Tips for Choosing the Right Athletic Shoe

by TOI Admin August 19, 2013

     Wearing the appropriate athletic shoe plays an important role in improving comfort and performance and preventing injuries. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has provided the following tips to help choose the proper athletic shoe:

Tips for Finding the Right Athletic Shoe

  • When possible, shop at a store that caters to the sport in which you participate. If you are a runner, go to a running store; if you are a tennis player, purchase your shoes at a tennis shop. If this is not possible, do some research before shopping to find out what type of shoe is most appropriate for your favorite sport.
  • Because your feet swell throughout the day, try on shoes at the end of the day or after a workout.
  • To ensure a proper fit, wear the same type of sock that you typically wear when you are participating in the sport for which you are buying the shoes.
  • Make sure the heel counter — the back of the shoe that holds the heel in place — adequately grips your heel to ensure stability.
  • There should be at least a 1/2 inch space between your longest toe and the tip of your shoes.
  • The toe box — the front area of the shoe — should have ample room so that you can wiggle your toes. Your toes should never feel cramped in an athletic shoe.
  • When you try on shoes, walk around the store on different surfaces (carpet and tile, for example) to ensure that they are comfortable.
  • Always tighten the laces of the shoes that you are trying on so that your feet are secure in the shoe. There are many different types of lacing patterns that can be applied to the shoe to adapt for, or minimize, foot pain or structural anomalies.

 Running Shoes

Much of the recent research in athletic shoes has focused on the development and improvement of running shoes. Running shoes are grouped into three categories:

  • Cushioned or "neutral" shoes are designed for runners with high arched, rigid feet. Runners with this type of foot are classified as "supinator." The midsole of a cushioned running shoe will generally have a single color of soft foam material, ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), in the arch and heel. A moldable synthetic material, EVA has varying density properties to provide more or less cushion in the shoe.
  • Stability shoes provide light to moderate stability for individuals with an arch that may collapse while running. This type of runner, classified as a "pronator," needs to maintain their arch while running. Stability shoes have two to three different shades of gray polyurethane material in the arch, and possibly the heel, each with a different density to provide more support for the pronated (flat) foot type. The polyurethane material will make the shoe feel heavier than a shoe made only with EVA.
  • Motion control shoes are designed for runners who are "severe pronators." Motion control are the most stable running shoes, and are the shoe of choice for runners with flat feet, and those with a heavier body weight. A motion control shoe may have an extra stabilizer added to the inside edge of the heel counter to provide maximum control. The outer sole of the running shoe will be made of carbon rubber or blown rubber, which is made with injected air. A carbon rubber sole is made from a heavier material, is somewhat stiffer, and provides more durability to the shoe. Blown rubber soles are flexible and lighter in weight providing more cushion than stability.

Barefoot Running Shoes

Running without shoes, or "barefoot running," is growing in popularity. A professional trainer can tell you if this type of running is a good choice for you, and if so, provide you with tips and exercises to help you safely and slowly transition from running in shoes to running barefoot. You can purchase shoes specifically designed for barefoot running that offer no support or cushion, but do provide some protection from sharp objects and uncomfortable surfaces.

Cross Trainers

A cross training shoe is designed to take you from sport to sport with one pair of shoes. This type of shoe is not appropriate for someone who plans on running more than four to five miles a day. A cross trainer is usually made of a combination of mesh materials and strips of leather in the fabric. If the shoe has a "running" tread on the sole, it may be difficult to wear the shoe on a court for an exercise class or game.

Walking Shoe

Walking shoes provide stability through the arch, good shock absorption, and a smooth tread. Walking involves a heel-toe gait pattern, so you want to make sure that the shoe, and particularly the counter, is stable. If you have arthritis or pain in the arch of your foot, you may benefit from a rocker sole that encourages a natural roll of the foot while walking.

Court Shoe

Court shoes include those designed for basketball, tennis, and volleyball. Court shoes have a solid tread and typically are made of soft leathers. They are designed to provide stability in all directions. They may have the traditional low upper cut below the ankle, or a high cut. The higher upper is commonly found on basketball shoes to offer increased stability to the ankle during jumping and landing.

Hiking Shoes

A hiking shoe needs to provide stability as you walk across uneven surfaces, as well as comfort and cushion in the insole to absorb the shock from various impacts. Hiking shoes also should have a good tread on the sole to keep your foot firmly planted on the surfaces that you encounter. Most hiking shoes have a higher upper, providing added ankle stability.

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