Choose your shoes

Baseball’s Ken Griffey Jr., football’s Emmitt Smith and basketball’s Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill all have two things in common. They’re great professional athletes and great shoe sellers.

Problem is, Junior’s shoe might not be right for Emmitt. And Emmitt‘s might not be right for you.

If you need new shoes–for playing sports, not making a fashion statement–there’s only one way to buy them.

Watch the pros’ polished television ads all you want. But when it comes time to pay out cold cash, be foot-smart.

Get Fit

Your first step toward foot-smarts is to shop at stores specializing in athletic shoes. Their employees are trained to help you find the right shoe with the right fit.

When you go to the store, be prepared to:

* Tell the fitter if you play one sport or many.

* Bring your old sport shoes. Worn areas on the shoes let the fitter see how you use shoes.

* Show the fitter your bare feet. Fitters learn a lot just by looking at your foot shape, plus they can check your arch, instep and Achilles tendon region above the heel.

* Have your feet measured, even if you just bought new shoes a few months ago. Your feet change constantly.

Pick a Shoe

It is up to you to decide which type of shoe you want. Most athletic shoes are specially made for one sport.

* Tennis shoe: Experts call a quality tennis shoe best for all-around wear. A tennis player makes quick starts and stops. Built-in support straps and loot frames hold up to side-to-side moves. Low-cut tops are most common.

* Running shoe. A runner moves in a straight line, so a running shoe must raise and comfort the heel to protect the Achilles tendon. There is little side-to-side support. Many runners prefer a light shoe and pick one with EVA, a featherweight cushioning, instead of heavier but longer-lasting (and usually cheaper) polyurethane. Some have trim that reflects light for running more safely at night.

* Basketball (or court) shoe: A basketball player makes explosive starts and stops, soaring jumps and great slam landings. Strong court shoes are built with stability straps, sturdy foot frames, heel counter to cradle the heel and padded mid-cut or high-top to protect against ankle injury.

Still can’t decide? Try a cross-trainer. That’s a cross between a running shoe and court shoe, designed to be worn for many activities.

Tom Brunick, director of the Athlete’s Foot WearTest Center, has tried out tons of shoes. For all-around use, he suggests a tennis shoe or a cross-trainer.

Pick out a mid-height tennis shoe [three-quarter top], even if you don’t play tennis,” Brunick says. “It gives durability and traction on outdoor surfaces. It also gives good cushioning and support.

Pick a Price

Athletic shoes can cost $100 and up. Yet quality shoes are available for under $50–far less if you can live with last season’s style.

Ask the shoe fitter to suggest a mid-priced shoe that can perform nearly as well as the top dogs. Canvas shoes are cheaper, but leather supports growing feet better.

Be prepared to pay more for shoes the big-name athletes endorse. Those big bucks not only go into high-tech features, but extra advertising too. Think about how much that Penny Hardaway signature really means to you before paying for it.

All’s Well That Fits Well

Never leave a store with new shoes that don’t fit perfectly. Your heel should be snug, with about a thumbnail-width space between the tip of your big toe and the tip of the shoe.

Don’t buy a shoe to grow into. If a shoe is too big, your foot will rub, forming a blister. And don’t squeeze into a small size. If a shoe is too small, your big toe could cramp and bruise. Wiggle your toes to check.

Not even Emmitt Smith can do that for you.

Get to Know Your Feet

The more you know about your feet, the better you’ll be able to choose your shoes.

Try this trick:

Step into an empty cardboard shoe box with a wet, bare foot. Take a look at the footprint you leave. The less footprint you see, the higher your arch is. That’s valuable info for a shoe fitter.

Here are some words to know:

* Achilles tendon: The tendon that connects the back of the heel to the muscle of the leg.

* Arch: The upward curve between the ball of the foot and the heel. Measured as high, low or normal.

* Instep: The upward curve between the ball of the foot and the heel. Measured as high, low or normal.

* Instep: The upper part of the arch.

* Last: The shape of a shoe. Either straight (for low arches), curved (for high arches) or semi-curved (also called semi-straight, for normal arches).

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