If the Shoe Fits: Find the Right Athletic Shoe for You

When you buy shoes, do you look for the latest trends and find the most stylish pair of sandals that will match your outfit? Or do you jam your feet in the nearest pair and hope the shoes fit?

Unfortunately, neither method is ideal for your feet. What's fashionable isn't always practical, and just because the shoe fits doesn’t mean the shoe is designed for your feet.

Your feet, like any other part of your body, need proper care and attention. Wearing the wrong shoes will leave you limping for days, weeks, or even months. In some cases, improper footwear can cause irreversible damage to your feet.

Choosing proper footwear is especially important when you’re active and participating in sports. That's when you’re putting your feet through grueling actions that require speed, skill, and precision.

Out of all the available athletic shoes on the shelves, how do you know which to choose? The following tips can help get you started.

What’s Your Foot Type?

Your foot type plays a key role in how your foot absorbs the shock of impact with the floor. By knowing which foot type you have, you can select footwear that is designed specifically for your needs.

  • Neutral Pronator: When your heel strikes the floor, your arch lightly collapses inward to absorb the impact. Many experts recommend stability shoes to provide cushion and flexibility.
  • Over Pronator (Flat-Feet): Upon impact, the arch of the foot stretches inward, so it does not effectively absorb the shock. Use motion control running shoes if you have this foot type, as it supports the bridge of the foot.
  • Under Pronator (Supinator or High-Arched Feet): Supinator’s feet don’t flex enough to provide effective shock absorption. This makes impact with the floor hard and dangerous for runners. Cushioning shoes are best because they emphasize shock dispersion in the midsole.

How to Tell Your Foot Type

The easiest way to determine your foot type is to do the Wet Feet Test. Simply get your feet wet and leave footsteps on the floor while you walk normally. If you want your results to be more permanent, dip your feet in paint and walk on a long roll of paper.

Footprints for over pronators will be thicker and rounder with most of the arch included, while under pronators will be thinner with almost no arch left on the print.

What’s Your Sport?

In addition to finding the right shoe for your foot type, it’s important to keep in mind which sports you play regularly. Different sports require different motions, so choose a shoe that matches your activity.

  • Walking: If you’re planning on walking around the neighborhood or walking around the mall, then it helps to have a comfortable pair of shoes that fit well, have good arch support, and a slightly elevated heel.
  • Running: Running shoes need to bend and flex through each step. These shoes should be properly fitted to suit your foot type and gait, so it’s best to find a specialist retailer to assess your foot.
  • Hiking: Light hiking shoes resemble running shoes, but are a little thicker. Look for low-cut models with flexible midsoles if you’re hiking all day but with few supplies. If you have heavier loads, you’ll need shoes that are more durable and supportive with stiffer midsoles.
  • Basketball: Basketball shoes need a combination of flexibility and sideways support. Look for shoes that are stiffer and support side-to-side movement.
  • Football (cleats): Artificial turf is hard on feet, so you need football boots that are well fitted and don’t put pressure on the foot. Cleats are unique in that they have studs to provide additional grip.
  • Tennis: Tennis requires a wide range of motion, particularly side-to-side movements. You need shoes that are heavier and stiffer to provide stability and that have toes built for stop-and-go action.
  • Aerobics: Aerobics puts a lot of impact on the feet, so it’s important to find fitness shoes that cushion and absorb the shock while providing flexibility for various movements.
  • Weight Training: Dead lifts and squats require stability, with both feet planted firmly on the ground. A rounded tennis shoe will make it difficult to perform the exercise properly, so look for weight training shoes that are flat and breathable.

If you plan on participating in a wide variety of sports for short periods of time, then picking a cross-trainer shoe can cover your basics. However, it's best if you don't make your shoe multi-task. If possible, purchase multiple pairs and designate one pair for each of your favorite activities.

What’s Your Budget?

Be a savvy shopper when buying your shoes. You don’t want to pay too much or too little when making your investment.

A $15 pair of shoes won’t offer the same quality as an $80 pair of shoes, but you shouldn’t have to pay more than $150 for a good pair. Many lower-priced models of the same brand of shoe offer the same benefits but without the extra price tag.

When purchasing shoes, be willing to find a pair that’s best for your feet without breaking the bank. And remember your shoes will need to be replaced every 300 to 500 miles of use, or about every 6 months.

If you need additional help finding the right shoe that fits you, visit a specialty store where the staff can watch how you run and find a pair of shoes that offer your feet the necessary support.