There seem to be countless rules in the game of buying athletic shoes. Should you go for a sport-specific shoe or a cross-trainer? Choose stability or cushioning? We'll help you navigate this maze so you can find the perfect shoe for your athletic needs.
Your feet work their hardest when you're playing. The movements demanded by different sports can put a lot of stress on the muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments in your feet and legs. That's why it's a good idea to protect yourself from injury with a good pair of athletic shoes.
“If the shoe fits, buy it”
Some athletic shoes come with astronomical price tags, expense needn't be the determining factor in your choice. If you walk into a shoe store armed with the knowledge of what you need for your sport, you can walk out with a durable pair of shoes that cuts through the hype and does the job for a reasonable price.
This session addresses rubber-soled athletic shoes used in such sports as running, basketball, and aerobics. It doesn't discuss more specific footwear, such as cleats, spikes, or shoes required for bicycling or rock climbing.
A pair of cross-training shoes, which combine flexibility and stability”
Determine your sport's needs
If you participate in a number of different sports, but none too intensely, you can probably get by with a pair of cross-training shoes, which combine flexibility and stability in a way that's appropriate for a variety of sports. But if you participate in a particular sport three times a week or more, you'll probably want sport-specific shoes for the best protection. Here's a brief outline of the shoe requirements for some different sports:
Running shoes emphasize cushioning and heel stability, to protect against the impact of your footfall. Because they deal very specifically with the foot's motion during running, there are different types of shoes for different types of motion, as well as different subsets of running, such as trails, road, racing, and jogging.
Walking shoes should be cushioned in the heel and at the ball of the foot, which receive the most pressure during the rolling motion of walking. Recreational walking shoes have slightly more rigid soles than running shoes do, to encourage the smooth transfer of weight from heel to toe. (In contrast, running shoes bend more around the ball of the foot to assist the running step, which uses a sharper push-off from the ball of the foot than the walking step does.) Walking shoes should also be lightweight, to avoid any unnecessary leg fatigue. Note: Race-walking shoes are more specialized and are often more similar to running shoes.
Basketball shoes need to provide a lot of stability for your feet and ankles because of the start-and-stop nature of the sport. A stiff, thick sole will provide stability for the feet, while a high-top shoe can help support your ankles while jumping (and landing).
Tennis shoes and shoes for other racquet sports (like squash and racquetball) require firm lateral support for quick side-to-side movements. The sole under the ball of the foot also needs to be flexible to accommodate quick forward and backward motion. Shoes for racquet sports don't provide as much cushioning as other shoes do, because the court itself frequently provides additional cushioning. Note: With this in mind, you might want to ask a salesperson if the court surface for your game requires a specific shoe sole surface.
Aerobic shoes should protect the ball of the foot, where most of the impact in aerobics takes place. They should also be lightweight in order to prevent extra leg fatigue, which can lead to injury.
“Finding the proper shoe depends upon scoping out the contours of your feet.”
Determine the needs of your feet
Your feet are unique to you. In fact, they're even different from one another. Finding the proper shoe depends upon scoping out the contours of your feet. Here's what to look for:
Size. Have both your feet measured by a competent shoe salesman for size. Remember, it's not unusual for one foot to be longer or wider than the other.
Pronation. When running, our feet tend to strike first at the outside of the heel and roll diagonally forward, eventually lifting off at the inside ball of the foot, near the big toe. This is called pronation, and it's normal. If you have flat feet, however, you tend to overpronate, or roll too much toward the inside. And if you have high arches, you may underpronate, or not move diagonally enough to evenly distribute the impact of your footfall. Inform your salesperson if you have flat feet or very high arches. Different shoes can support and help distribute the motion of your feet, depending on your arch type.
Arch. To check your arches, wet the soles of your feet and then stand on a dry, flat surface where you'll be able to leave your footprints. Step back and take a look. Here's what your footprints are telling you:
If you can see the entire outline of your footprint, with the arch area nearly filled in, you have flat feet.
If you have a curve in the silhouette of your footprint where the arch should be, you have normal arches.
If your footprint looks like two separate islands for the front of the foot and the heel, or if the two islands are connected by a narrow isthmus, you have high arches.
Wear patterns on the soles of your old shoes, calluses on the bottoms of your feet, and even the shape of your legs can also indoor
If the inside of your shoes' toes wear down quickly, you overpronate. If the outside heels wear quickly, you underpronate.
Calluses appear in the areas of greatest pressure: the inside edges of the feet for overpronaters, and the outside edges for underpronaters.
Knock-knees and toes that point outward indicate over proration; bowlegs with toes that point inward indicate underpronation.
Examine the shoe closely to see if it will stand up to the wear and tear of your sport.”
Look for solid construction
A shoe's construction helps determine its support, flexibility, and durability. A salesperson can help you if you're having trouble, but here's what to look for:
Slip-lasted. This method of construction involves sewing together the upper then gluing it to the sole. It produces a durable shoe that's flexible but has no lateral stability because the side connections to the sole are not reinforced. These shoes tend to be lightweight.
Board-lasted. This construction technique produces shoes with the upper sewn to the sole, providing improved motion control. These shoes are good for people with flat feet who need extra lateral stability.
Combination-lasted. These shoes' uppers are glued to the sole in the front, but sewn in the back. This combination allows flexibility around the front of the foot, but stability in the heel. These shoes work well for a wide variety of foot types.
Sole and traction. Soles have specialized designs and construction, too, whether it's the extra wide heel and ball of the foot designed for stability on running shoe soles, or the grip of soles designed for basketball courts. A well-constructed sole should work with the special conditions of your sport.
Finally, examine the shoe closely to see if it will stand up to the wear and tear of your sport. Are the seams neat and secure or are they already frayed and starting to come loose? Are any decorative elements on the shoe securely fastened? Is the sole made out of a durable material? (Ask the salesperson if you aren't sure.) Are the laces long enough for the eyelets and are they made of sturdy material? Do the uppers have the characteristics you need; for instance, do they breathe well if you're a long-distance runner? Uppers made of high-tech material may cost more, so weigh whether or not the beneficial features of this material are useful to you.
To determine proper fit, keep these tips in mind:”
Find the right fit
The most expensive shoe in the world, with all the proper attributes for your sport and your feet, won't do you any good if it doesn't fit well. To determine proper fit, keep these tips in mind:
Shop for shoes in the afternoon or after working out, when your feet usually swell to their biggest size. Shoes that fit at this time will fit best at all times.
Bring along the kind of socks you plan to wear with your athletic shoes, to further test for best fit.
If you use orthotics, be sure to bring them along and try them in the shoes.
Look for a shoe that mimics the general shape of your foot.
Don't rely on traditional sizing to choose a shoe, as each manufacturer's sizing standard varies slightly. Always try on both shoes to see if they fit.
Stand to see if the shoes fit properly. There should be a thumb's width of space between the tip of your longest toe and the tip of the shoe. Are arch supports positioned correctly for you, and if not, can they be moved?
Walk or jog a bit in the shoes, mimicking the motions of your sport--jumps, sudden stops, side-to-side motion, and the like. Most athletic stores will let you take a pair of shoes for a trial jog up and down the aisles.
Your heel should fit comfortably into the shoe and be held firmly in place by it, with minimal slipping (test this by moving around in the shoe).
The ball of your foot should fit comfortably into the "ball pocket" of the shoe. It shouldn't be too tight, and it shouldn't slip around.
If your feet are different sizes, fit to the larger foot (wear a thicker sock on your smaller foot to adjust, if necessary).
As a rule, athletic shoes that are too tight will not stretch. Never buy a shoe that doesn't fit properly out of the box.
Equipped with these guidelines, you should be able to find the perfect fit in athletic shoes. If you find a brand and a model that fits and wears well, you might want to invest in several pairs. You'll quickly find that a well-fitting shoe can be the foundation of a great game.