(BlackDoctor.org) — What’s the one piece of workout gear you can’t live without? Your Ipod Nano? A good water bottle? A truly supportive sports bra?
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The single most important piece of equipment to virtually any kind of exercise program — running, aerobics, hiking, tennis, basketball — is the right pair of shoes. A good pair of shoes can make or break your workout — but it’s easy to go wrong.
You rely on your athletic shoe to prevent injuries, protect your feet and prevent your back from aching if you are performing a high-impact sport. When deciding on the right athletic shoe to buy, you should keep in mind both form and function–meaning you should purchase a shoe that is a good fit and is made for the activity you most perform.
Identify the activity you will most perform in your athletic shoes–for example, running, walking, trail running, hiking or tennis. While the various types of shoes may look the same, they all differ from one another in several ways. For example, a running shoe is designed to be lightweight and provide the most support where runners most need it: in the heels and balls of the feet. If you perform a variety of activities, from aerobics to walking to other activities, a cross-training shoe may best support each activity.
- Running: If running is your main form of exercise, look for running shoes that provide plenty of cushioning, traction, and stability. They should also be lightweight and flexible.
- Walking: Walking shoes should offer a comfortable cushion that absorbs shock, and a sole designed to support the natural walking movement of the foot.
- Court shoes: If you play tennis, volleyball, basketball or other court sports, find a shoe with a sturdy, stable sole that can support your feet during constant back-and-forth movement.
- Outdoor field sport shoes: If you’re looking for footwear for baseball, soccer, golf, or football, you’ll want shoes with cleats, spikes, or studs for better traction.
Try on shoes at the same time of day you typically work out, if possible. This may not be feasible if you are an early morning exerciser. If you are unable to, there are ways to make sure your shoes will fit well when you’re in the middle of a hard workout. For instance, shop in the evening. If you try on athletic shoes toward the end of the day, when your feet are more swollen, you’ll get a better idea of how they fit.
Use your foot shape to determine what structural features you need in a shoe. For example, if you lack arch in your foot, you should purchase a shoe that emphasizes arch support. If you have a high arch, you will need a very well-cushioned shoe, as a foot with a high arch tends to be more rigid than a flatter foot.
Buy shoes that really fit. Your toes should be able to wiggle slightly, and there should be at least a half-inch of space between the end of the shoe and the top of the toes. The back should cup the foot and ankle but not rub against or flop away from the ankle.
Try on shoes with the socks that you actually wear while exercising. Although many sporting goods stores offer one-time-use socks, you should ensure your socks and shoes together will provide a compatible fit. Test out the shoes for at least 10 minutes in the store, or even outside if the store will allow it, before you decide to buy.