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How To Best Select An Exercise Shoe

Copyright � 2010 Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute

On a regular basis, I am asked to recommend a shoe by brand or even exact shoe by name. Although I am regularly looking for opportunities to educate people on the correct shoes for the particular activity, this question is notoriously difficulty to respond to. Just as every individual has feet that look and function differently, different shoes will fit and even function differently for different people. Therefore, instead of recommending a particular brand or shoe, I will provide the process for selecting a quality shoe:

1. Fit the shoe to the foot, not the foot to the shoe. An ideal shoe will fit your foot in length from heel to toe, arch length and width. An additional benefit is when a shoe has increased depth (toe height) to provide increased room for the toes.

Our recommendations:
- Measure your feet (in all dimensions) prior to purchasing a shoe. Don't assume your feet stay the same size over time. You should also measure both feet, because one will usually be larger.
- Measure feet at end of day, for best sizing as the feet will be larger by the end of the day.
- Measure feet while standing and fully weight-bearing.
- Length should be about ½ size larger to provide comfortable wiggle of the toes, to limit injury to toes or toenails during exercise.

2. Ensure good quality shoe design. Shoe construction should have the following features to ensure a quality shoe:

- Place the shoe between two hands (heel to toe) and press lightly. The shoe should bend where the foot bends (at the toes), not in the arch area. It should also not be too stiff and not bend.
- The shoe should have a firm heel counter (stiff material on either side of the heel), when pressed between the index finger and thumb. It should not collapse with mild pressure.
- The shoe should also be stiff to rotation (You shouldn't be able to wring out the shoe).

3. Brand is less important than shoe fit. Different shoe brands have different cuts and will fit feet differently. Even some styles in particular brands may have a different cut of the shoe and fit the foot differently. Our recommendations:

- Try the shoe on and walk around in it. Try running, if that is what you plan to do. If it isn't comfortable in the store, it will not become comfortable when you start running or walking.
- Go by feel, not look. They should feel comfortable or the discomfort may cause you to walk or run differently and possible cause stress fractures or other injuries.

4. Cost matters, to a point. A cheap shoe is exactly that. I typically recommend a mid-level shoe expense ($85.00 - $125.00 retail is a good reference point). Going cheaper usually leads to a lower quality shoe, more expensive may not necessarily give you "bells and whistles" that you need.

5. Utilize a sport specific shoe. The sophistication of shoe design now provides for shoe function is certain activities. When running, a running shoe is better than a walking shoe or a cross-trainer. A football cleat is better for football than a running shoe. The same is true for basketball or volleyball, where side to side motion and stability with jumping is more important than running forward. Use as specific a shoe as possible for the sport to limit injury.

6. Avoid excessive wear. What part of the shoe typically wears out first? The midsole (the part of the shoe between the insole and the outer sole (tread). For this reason, care should be utilized to change out the shoes regularly, to avoid flattening of the midsole and loss of the cushion and shock absorbing tendencies of the shoe. Recover periods (> 24 hours) is also beneficial to prolonging the life of the shoe by allowing the midsole to recover. This can be done by either exercising every other day or switching off with two pair of shoes.

So what shoes do I like? It depends on the sport, it depends on the foot and it depends on how that shoe functions for the person. For my feet, Brooks, Saucony and New Balance are typical shoes I use. My wife, however, uses New Balance, Asics, and Nike. Follow the above six steps and you will find what brands work for you...

 


Brandt R. Gibson, DPM, MS is a foot and ankle specialist with special interest in running and is currently training to run marathons this year. He is located in American Fork, Utah. His goal is to educate people and help them "optimize what they were born with." For further educational information, visit his blog at http://utahrundoc.blogspot.com/ or visit his website at http://www.UtahFootDoc.com .

Brandt R Gibson, DPM
Podiatrist, Neuropathy Doctor, Father of 11 and Founder of Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute