra cushioning.
Shoe manufacturers are allowing consumers to not only design their own shoes, but also personalize them in attractive ways. Choose a shoe color that represents your personality. Show some school spirit by wearing shoes that rock your university colors. Allow your shoes to speak about you, without saying anything at all.
Do your research before going out to purchase shoes. Look online at shoe reviews and talk to your friends about their favorite brands. You might find out that some shoes, like our feet, are just created differently.
(Photo via Flickr.)