From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

It can be overwhelming to shop for the right shoe for your activity because there are so many options, from running and walking shoes to cross trainers and sport-specific shoes. How do you know you are selecting the right shoe for your feet as well as your activity of choice?

Part of the trick to buying the right shoe is to fully understand what each shoe will do for you. These brief descriptions of different shoe technologies will hopefully make your next trip to the store a more informed experience.

Walking shoes are flexible at the toes. Because you roll from heel to toe when you walk, you should be able to bend and flex the shoe at the toes and the heel should be level with the front of the shoe to accommodate the body mechanics of walking. As a result, walking shoes are not suited for other types of activity. Lightweight performance trainers are great all-around walking shoes for those who don't need motion control. If you walk very long distances, a cushioned shoe might be more comfortable. Stability shoes are for people who do not have severe motion control problems, but who want a stable and durable shoe.

Cross trainers are designed for surfaces off the road or on a treadmill. Made to offer excellent grip and stability, cross trainers are great multipurpose shoes. Cross trainers are a responsive shoe "lower to the ground" which decreases the risk of injury as there is less chance of going over on your ankle during an activity. Due to their durable design, these shoes tend to be heavier than most athletic shoes. Most cross trainers have a wider outsole than running or walking shoes, which contributes to their excellent stability for side-to-side motion.

Running shoes are designed for forward movement with their deep heel and thinner sole in the toe area. There are three categories of shoes that correspond to foot types: motion control, stability and cushioning shoes. When you are buying a new running shoe, it is important to know that motion-control shoes are made for those whose feet roll inwardly (over-pronators), as they are firm and support the feet, keeping them upright.

Stability shoes are firm but also offer a wider range of support for those who have varying degrees of over-pronation. Finally, cushioning shoes are meant for those who are supinators or who tend to roll their feet outward. These shoes simply provide a lot of cushioning and do not provide any corrective support.

Sport-specific shoes are designed for playing basketball, soccer or tennis and as a result are created to accommodate the special requirements for those sports. It is best not to try to play soccer with a basketball shoe, for example, because you may hurt your foot or ankle. You may wish to consider visiting a specialty store where you may find a wider variety of shoes and staff who may be better prepared to answer your questions.

Of course, there is no one perfect shoe. The best shoe for you is one that fits, gives you the proper support, flexibility and cushioning. Here are some tips to making the choice easier.

  1. Shop late in the day, when your feet are slightly swollen, so the shoe will fit you well throughout the day.
  2. Measure your foot while standing.
  3. If you wear an orthotic shoe insert, bring it to the shoe store. Only buy shoes that easily fit your orthotic.
  4. Try on both shoes with the socks you will wear when being active.
  5. Allow for a thumbnail's width between the shoe and your big toe.
  6. Make sure your heel is snug and does not slide out of the shoe when you walk.
  7. Choose shoes that are comfortable immediately. If they hurt in the store, do not buy them.
  8. Look for moderately priced shoes. Price is not necessarily an indication of quality.
  9. Wear your new shoes around the house for a few days before incorporating them into your physical activity routine.
  10. Consider getting an evaluation by a doctor, physiotherapist or podiatrist to learn your foot type before buying a pair of shoes.

This physical activity column was written by a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor and reviewed by Foundation experts. Before starting a physical activity program, it's best to speak to your healthcare provider first to discuss what is right for you.

Posted March 2009.

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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