Fitness Articles

Find the Perfect Workout Shoe for You

Meet Your Sole Mate

944SHARES
Your feet work hard every day, carrying you through your daily tasks while you walk, stand, carry, lift, climb, clean, work, and exercise. If you neglect your feet—especially during a workout—then your feet with have to deal with swelling, blisters, and lasting discomfort on top of everything else.

One of the best ways to care for your feet is to invest in a good pair of workout shoes. There is nothing worse than trying to work out when you're experiencing pain and risking possible injury. To improve your workouts, look for a high-quality shoe with a good fit that is made to support the activities you do.

Although most people buy running shoes even if they have never jogged, the shoes you buy should be specific to the activity that you will be using them for.
  • Running shoes have additional cushioning to absorb shock as your foot hits the ground, which helps to reduce blisters. They are flexible and light. Traditional running shoes are designed for forward motion, so they don't support you well when you move in other directions (like during basketball or step aerobics). Barefoot running and minimalist running have gained popularity in recent years.  These shoes are lightweight and flexible and have very little padding or support.
  • Trail shoes have added traction for running and walking in grass, mud, or trails.
  • Walking shoes tend to be stiffer and heavier than running shoes. These provide more support because your foot rolls from heel to toe more slowly than when you run.
  • Cross-training shoes are great for people who have a varied workout routine or play different sports. This is the most versatile athletic shoe, designed to give more support for changes in direction and impact, making them an economical choice. They're heavier and less cushioned than running shoes and not recommended if running is your main mode of training.
  • Specialty shoes exist for weight lifting, cycling, hiking, tennis, basketball, soccer, and more. If you engage in these activities several days per week, consider buying a sport-specific shoe to fit your needs.
  • Lifestyle shoes are not made for athletic activities, even though they are made by the same manufacturers who make running and workout shoes. These shoes have flat soles and a sporty look, but not enough support for workout. They're fine for running errands or casual wear, but don't make them part of your exercise gear.
Finding the Best Running or Walking Shoe
When you get fitted for a new pair of running or walking shoes, go to the experts at a sporting goods store, running store, or even a podiatrist. Ask the expert of your choice to help you evaluate the arch of your foot, of which there are three main types:
  1. Flat-footed folks have low arches and feet that tend to roll inward as you run or walk. Look for a shoe that offers more stability.
  2. High arches often cause the feet to roll outward when walking. Look for a cushioned shoe with greater flexibility to help absorb shock more effectively. Insoles, inserted inside your shoes, can also help to support heels and arches. They can be bought separately by shoe size and needs.
  3. "Normal" arches don't fit into either extreme. Most shoes are made to fit these types.
Additionally, there are three different types of pronation. Pronation, the way that your foot moves after striking the ground (often with the heel and ankle rolling inward for balance) is a normal movement.
  1. Overpronation occurs when the foot rolls excessively inward, which can lead to muscle strains in both your legs and feet. Overpronators also tend to have low arches. Look for "stability" or "motion control" shoes, which are less flexible, have a thicker heel and help decrease excessive pronation.
  2. Underpronation (supination) describes feet that roll outward when running or walking. Underpronators tend to have high arches or "pigeon-toes." Look for shoes with extra cushioning to help absorb the added impact on your foot strikes.
  3. Normal pronation is most common, where the foot pronates normally, but not excessively. Look for stability shoes, which are more flexible than motion control shoes but still have good support.

Arch type and pronation are important when purchasing traditional running shoes.  If you decide to take the minimalist route, arch and pronation aren’t as important, but there are different shoes to choose from depending on the terrain (road or treadmill versus trail.)  Minimalist shoes force the muscles in your feet to work harder, so it’s important to gradually increase your mileage in these types of shoes.  

Additional Shoe Shopping Tips
  • Shoes should be replaced every five to six months (or 400-600 miles of running/walking), depending on how often you use them. If the tread (on the outer sole) is worn or if the sides are worn to the point that your shoe leans one way or the other, it's time for a new pair. Write the date on the insole of your new shoes to help you remember when it's time to replace them.
  • Unlike traditional running shoes, minimalist shoes do not have the padding or cushioning that typically break down after a certain number of miles.  Therefore, minimalist shoes can last longer.  Tread wear is a good indicator of when they need to be replaced.  
  • Get refitted for each year. Don't assume that a new design of the same shoe will fit the same way as the previous model did. It may have been modified slightly in the design process.
  • When you try out new shoes, wear the same type of socks that you wear when working out.
  • Shop in the evening, when your feet tend to be larger.
  • When standing, your shoe should have about a half-inch gap between your longest toe and the toe box of the shoe.
  • Walk or jog around the store (some will even let you try it outside) to see how the shoes feel. Try movements that you plan to use this shoe for (jumping, marching, aerobics, etc.) Your feet shouldn’t slide back and forth or side-to-side as you move around. If the shoe does not feel "just right" in the store, try on another shoe. Shoes do not need a breaking in period, per se, so keep shopping.
  • Ask about the return/exchange policy at the store. Exchange and return policies vary between stores. Some stores will not accept returns if the shoe shows wear or if the return period is greater than 30 days. Many stores will offer an exchange if you don't like your shoes after trying them, but be sure to ask.
  • Most experts recommend wearing your new shoes around the house for a couple hours a day for a few days before wearing them for longer workouts. This allows the heat from your foot to mold the inner sole to your foot for better comfort. Then, don't wear your new shoes for your longest run or walk until you have worn them for a few shorter workouts first. You will want to allow time to transition into your new shoes, even if they are the same make and model you have worn before. This is one reason why you do not want to wait before your old shoes completely wear out before you get fitted for your new ones. And never wear new shoes for a race without wearing them for a few weeks first.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Jen Mueller, personal trainer and marathon runner.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
944SHARES

Member Comments

  • Wait! The paragraph above says shoes DON'T need a breaking in period, but then the paragraph below that spends extensive time telling you you should walk around the house a bit in your shoes first and not to run a race until you've worn the shoes a few weeks first. Obviously then, the shoes DO need a breaking in period.
  • I have long, very narrow feet & a friend has VERY wide. New Balance is the only brand we've found with that range of sizes. If you can't find affordable shoes locally, look for an online outlet that gets discontinued models or close-out colors. I've seen $100+ shoes for $30ish, not just imaginary mark-ups either. Happy hunting!

    Even Nordstrom's Rack or Ross's get name brands at big discounts though sizes can be limited.
  • Jack Ramsey, what works for you won't necessarily work for someone else. My 18 year old daughter is a runner and wore Nikes for a couple of years. They had little support for her feet, legs and hips and she was always in pain. I took her to be fitted at a running store last spring. She ended up with an Asics stability shoe. It cost me $99 but eliminated most of her aches and pains.

    This is a good article that pretty much says what the guy at the running store told us.
  • This was a very informative article. Thank you so much!!
  • Thank you. I now know which shoes are the appropriate one's I should purchase. There will be a few different kinds to make the most out of what I want.
  • Of course, this is assuming you have a specialty store in your area that carries the brand of shoes you like, fit well, and won't cost the mortgage payment to buy them. Otherwise, you do the best you can. I don't have the money to spend over $150 on a pair of exercise shoes.
  • As a flat footed person, the information is right on target. Even though I know what to get, it helps to review the reasoning. Will save this to review again later.
  • If the shoe seller doesn't know what a woman's or a man's LAST is ~ walk away!!!
    The last is the "form" which shoes are made from. For many years all shoes were formed from the last of a MAN's foot!!! Yes!! Now shoe makers are getting the point, but if you walk into a sport's store and they can't tell you if the shoe is made from a man's or a woman's last, they don't know what they are talking about. Be careful with sports shoes and hiking shoes in particular. The people helping you should be experts, not inexperienced sales clerks, someone in the store should be educated or walk away!
  • There is no truer advice. I got a stress fracture (broken toe) on my right foot from a combination of poor footwear and an over aggressive orthotic insert! I was in a "boot" for three months and couldn't do much of anything. Gained the 10 pounds I lost which was the pits! Buy good footwear, spend time and get the right thing, and if you have orthotics made to correct your foot problem make sure to follow up regularly with the orthotic technician for regular adjustments, your foot will adjust and the orthotic needs to be "honed" to adjust for the correction. I learned the HARD way!
  • One of the healthiest things we can do is walk barefoot in grass or on a beach daily. It's called earthing.

    I tried every which shoe to help me with low back pain, and not one of them dis a thing for me; neither did costly orthotics. What helped was to address my core muscles. Once I strengthened them, my low back pain disappeared, and now it doesn't much matter what I wear unless I am going for a long hike. I never run. Two of my sisters have destroyed their feet and knees running.
  • I'm always annoyed with bad fitting sneakers becuase my size isn't made in sneakers. 10 is too small and 11 is too big, I'm a 10.5 and that actually does not exist in sneakers:( Stupidest thing I've ever seen in my life.
  • JACKRAMSEY
    I love my Nikes. If you're looking for a top running shoe that you can wear any other time too you've got to go with Nikes! Don't believe me? Ask anyone.
    http://consumst
    er.com/2014/0
    3/18/sport-sh
    oes-is-nike-r
    eally-the-best-option/
    Reviews everywhere agree too. That's just my opinion i suppose but i don't see why anyone would decide against Nikes.
  • LCERTUCHE
    When I was ready for some new walking shoes I walked in a shoe store and told the clerk. He led me to some shoes and waved his hand across the entire section saying "All the shoes here are walking shoes". After trying on practically all the shoes I finally settled on a pair that was not as uncomfortable as the others. As it turned out what I bought was just a pair of cute shoes and not walking shoes. I spent a lot of money that was slotted for athletic shoes not fashion shoes. I should have researched before buying.
  • I have had problems with my feet all my life and being knocked kneed. My feet roll over at any nano second. Resulting in sprained ankles. My tendons in my ankles are all stretched out now. Surgery has been offered to shortened them for more stability but I'm used to it now. I also have suffered plantar fasciitis several times. I can't just pick any shoe off the rack. I have to walk around the store in them.
    Good workout shoes is a MUST. I never really understood the difference until I was turned on to a good pair. What a different that made! Yes, I did go through several different makers until I found the ones that worked best for me and yes, they were costly....but worth every penny
  • Anyone that has problems with plantar fasciitis I have found that the need for braces is non-resistant with a shoe called KURU. The shoe has great arch supports.

About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

x Lose 10 Pounds by June 9! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.