Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Choose the Right Shoes

If you're like me, you may have 10, 20, or... ummmm... 60(ish) pairs of shoes. Casual shoes, dressy shoes, sandals, flip-flops, flats, heels, loafers, pumps.... Maybe several pairs of each, in different styles or colors. But how many pairs of sneakers do you have? And by that I mean, actual athletic shoes... One pair? And when was the last time you replaced them?

If you are wearing the same pair of sneakers for step class, jogging, and doing yard work on the weekends, you are not doing yourself any favors. I see this all the time at the gyms where I teach. (And I know you wore those sneakers to mow the lawn because you tracked grass clippings into the spin room. Nice.) Would you play tennis in full hockey pads? Surely not. You already know it's important to use the right equipment for your chosen sport or activity. And that goes for your kicks too. Why risk an injury (like plantar fasciitis or stress fractures) that could sideline you for days or even weeks? Be sure you are wearing the right shoes for your workouts.

Here are 4 simple guidelines for selecting the right athletic shoes:

1) Be sport-specific. If you're going to run, buy running shoes. If you play basketball, get basketball shoes. Cross-trainers are a great choice if you vary your workouts, everything from group exercise classes, to weight training, to the elliptical trainer. But if you participate in a particular sport or activity 3 or more times a week, the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society (yes, it really exists) recommends a sport-specific shoe.

2) Get the correct fit. Your sneakers should be comfortable from the get-go. As with any other shoes, try them on in the afternoon, when your feet tend to be slightly swollen. Try on a few pairs to see what fits best. Make sure your toes aren't right up against the end of the shoe, and that there is room to wiggle them within the toe box. A good rule of thumb is to buy your sneakers a half-size larger than your regular shoe size. Your heel should not slide up when you walk. And especially for runners, get the right type of support. Running stores and many sporting goods stores will analyze your gait for you to tell you if you over- or under-pronate, or have a neutral gait.

3) Don't use your workout shoes for anything but working out. If you wear them to go tooling around town to the mall and the grocery store, you'll wear them out faster and need to replace them sooner. And seriously, about the yardwork: Use your worn-out shoes for that stuff and please stop tracking grass and mud into the aerobics studio.

4) Replace your shoes every 6 months or 500 miles (for runners/walkers), whichever comes first. More often if you do long workouts or exercise more than 3-4 days a week. I can't tell you how many times I see people exercising with a beat-up pair of Reeboks they've been wearing since 1998. A decent pair of cross-trainers can be found for around $50, which is nothing compared to what an injury could cost you in medical bills and possibly lost work time. And what to do with your old shoes? Don't just trash them! Donate them to a charity in your area, or try a sneaker-recycling program, such as Nike's Reuse-a-Shoe. (Click on the map to see if there's a dropoff in your area.)

Choose your shoes wisely to make your workouts more comfortable and help prevent injury. One last tip: While having cute, trendy shoes is a worthy and admirable goal (at least in my estimation), keep in mind that the cutest, trendiest sneaker may not work for you. My running shoes make me look like Sasquatch, but they fit well and provide the support I need. Go for the brand and style that fit your feet best, even if the sneakers are hideous.

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