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5 Biggest Mistakes When Choosing Workout Shoes

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

The single most important piece of equipment in virtually any kind of exercise program -- running, aerobics, hiking, tennis, basketball -- is the right pair of shoes.

A good pair of sneakers 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 Rogers, PhD, a consultant 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.

A shoe made for running is very different from a shoe made for basketball or tennis.

"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," says Joe Puleo, the author of Running Anatomy.

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.

Runners land more on their forefoot, while walkers have a heavier heel strike, says Catherine Cheung, a foot surgeon with the Post Street Surgery Center in San Francisco. "So for running, 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.

“There’s no specificity to them -- you can’t do any one thing well,” Puleo says. “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."

Then again, some people aren’t heavily into running, hiking, tennis, or any one sport. They go to the gym occasionally, maybe play tennis with a work buddy once in a while, or shoot a few baskets with the kids. For them, a cross-trainer might be the best choice.

"A good cross-trainer will allow you to do the treadmill, some walking on asphalt or on a track, and light jogging," says Kathleen Stone, past president of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). "Not mileage, of course. But I like them for people who are doing a variety of athletic endeavors casually."

To choose a good cross-trainer, Stone suggests you look for:

  • A firm heel
  • Good support (you shouldn’t be able to bend the shoe too easily)
  • Light weight (you don’t want to add a lot of pounds to your feet)

But the APMA recommends that if you’re going to participate in a particular sport two to three times a week or more, you should choose a sport-specific shoe.

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