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Are you wearing the best workout shoes for your feet?
How would you know, and why does it matter?
With 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100+ ligaments, tendons, and muscles combined, the foot provides a stable base and absorbs sensory input for the body to make good decisions about movement.
That kind of complexity is precisely why you shouldn’t just slap any old pair of shoes on and call it a day. Comfortable, supportive, workout shoes that fit properly should be first on your list.
Wearing the wrong workout shoes can not only lead to foot issues but injuries further up the chain as well.
Today’s article will explore 11 signs you’re wearing the wrong workout shoes – and how to find the best workout shoes for your feet!
- 1. You don’t shop for your foot (or mechanics)
- 2. You wear the same shoes for every activity
- 3. You’re slipping – or sticking
- 4. You feel the need to change how you’re moving
- 5. You’re getting a blister
- 6. Excessive pressure or numbness in any area
- 7. You don’t feel stable
- 8. Your heel is popping out
- 9. There’s excessive breakdown in one part of the shoe
- 10. Your toes, feet, ankles, lower legs, or anything else starts hurting
- 11. Your workout shoes double as your everyday shoes
- Tips to find the best workout shoes for your feet
- What workout shoes should you wear?
Disclaimer: Always seek proper instruction before initiating an exercise program. Not everything is great for everyone! Consult with your qualified health care practitioners for an exercise program tailored to your needs. Stay healthy and injury-free! Read the full disclaimer.
1. You don’t shop for your foot (or mechanics)
Feet are different, even from one side to the other. Some of the basics include looking for the right arch support, correct width, and room for your toes.
It gets trickier because research suggests the foot shape alone doesn’t predict what happens during movement. And as humans, we move. Feet don’t act independently, they’re part of an entire system. Unfortunately, none of this is as cut and dry as we would like.
The three main types of workout shoes are neutral/cushioned, stability, and motion control.
(There are also minimalist/barefoot-style shoes which are a whole different story that I won’t be getting into in this article – bottom line, the evidence is mixed, and they’re not for everyone, it depends.)
Neutral/cushioned shoes (in theory) allow for natural movement of the foot without influencing a particular direction. There is an inherent degree of pronation to everyone’s gait, which helps absorb shock. These are best for neutral to high arch (supinated) feet. Cushioning also helps for more rigid feet.
Pronation, overpronation, and hyperpronation are terms to describe flat feet. The arch rolls (or collapses) inward and can transfer more of the weight to the medial (inner) side of the foot, ankle, and knee.
Stability shoes provide support for overpronation. They have more dense material in the midsole to support overpronation.
Motion-control shoes are the highest level up for stability and often recommended for severe pronation.
If you have more specific needs, you can always consult with a podiatrist, physical therapist, and a running store to analyze your gait.
The best shoes for you will depend on your alignment and how it changes dynamically with movement. Keep in mind that overcorrecting alignment when it’s not necessary can also result in injury.
2. You wear the same shoes for every activity
Would you show up to the beach in high heels?
Of course not, because that would be inappropriate for the activity. So why wear the wrong workout shoes?
Running shoes are not the only option, and sometimes they’re the wrong option. It depends on your fitness activities.
If you do a combination of classes such as kickboxing, HIIT workouts, cardio/weight lifting classes, aerobics, or boot camp style classes, look into a cross-training style shoe.
Cross-training shoes have lateral stability built in to support side to side motions and traction that plays well with quick directional changes.
Do you like to play basketball or tennis on the weekends? Don’t wear your running sneakers on the court!
Have you been doing more weights or barbell training recently? Those super squishy sneakers will hold you back. This type of training favors a more stable base to allow you to feel the floor.
3. You’re slipping – or sticking
There should be about one thumb’s width between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe. If you’re slipping inside the shoe, it may be too wide or lacking the proper support to keep your foot stable.
If you’re slipping on the floor, the shoe type may not be providing the proper traction you need for the activity, or the tread may be worn away.
If you’re sticking, there’s probably too much traction, for example, wearing running shoes to a Zumba class – should be a hard pass. Invest in some dance fitness shoes.
Cross-training shoes combine flexibility and lateral stability with the appropriate tread for pivoting activities.
4. You feel the need to change how you’re moving
Workout shoes shouldn’t affect your natural movement.
If a shoe is affecting your movement, it isn’t the shoe for you. If you feel the need to alter your gait in any way, or feel that you cannot move freely, there’s an issue.
5. You’re getting a blister
If the shoe fits you properly, there shouldn’t be a long break-in period. Shoes may feel a little stiff the first few times, but that should be it.
Blisters, calluses, and other wear skin irritations caused by excessive pressure and friction can signal the shoe isn’t right for your foot shape.
Wearing proper athletic socks will cushion and ease friction.
6. Excessive pressure or numbness in any area
The first thing you can try is adjusting the laces; the second is adding orthotics or insoles.
If that doesn’t resolve the issue, it might not be the best shoe for your foot.
7. You don’t feel stable
Remember, your feet absorb a wealth of sensory information that helps the rest of the body. Too much cushioning can impair this ability.
Again, if your shoes feel flimsy and lack lateral stability, they can cause you to feel unstable during cross-training activities.
8. Your heel is popping out
The shoe could be too long or wide for you, you might need different arch support in the shoe, or you might need to re-lace the shoes.
I liked this article from Road Runner Sports diving into this specific problem.
9. There’s excessive breakdown in one part of the shoe
Your shoes tell a story. Is there one area that breaks down quickly?
Excessive wear in the inner area of the heel, the big toe, or in one spot on the bottom of the shoe can indicate it’s not the best shoe for your foot.
The wear pattern on the bottom of your shoes can help determine areas of your foot (or further up the chain) that may need additional attention.
10. Your toes, feet, ankles, lower legs, or anything else starts hurting
Do your toes have enough room to move? Toes should never be cramped up together inside your shoe, this will affect how the whole body moves.
Developing other pain such as plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, achy joints, etc. can indicate your feet are not adequately supported, or the shoes are past their prime.
11. Your workout shoes double as your everyday shoes
Do you also wear your workout shoes casually?
This doesn’t necessarily indicate you’re wearing the wrong shoes, but it does help those expensive kicks last longer.
It’s cool if you’re running a quick errand after, but shoes have a lifespan before they break down somewhere around 300 hours of exercise.
A lifespan benchmark for walking/running shoes is around 350-500 miles.
Try to save your workout shoes for workouts – they will last longer.
If you can’t remember the last time you replaced them, it might be time.
Tips to find the best workout shoes for your feet
Get a proper fitting
Things change over time.
Many running stores have personnel trained to analyze gait and foot type to recommend the best shoes for your feet. Shop for your foot type and movement mechanics.
Buy good quality shoes
You get what you pay for.
If spending on sneakers makes your head spin, buy from stores that have a no questions asked return policy even if you’ve worn the shoes. If they don’t work out, no worries, try something else.
Good quality shoes use higher quality materials that will last longer. To save a few bucks, you can always try looking for last year’s model of a particular shoe. Once the new model comes out, the older ones typically cost less, but there isn’t anything wrong with them.
Caution with “outlet” shoes: The brand name might be there, but it may be “made for outlet” quality, making that deal too good to be true.
Good quality shoes are cheaper than physical therapy and other doctor’s office visits in the long run.
Add orthotics or insoles
Orthotics can make a big difference in how a shoe fits and performs for your feet.
If you have particular needs, you will need to see a podiatrist for custom orthotics. The downside is they can be costly (in the neighborhood of $400-$600 per pair). Insurance limits how many pairs you can have if they cover them at all.
For affordable, high-quality insoles, I recommend Superfeet.
They offer different types of insoles for all activities and are cost-effective enough to have several pairs to go around in your shoe collection.
Sizes vary from brand to brand
We tend to be very attached to things like sizes. Get the size that fits your foot. Go with how you feel.
Try different brands – feet are unique, and there’s a lot of fish in the sea. Don’t settle for good enough; look for the right shoes that make you feel excited to workout.
What’s the best brand to buy?
There are many good brands, but the best workout shoes for you are going to be the ones that fit your feet. So don’t pigeonhole yourself into one brand.
Steer clear of casual slip-on style shoes!
These are never OK for workouts. Ever.
I see this quite frequently, and it’s no fun to watch someone’s ankle collapsing inward or sliding all around because they’re wearing slip-ons (and not even aware of the issue – just proud they made it to the gym!)
I’m proud you made it to the gym too, but I also want you to be healthy enough to come back. Athletic shoes provide a stable base that locks your foot in with laces.
Slip-ons might be great to scoot around your house, but they were not designed for workouts (including walking) and increase your chances of an injury.
Just don’t do it.
What workout shoes should you wear?
Ultimately, the best workout shoes for you are going to be the ones that fit your feet.
Foot and lower limb movement mechanics are extraordinarily complex, and there may be some trial and error to find the best combination for you, even if you’re working with healthcare professionals.
If you’re looking for new shoes to fix a host of ailments magically, you’ll probably be disappointed. Keep in mind that correctly fitting shoes are only one piece of the puzzle.
Similarly, footwear/orthotics alone won’t prevent injury but can have a place in your overall well-rounded fitness strategy to set you up in proper alignment.
Keep these valuable tips the next time you’re in the market for new workout shoes – your feet will thank you!
featured image credit: sutthinon / bigstockphoto.com
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