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5 Biggest Mistakes When Choosing Workout Shoes

Maybe you shouldn't reach for those comfy old sneakers after all.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD

What’s the one piece of workout gear you can’t live without? Your iPod? 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, and it’s easy to go wrong. Here are the five biggest shoe mistakes people make.

1. Grabbing Whatever’s Handy

"The biggest mistake people make when they start running, jogging, or some other exercise program is just reaching into the closet and pulling out an old pair of sneakers," says Tracie Rodgers, PhD, spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise. An old pair of shoes may no longer have the support you need. And even more problematic, that pair of shoes might be inappropriate for the activity you choose.

2. Choosing the Right Shoe -- for the Wrong Workout

You need to choose the right type of shoe for the kind of workout you’ll be doing. And yes, it does matter.

A shoe made for running is very different in a number of ways from a shoe made for basketball or tennis.

Joe Puleo, the author of Running Anatomy, says, "Running shoes have no lateral stability built into them because you don’t move your feet laterally when you run. You’re only going forward. A running shoe is built to give you support and stability as you move your foot through the running gait cycle."

Puleo says basketball and tennis shoes both need to be stabilized laterally. That's because you move your feet side to side a lot when playing these sports. "You can’t build a running shoe that has lateral stability" he says, "and you can’t build a shoe for basketball or tennis that doesn’t have it."

Even walking shoes differ from running shoes.

Catherine Cheung, DPM, a podiatrist and foot surgeon with the Post Street Surgery Center in San Francisco, says runners land more on their forefoot while walkers have a heavier heel strike. "So for running," she says, "you want a shoe that has more cushioning on the forefoot, while walking shoes should have stiffer rubber to support the heel."

Can’t you just get a good cross-trainer and use it for everything? Maybe, maybe not.

"Cross-trainer" shoes never existed before Bo Jackson, who played professional baseball and football (remember the "Bo Knows" ad campaign?).

 "Before Jackson, we just called them sneakers," Puleo says. "Then, Nike came up with an ad campaign, and now we have cross-trainers. But there’s no specificity to them -- you can’t do any one thing well. They have some lateral stability, so you can play a game of basketball with your kids occasionally. You can run a mile or two. But most of them are not very good shoes for any particular activity."

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