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Improve your athletic performance by selecting the right shoe for your dominant exercise activity. We all love to get new cute workout gear because it helps to motivate us just a bit when we need a little nudge to get to the gym, right? Well, here’s real reason to shop for shoes — the right athletic shoes for your preferred athletic activity…

Buying a new athletic shoe can be intimidating. How in the world do you make a selection? Should you select based on your preferred color? Price? Should you just grab a running shoe and hope it can transition to other exercises?

Here are some important questions to ask yourself when you’re making a decision to buy new athletic shoes: Do you mostly run with the occasional weight-training workout? If so, you’d be better suited to buying a running shoe… Or, are you more into kickboxing or CrossFit? In that case, search for a cross-trainer because you’ll be doing so much more than a running shoe is built for. Do you do plyometrics or lots of jumping and quick lateral movements? Again, go for the cross-trainer, but make sure you get tested for how you wear your shoes… here’s why…

Get the Right Fit

Finding the right athletic shoe for your dominant activity is the key because the way shoes are designed is really to fit a specific purpose, whether it’s extra cushioning for high impact sports, or heel to toe support for running, ventilation, extra thick soles, inner or outer toe support, or rigidity for walking. Choosing the right athletic shoes is important to protect you against injury. Choose the wrong shoes and you could end up twisting an ankle because you didn’t get adequate ankle support or nursing toes or aching heels because you didn’t buy the right cushion support for the right areas. 

The truth is there are all sorts of reasons why shoes are made they way they are for athletics, and the two biggest things you need to know in order to find the right shoe are:

  1. What sport do you do most often?
  2. How do you wear your shoes? For example, are you a supinator (or under-pronator), over-pronator or neutral?

Not sure?

Three Types of Feet

Someone who under-pronates tends to have high arches and so their feet roll outward, which means they will wear out the outer edge of the heel and little toe quicker. This person should look for a shoe with a lot of cushion, good arch support, and a soft midsole.

Over-pronators do the opposite and tend to roll inward, have low or flat arches, and need motion-control or high stability sneakers to help them carry their weight more evenly. Over-pronation can create extra wear and tear on the outside heel and inside forefoot. And doing this too often can lead to a common athletic injury, called Plantar fasciitis, which is painful and can take a long time to treat and heal. Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain and involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. (Mayo Clinic)

And neutrals do tend to carry their weight evenly and have normal height arches, but will need to search for a “stability” shoe that carries the right balance of cushioning and support.

Shoe Stress Test

One way to discover which type of feet you have is to see how your existing shoes have worn and go from there. Take an older pair of shoes, preferably flats, and flip them over. If the inner sides are worn out, you’re most likely an over-pronator. If the outer edges are worn more than the rest of the shoe, you’re probably an under-pronator. And if they’re worn evenly, you’re most likely a neutral.

While this type of testing at home can give you a general idea, an even better and more accurate way to make this determination so you can make a more informed shoe purchase, is to visit a store that specializes in cross-training or specialty sport athletic shoes. Stores like this are very specialized and hard to find, but you can also visit stores that specialize in triathlons because their athletic shoes will be tailored to someone who does multiple sports. Just be aware, a running shoe is primarily designed for the high impact pounding of running, and specifically the heel to toe movement, lessening the impact from this linear motion. A running shoe will not provide adequate support for side-to-side plyometrics or kickboxing.

About six months ago I needed new shoes. Based on the sports I do during the week, I knew I needed a lightweight, flexible shoe with outer toe support and cushion, but also side impact support for quick lateral movements. At the advice of a friend, I visited a specialized athletic shoe store in my area and explained what I was looking for. The first thing they had me do was stand on a scale with both feet so they could see how I carry my weight. The scale revealed red areas where we could quickly see all my weight is carried in the outer sides of my feet. He said, “you have very high arches,” which I never knew, and which also means I’m an under-pronator.

He brought me three pairs of shoes in my size to try on. I walked around the store in all three, did walking lunges, side-to-side jumps to see how the shoes fit during movement and did a few exercises in place, such as high knees, lateral lunges and reverse lunges. We made a few adjustments from there.

Overall, I tried on a total of ten pairs of shoes before I found my perfect fit, but found a great pair that fit all the high points of what I wanted to find, plus the additional support on the outer edges and toes that I never knew I needed. The shoes didn’t cost any more than if I had bought shoes on my own, but were highly specialized to the sports I perform, along with how I carry my weight and the shape of my feet. Because I took the time to research and find exactly what I needed for my preferred sports, I am less likely to injure myself doing these exercises.

The bottom line is doing any sport requires having good gear, and in our case, our shoes might just be the most important accessory we have, not for fashion purposes, but for longevity and performance in the sports and activities we love. The right shoes for the job will protect your toes, support your arches, and stabilize your ankles, allowing you to play at whatever sport you want for however long you want. Now, isn’t that worth the time and investment?

As mothers we often feel guilty investing in our own self care. We’ll easily spend money buying the right shoes or accessories for our children, but have a hard time justifying that same investment in ourselves. As a certified fitness coach I see moms in the gym all the time who do not come prepared for the rigor that certain movements and classes require, and I get concerned she is going to get injured. So please, do yourself a favor and take a little extra time to research the kind of athletic shoes you’re ideally suited for and go buy them. Again, the investment is likely not going to cost much more than if you buy your shoes on your own, but your shoes will last longer, support you better, and help you prevent injury.

Do the Shoe Test

Take out a pair of moderately worn shoes and do the shoe test listed above. Then Google “specialty athletic shoe store” for your area, or even try, “triathlon shoe store” and see what comes up. If you have any friends who do high level sports, such as marathons or triathlons, ask them for referrals to a local place you can try. Athletes tend to know these things and will happily tell you where to go. The right shoes can make all the difference in your performance AND in your longevity at the gym or in training.

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With much love,

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