Maybe you shouldn’t reach for those comfy old sneakers, after all.
What’s the one piece of workout gear you can’t live without? Your Ipod Nano? A good water bottle? A truly supportive sports bra?
A good pair of shoes can make or break your workout — but it’s easy to go wrong.
1. Grabbing Whatever’s Handy
“The biggest mistake people make when they start running, jogging, or doing any exercise program, is just reaching into the closet and pulling out an old pair of sneakers,” says Tracie Rodgers, PhD, an exercise psychologist and spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.
But how do you choose the right shoe for your workout?
2. Choosing the Right Shoe — for the Wrong Workout
First, you need to choose the right type of shoe for the kind of workout you’ll be doing. And yes, it does matter.
A shoe made for running is very different from a shoe made for basketball or tennis, in a number of ways. Running shoes have no lateral stability built into them, because you don’t move your feet laterally when you run. You’re only going forward, and a running shoe is built to give you support and stability as you move your foot through the running gait cycle. Basketball and tennis shoes both have to be stabilized laterally, because you move your feet side to side a lot when playing these sports. Even walking shoes differ from running shoes.
Running you land more on your forefoot while when walking you have a heavier heel strike. So for running, you want a shoe that has more cushioning on the forefoot, while walking shoes should have stiffer rubber to support the heel. Can’t you just get a good cross-trainer and use it for everything? Probably not. There’s no specificity to them: you can’t do any one thing well. They have some lateral stability, so you can play a game of basketball with your kids occasionally. You can run a mile or two. But most of them are not very good shoes for any particular activity.
Then again, some people aren’t heavily into running, hiking, tennis, or any one sport. They go to the gym occasionally, maybe play tennis with a work buddy once in a while, or shoot a few baskets with the kids.
For them, a cross-trainer might be the best choice.
A good cross-trainer will allow you to do the treadmill, some walking on asphalt or on a track, and light jogging. But I like them for people who are doing a variety of athletic endeavors casually.
To choose a good cross-trainer look for:
A firm heel
Good support (you shouldn’t be able to bend the shoe too easily)
Light weight (you don’t want to add a lot of pounds to your feet)
But the APMA (American Podiatric Medical Association) recommends that if you’re going to participate in a particular sport on a regular basis (2-3 times a week or more), you should choose a sport-specific shoe.
3. Loving Them Too Much
Your workout shoes should be your workout shoes, and not your running-around-town shoes. You’ll break down a pair of shoes standing in them or wearing them to the mall and running errands much faster than when you’re running or exercising.
So buy yourself a pair of casual tennies for running around town, and stow your good workout shoes in the closet as soon as you get home from your run or your tennis game.
4. Loving Them Too Long
Another big mistake many people make when buying athletic shoes is not replacing them often enough. Shoes start to break down while they’re still looking good. The support — the reason you buy the shoe in the first place — is gone, and you’ll start feeling strange aches and pains in your knees, hip, and back. Most experts recommend that runners replace their shoes every 300-500 miles. If you don’t run enough to have a mile count, or running’s not your sport, you should replace your athletic shoes at least once a year.
If you’re exercising on a casual basis, you can make your shoes last a year, but if you’re working out every day, six months is pretty much your limit.
You should also have your shoe size rechecked every year. Foot size doesn’t stay the same; our feet tend to grow bigger as we age.
5. Doing It Yourself
Unless you’ve been playing your sport for a long time and have learned exactly what shoe is right for you, it’s a bad idea to just walk into a sporting goods store, try on a few pairs of shoes, and walk out with what you think is best.
Instead, go to an athletic shoe specialty store like Runners Image on E. State in Rockford to get an expert insight on the right shoe and the best fit.
The staff there will do a real fitting, evaluate your foot. And they’ll take three measurements — not just one — on the metal plate we’ve all seen in shoe stores, known as a Brannock device.
You need to know not just length, but also width and arch length. “All three of those numbers together determine what size you should wear. And each shoe can be cut a little differently — a 10.5 isn’t a universal 10.5 in all shoes — so they’ll start with that number and work from there.
A good athletic shoe specialty store like Runners Image will also have a liberal return policy — so ask. Others may permit you to return shoes if you’ve only worn them indoors, but not outdoors.