Although the right
pair of athletic shoes may not enhance sports performance, it might help you
avoid discomfort or even injury. Here are tips about what to look for in your
How do I know when
it’s time to replace my old athletic shoes?
Place your old shoes
on a table or other flat surface and look at them from the back. If they lean
inward or outward or show signs of excessive wear like badly worn edges of the
sole, it’s probably time for a new pair. Even if they look like they’re in
good shape, if you’ve logged 500 or more miles in them, or if you start to
notice pain in your feet, ankles, legs or knees though you haven’t changed
your exercise routine, worn-out shoes may be a factor.
After you buy new
shoes, go to the store and try on a new pair of that same model about every 4 to
6 months, depending on the extent of your activity. You may not realize how much
your shoes have worn until you compare them with a new pair.
There are so many
styles and brands—where do I start?
If your old shoes
lean inward your feet are flat or tend to roll inward when you walk or run, you
should look for shoes with added support under the arch. If your shoes lean
outward or your arches are high, you need plenty of cushioning.
material should be flexible and allow your foot to “breathe,” as shoes that
have mesh fabric do. Most people like the feel of a softer shoe, but with the
pressure on shoes during exercise, a softer shoe may not last as long as a
protection from injuries. Shoes don’t have to be very heavy to offer good
support. Also, thin or flimsy shoes like canvas sneakers can worsen some
problems such as calf or Achilles tendon pain. A shoe whose heel compresses too
easily can overstretch your calf. In addition, soles that bend at the ball of
the foot, not under the arch, offer better support.
Styles change about
every 19 months, and you may not like the new version of your favorite model of
shoe. If this happens, a knowledgeable salesperson should be able to help you
find a style of athletic shoe comparable to your old favorite.
Regardless of the
style, fit is the most important consideration. No matter how good you hear a
shoe is, if it doesn’t fit you or you’re not comfortable with it, don’t
buy it. No one brand will fit everyone’s needs.
How can I get the
matter where you go to buy your shoes, try to find a knowledgeable salesperson
who understands footwear and will take the time to guide you to the best style
and size for you.
Try to shop at the
end of the day or after a workout when your feet are generally at their largest.
Wear the type of socks you usually wear during exercise, and if you use orthotic
devices (orthoses) for your feet, make sure you wear them when you’re trying
Choose shoes for
their fit, not by the size you’ve worn in the past. It’s important to have
both the length and width of your feet measured every time you shop for shoes,
since foot size often changes with age.
There should be a
thumbnail’s width (about ½ inch) between the longest toe and the end of the
shoe on your longer foot. Be sure to have the salesperson check the fit of both
shoes for you when you are standing up. If you bend over to check it yourself,
you will change the position of your foot in the shoe.
The widest part of
your foot should be in the widest part of the shoe. The sides of your foot
should not extend over the sole of the shoe, and your foot shouldn’t move from
side to side inside the shoe.
After you’ve found
a pair that you think fits well, walk or run a little in the store, some stores
even have a treadmill for that purpose. The shoes should feel comfortable
snug—not tight or too loose—and you should not feel the stitching or seams
on the inside of the shoes. Note also whether your toes slide forward or feel
pinched together or your heel rises out of the shoe slightly.
Should I buy a shoe
designed for my sport?
If you participate
in a sport more than three times a week, you should consider a sport-specific
shoe. Running shoes are primarily made to absorb shock as the heel strikes the
ground. Tennis shoes, in contrast, provide more side-to-side stability. Walking
shoes allow the foot to roll and push off naturally during walking. They usually
have a fairly rigid arch, a well-cushioned sole, and a stiff heel support for
How much should I
pay for athletic shoes?
Most people don’t
need top-of-line models or shoes that cost more than $150. The best values are
usually in the middle-to upper-middle price ranges. Beginning exercisers should
buy high-quality shoes in this range because their bodies are less adapted to
the stress of exercise.
How should I take
care of my new shoes?
Let shoes air dry
between uses. You can even alternate pairs to ensure thorough drying. Because
the insoles in most shoes are made for immediate comfort, not extended use, they
often break down quickly. When your original insoles wear through, extend the
shoe’s life by replacing them with off-the-shelf insoles.
Can my shoes affect
my sports performance?
Although a high
quality, well-fitted athletic shoe might make your workout easier, it probably
won’t fix a mechanical problem with your feet or legs. If you have foot,
ankle, or leg pain, a foot imbalance may be at fault, which may be corrected by
wearing custom orthoses. Consult a physician or podiatrist who specializes in
Parents often lament
the high cost of children’s shoes. If you think about it, though, your kids
walk and run hundreds of miles every few months on growing feet. So consider
spending a bit more for quality running shoes, rather than thin-soled canvas
ones. The same workmanship that goes into adults’ athletic shoes goes into
children’s sizes, offering solid support, cushioning and long wear.
Follow the same
guidelines for choosing children’s athletic shoes as for an adult. Children
need good cushioning, support and protection and shoes should not squeeze their
growing feet. It’s OK to allow some growing room, but the heel should not slip
up and down and the forefoot should not move side to side in the shoe.
If you buy shoes
with Velcro closures, get the best quality shoes available so that stability is
not compromised. When buying dress shoes for boys or girls, consider that they
may do lots of running around in them. A dress shoe with a rubber sole might be
a good option. The key is to avoid shoes that have rigid soles.
Babies who haven’t
started walking don’t need shoes—just socks and slippers for warmth.
High-topped shoes give a sense of stability when kids first start walking, but
toddlers generally don’t need to wear shoes in a safe environment like inside
the home. When it’s time to buy shoes, remember that new shoes are best.
Individualized wear patterns in hand-me-down shoes can place undue stress on a
Remember: This information is not intended as a
substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a
Dr. Nesbitt is a
podiatrist in private practice in Toronto.