Wearing the appropriate athletic shoe for specific sports activities can improve comfort and performance, and most importantly, prevent injuries. Today’s athletic shoes are designed with specific activities in mind. If you participate in a single sport more than two times a week, you should purchase a shoe specifically designed for that sport — a running shoe, court shoe, cleats, or hiking shoe. If you are active in many different forms of exercise each week, a cross training shoe may be the best choice.
- 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.
Try on both the right and the left shoes to make sure that they fit. Also, inspect the shoes on a level surface to ensure that they are straight, even, and without defects.
Make sure that the shoes have not been sitting on the shelf for an extended period of time. While the materials of an athletic shoe are designed to accommodate a lot of stress, the cushioning may become less effective over time, even without use.
Types of Athletic 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.
The best way to determine if you are a neutral, supinator, or pronator runner is to have a professional evaluate your foot. To determine your foot type on your own, view your footprint when you step out of the pool or shower. If you leave a wide, flat footprint you have a pronated foot. If the footprint is missing the inside of the foot, where your arch did not touch the ground, you have a supinated foot type.