Choosing The Right Shoes For Exercise: Running, Walking, Basketball, And Cross Trainer Shoes

So many shoes, so little time... here's how to choose the right athletic shoe for the type of exercise you like, whether it's running walking, basketball or cross training.

Peruse the shelves of any sports equipment store, and it would seem that there are more types of athletic shoes than there are sports for which to wear them! However, all that specialization does matter, because you want to wear the best shoe not just for your sport, but the best shoe for you. What does that mean? It means considering your foot size, shape, and any idiosyncrasies about how you run, walk, jump, and land. No matter what you need, there is a shoe out there just for you - and you can learn how to find it.

The first step - yes, pun intended - is to ensure that you embark upon your shopping expedition with your feet prepared as though to do your sport. Try on shoes late in the day; if you go in the morning, your foot will be smaller and tighter than it would after a day of walking around, and you don't want to end up with a too-small shoe. Also, make sure you take the socks you will wear when you exercise to the store. The right fit needs to take the sock size and thickness into account.

Next, it is helpful to know a few terms that are important no matter how you exercise. Pronation describes the movement of the ankle. A neutral foot-strike means the heel and ball land evenly, with no rotation of the ankle. Over-pronators, who often have flat or fallen arches, tend to roll the ankle too far inward. Under-pronators, who often have high arches and stiff feet, don't have enough flexion in their stride. Ankle and arch support issues permeate all sports, so have an expert watch your walking and running stride to determine if you over- or under-pronate.

Perhaps the greatest variety of shoes exists for runners. Because good foot motion is so important to prevent injury for runners, it is imperative that you find a shoe that provides exactly what you need. Motion-control running shoes are often the sturdiest, and thus the heaviest, of the running shoes on the market. They provide solid arch curvature for those with flatter feet, and help keep the ankle from rolling too far when the heel strikes. If you over-pronate or have fallen arches, look for shoes with strong motion control. If you have high arches, you will want to investigate cushioning shoes. These shoes are built on a curved last, with padding in the heel and/or under the ball of the foot, to encourage a rolling motion through the heel-strike to the ball push-off. If you are a neutral strider, you can find excellent shoes offering a middle level of cushioning, motion control, and stability that will encourage an efficient running motion without providing too much extra support. Stability shoes are lighter than motion-control runners, but a little bit heavier than cushioning runners. The average runner will often find stability shoes to be the most comfortable because they do not create a particular stride motion. If you have reached an elite level of running, however, you will probably focus most on the weight of the shoe, and be drawn to lightweight training shoes. Some of these incorporate motion-control or cushioning aspects, but mostly they tend to sacrifice therapeutic controls to become as light as possible. Severe over- or under-pronators should not look into lightweight shoes, but average striders should be quite comfortable in them.

The same concerns exist for walking shoes, but one needs to consider the anatomical differences of walking. Because the foot is in contact with the ground for longer, and because the motion creates a different type of impact, walkers often feel soreness in the lower back rather than in the knee. While pronation is still a key factor in buying the correct shoe, the types of shoes offered for walking vary greatly from those marketed for running. Walking shoes tend to be stiffer overall than running shoes, with greater cushioning in the ball even for motion-control shoes. You need to find a shoe that does have some flexion, because the walking stride requires a rolling action from the heel throw to the toe box. Many advanced walkers seek out a shoe with a heel that is flat relative to the ball, because it promotes that rolling motion and eases lower-back strain.

Cross-training shoes take an entirely different motion into consideration. You want a pair of cross-trainers if you take aerobic classes that involve any lateral (sideways) motion in addition to impact, such as step or kickboxing. Running or walking shoes are built for the forward motion of running, and do not provide any stability to the ankle for side-to-side motion; only cross-trainers are designed to prevent injury and support lateral moves. You should also wear cross-trainers when weight-lifting, because they provide the most multi-directional support. Most cross-trainers have a wider outsole than running or walking shoes, which contributes to their excellent stability for lateral motion.

The last type of specialized shoe you might seek out, basketball shoes, are perhaps the culmination of all of the above. Basketball involves, running, stopping, jumping, and sidling, so basketball shoes must provide flexibility, support, stability and lateral control. If you are a competitive basketball player, you will want more shock absorption than a recreational player, who will need more support and stability. Find a shoe with the right kind of pronation control you need, and consider other features after that.

Of course, buying the right size of any athletic shoe will provide the key to the best fit. Have your foot measured professionally, and seek out a shoe built on a narrow or wide last if you have a foot that is not average width. Take your shoes for a test drive - if you are a runner, jog around the store, if possible with a shoe specialist watching your stride in your original shoes and then in the shoes you are testing. Make sure that the shoe is comfortable and supportive in movement. Once you've brought your new shoes home, take care of them. Don't wear a running shoe for a kickboxing class or a walking shoe to shoot hoops with your friends. If possible, keep at least two pairs of shoes in rotation so you can give your shoes a day of rest between workouts, and always buy new shoes after three hundred to five hundred miles of use. And of course, last of all, have fun!

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