You’re cruising through the mall prepared to plunk down your hard-earned money for a pair of sneakers. You step into the sports superstore and stop dead in your tracks, dazzled by the sheer number of shoes lining the walls. After listening to the salesperson rattle off a list of features, you try on a few pairs. Thirty minutes later, you still can’t decide between the coolest cross-trainers and the hippest high-tops. Sound familiar?
Running the mile and shooting hoops are hard enough on your knees and ankles. But doing them without the proper shoes can be a real health hazard.
Your feet work hard during sports. The movements you make put a lot of stress on your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments. Shoes that don’t fit properly or that don’t provide enough support can lead to injuries such as shin splints and stress fractures. That’s especially true for runners. When you run, your body absorbs up to four times your body weight with every step. The right shoes protect not only your feet but your ankles, shins, knees, and back from injury by absorbing impact and controlling unwanted movement. When shopping for shoes, consider your feet, your activity, and the surface you’re doing it on. Your shoes should match all three.
Generally, people with flat feet need shoes with less cushioning than people with average feet. Those with high arches need shoes with more shock absorption. The shape of the shoe should also match your foot type. To determine what type of feet you have, look at your wet footprint after a shower. If you can see the whole bottom of your foot, you have flat feet and should look for shoes with a straight shape. If you see only parts of your forefoot and heel with a thin line between them, you have high-arched feet and should look for shoes with a curved shape. Other feet are in-between.
The most important factor to keep in mind when choosing athletic shoes is what you’ll be using them for. No one brand fits all feet or is best for all types of activities. If you play basketball or do aerobics, for example, you need shoes that keep your ankles stable during side-to-side movements. On the other hand, if you run or hike, you need shoes that. are lightweight and have plenty of cushioning. Multipurpose shoes are fine for things such as lifting weights or working out in the gym. But if you participate in a sport three or more times a week, you need a sport-specific shoe. “The biggest mistake young people make when they start a new sport or exercise program is using shoes that are not designed for that activity,” says Greg Catalano, D.P.M., of the North Bridge Podiatry Group in Concord, Massachusetts. “Running shoes are not designed for motion other than straight ahead. If you’re doing a sport that’s outdoors and that requires a lot of cutting and change of direction, you need a cleated shoe.”
If the Shoe Fits …
Whatever your sport, fit and comfort are key. Even the best shoes are useless if they give you blisters after the first day. Look for a shoe that’s roomy at the toe and snug at the heel to keep your foot from slipping, especially during sports that involve a lot of quick turns, such as soccer or lacrosse. Shoes should also be flexible. To ensure a good fit, wear the socks you normally wear when exercising, and shop at the end of the day or after a workout, when your feet are their largest. Athletic shoes that are too tight in the store won’t stretch.
Female athletes should keep in mind that girls’ feet are different from guys’. “Women tend to have a narrower heel and a wider forefoot,” says Dr. Catalano. “Don’t buy a shoe that’s designed for boys. Be sure they are sized for women.” He also recommends going to a specialty store staffed by people who know your sport. “The people in shoe megastores aren’t necessarily experts,” he says.
Replace your old shoes regularly. Most shoes lose their cushioning after three to six months of regular use. If the tread is gone or your shoes start leaning to one side, you know it’s time for a new pair. “Whatever you do, be sport-specific and, if possible, specific to your foot structure,” says Dr. Catalano. “If you’re running on trails instead of the track, look for running shoes that are geared especially to trail running. They are sturdier and more supportive than road running shoes. They’re also heavier. Generally, the lighter the shoe, the less supportive.”
Think function, not fashion. Shoes with open heels, zippers instead of laces, or no arch support are accidents waiting to happen, says Dr. Catalano. “They’re not designed for athletic performance.”
Buying the right shoes and replacing them regularly will help you avoid injuries.
What’s Your Athletic shoes should have different weights, widths, soles, and cushioning, depending on what sport you use them for. Here’s a brief rundown of shoe requirements for some different activities:
- Running: heel and forefoot cushioning, lightweight, flexible front selection section, breathable upper mesh, rough
- Walking: cushioning under ball of the foot, lightweight, rounded sole, flexible front section
- Basketball: high-tops for stability during jumps and landings, flat soles for quick stops and snap moves
- Tennis: firm heel, roomy toe area, herringbone sole design, flexibility
- Aerobics: lightweight, shock absorption for ball of the foot, side-to-side support, flexibility, smooth tread
- Cross-training: less flexible than running shoes, stable enough for multi-directional movements