Going into a shoe store can be very overwhelming for many people. There's a wide variety of athletic shoes with different colors, shapes, bells, and whistles. It can be daunting and challenging trying to figure out which shoe is the one for you. The answer to that question depends mainly on the type of activity you will engage in and how your feet are shaped. Choosing the right shoe can help you avoid minor injuries, such as shin splints, patellar tendinitis, runners knee, etc. Let’s dive deeper into what to keep in mind when shoe shopping. Here’s what you’ll need to know:
1. Focus on function
Before you look into your favorite color scheme or shoe brand, first consider what type of activity you will be partaking in. It is ideal to separate your running shoes from your training shoes. Today’s athletic footwear is made with amazing technology that can be sometimes overlooked and used in the wrong situations. Shoes designed for running are intended for linear movements and made with a lightweight structure, breathable material, and an excellent cushion within the soles that absorb the shock from the ground upon each step. The shock-absorbing technology is great for running because the heel is thicker and it positions the body into a natural forward lean. These are advantageous for linear running, but not necessarily training in the gym. A forward lean can be less helpful while squatting because it counteracts the need of the torso to maintain an upright position. We want the torso to be upright in order to safely secure the barbell on the upper back during the eccentric phase (downward movement) of the squat. A cross-training shoe is ideal while inside the gym because the sole creates a more stable platform for the entire foot to plant on during functional movements such as squatting, lunging, jumping, crawling, cutting and slamming. Characteristics of a good cross-training shoe include a thick and durable sole with quality traction at the bottom, which is favorable for lateral movements on different ground surfaces.
2. Understand your feet
All feet are unique and one shoe model will not fit everyone, so knowing the shape of your own feet is the key to selecting the proper pair. One easy way to determine foot shape is by using the “wet-test”. Wet your foot, place it on a brown paper and trace your footprint. After tracing your foot, survey the paper looking for signs of pronation, supination or neutral arch.
If your footprint trace shows a majority of the sole with little to no curve on the inside (or if your current shoes show the most wear on the inside edge) it means you have a low arch (also known as flat feet), and your feet tend to “pronate” or roll inwardly when walking. This foot type needs motion-control shoes with maximum support to align foot, knee and hip when walking.
If your footprint trace shows only a small portion of the forefoot and heel with a slim connection between (or if your shoe wears mostly on the outside edge), you have a high arch and your feet tend to “supinate” or roll outward when walking. You will need a shoe with more cushion to provide more shock absorption for the center of the foot.
If your footprint trace has a distinct curve along the inside (or the soles of your shoes tend to evenly wear out), your arch is neutral. You will need a stabilizing shoe that will provide an even amount of cushion along the sole.
3. Always try on the shoe
Now that you know exactly what type of shoe model you’re looking for when you walk into the store, try on multiple pairs with differing brands to compare which model best fits your foot. When your foot is inside the shoe use the “rule of thumb” in which you make sure your toes have about a thumbs width of space at the front of the shoe to ensure enough wiggle room while running. After checking for toe space, get up and walk around the store to be sure you feel sufficient cushion and also that your heel isn’t sliding forward (which indicates the shoe is too long). The biggest takeaway for trying on shoes would be to avoid the mindset of believing that you can “break in” your training shoes. This is a misconception because technology has advanced enough to get the right fit the first time you try them on. If the shoe doesn’t feel good the 1st wear it won’t on the 30th either!
Pro tip: Shop for shoes at the end of the day when feet are swollen from standing all day, similar to how they expand while working out.