Do you want to find the right sneakers, running shoes or trainers for your feet? Here’s a guide on how to choose for comfort, fit and performance.
A shoe is made up of an upper, a midsole, and an outsole, each of different materials and components. Choosing the ideal pair of shoes is best done by picking the best available combination of shock-absorbing properties and shape and construction.
Jumping and running exerts a force of up to ten times body weight on an athlete’s foot. The best technically designed shoes put impact-reducing materials such as air, silicon gel, and foam in proper locations based on foot type and sport.
But, more is not always best. Often, adding shock-absorbing material increases unwanted motion of the foot. A balance must be struck between cushioning and stability. Some shoes will emphasise cushioning, others motion control, but most try to find a happy medium.
Components are added to the shoe to eliminate unwanted foot motion. One such device is a heel counter. “Virtually all sport shoes should have this—a reinforced internal structure wrapping around the calcaneus (ankle bone)“ says Tracey. This limits the motion of the ankle. Squeeze the heel of a shoe to find out if it is rigid enough.
Shape and Construction
The shape of the last — a wooden or composite model of a foot around which a shoe is built — and how a shoe is constructed determines fit, stability, efficiency of cushioning, and strength.
Straight-lasted vs curve-lasted shoes
Straight-lasted shoes suit persons with low arches or those who pronate (foot rolls inward). In contrast, a curved last helps those with higher arches. A semi-curved last is good for persons with normal arches and neutral foot motion.
Lasting is the process of stretching a shoe upper around a last to attach a midsole and an outsole. A board-lasted shoe has an upper attached to the bottom of a board that runs the entire length of the footbed on top of the midsole. This makes the shoe rigid and stable, suitable for those who overpronate or underpronate (foot rolls outward).
A slip-lasted shoe leaves out the board. The resulting shoe is lighter and flexible, allowing torsional forefoot movement, and good for rigid feet.
In a combination-lasted shoe, the board method is used in the heel and the slip method in the forefoot, incorporating increased stability in the rearfoot and moderate degree of forefoot stability suitable for mild to moderate overpronators.
A strobel-lasted shoe is constructed with a thin material acting like a sockliner stretched along its perimeter, giving a blend of stability and flexibility.
When in doubt, ask a sales assistant.
Other Design Properties
Sport-specific shoes address a variety of needs. Soles, for example, have to match the playing surface: herringbone patterns for court sports like basketball, badminton, and volleyball, and deep-lug rubber for trail running.
Similarly, materials used contribute to stability and performance. Running shoes and basketball shoes incorporate mesh and plastics to reduce weight, while leather is used to reinforce uppers for shoes used in sports with side-to-side motion.
Even among the same types of shoes, there are differences. Running shoes for racing are more flat and rigid, while those for fitness are elevated at the heel, and cushier.
Cross trainers, in part, answer the need for an all-purpose shoe. But they have their limitations. Most are excellent for the gym, weight room, and for some, even running. But for safety and efficiency, get sport-specific shoes if your budget allows.
Guide to Shopping for Shoes
The following tips will help you find the perfect shoes for your feet.
1. Do the wet foot test
Some stores provide a gel pad you can stand on to see the imprints of your feet. But you can also do the wet foot test at home or at a beach. Wet your feet and stand on a surface that will leave a footprint.
- If it looks like the whole sole is in contact with the ground, you have flat feet. You probably overpronate and need shoes with straight or semi-curved lasts and lots of motion control.
- If your print has an even, broad band between heel and forefoot, you have normal feet. Get shoes with semi-curved lasts and moderate cushioning and control features.
- If your print has a thin or non-existent band, you have high-arched feet and likely underpronate. Go for well-cushioned shoes that have a curved last and lots of flexibility.
If necessary, consult a podiatric sports medicine specialist or an orthopedic surgeon to find out your special needs. You may require special supportive devices called orthotics.
2. Start with a good shoe store
Choosing the ideal shoe isn’t easy. So it helps if you shop at a store where they can help you with things such as measuring your feet and explaining the choices available.
3. Focus just on finding the best shoes for your feet
Don’t be distracted by side issues. A cheaper, “bargain” shoe could turn out to be a disaster because of poor fit. The same goes for a fancy, brand-name design that catches your eye.
4. Bring foot stuff along
Take along your preferred socks and an orthotic device if you use one. Also, wear the shoes you want to replace. They may be useful for comparison purposes and you can tell if your foot pronates or supinates by the pattern of wear.
5. Tips for getting the right fit
Shop in the afternoon, or after exercise, when your feet have swollen slightly. Tie your shoelaces as you would for an activity. Leave a thumb’s width between the longest toe and the tip of the toe box.
6. Test your shoes
A decent store will allow you to walk or run in their shoes. They should feel comfortable out of the box. Be in comfortable clothes to give you movement flexibility.
7. See the manufacturer’s recommendations
Take note of the shoe’s expected lifetime in particular. Running shoes, for instance, have to be replaced every 600 to 800 km, basketball shoes after so many games.
About Feet and Footwear
Modern sports and athletics footwear evolved from humanity’s first shoe. Leaves and animal hide protected our ancestors’ feet from unforgiving terrain. While these intriguing forms of footwear were produced by necessity — the pursuit of food and shelter top the list — today’s athletic shoes are engineered for comfort, safety and performance.
The foot is a wonderful machine. It is composed of 26 bones, 150 ligaments, and a fine network of 20 muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. They are all vital to propulsion and weight bearing, the important functions of the foot. Thirty-three joints provide flexibility, while the ingenious structure of differently shaped bones, muscles, and ligaments form arches that give strength.
A good shoe preserves these qualities and augments them. The right shoe also helps prevent foot, ankle, lower leg, knee, hip and back injuries.
“The past 50 years has seen an incredible improvement in the technical qualities of athletic footwear,” says Brian Tracey, a podiatric sports medicine specialist. “Podiatrists and biomechanical specialists understand the human foot and gait cycle better, and the improvement in cushioning properties, stability, weight reduction, lasts, and sport specificity in athletic shoes has significantly reduced the number of injuries.”