If the Shoe Fits

Far too often, my more senior clients arrive at the gym in open-toed or street shoes. I typically ask them, “Why aren’t you wearing the right shoes?” Often the response is “These shoes are really comfortable.” I empathize with them. Comfort matters. And these people grew up in an era when comfortable exercise shoes were hard to come by and the idea of wearing them might strike them as unpleasant (as does the idea of me listening to my teenagers’ hip-hop music in the car instead of my favorite and familiar 70s and 80s tunes). Believe it or not, “gym shoes” really can feel great on your feet if you select the right pair. Not to mention the fact that proper footwear protects you in more ways than one.

Wearing a closed-toe shoe in the gym is imperative because bare toes are very vulnerable to the drop of a dumbbell (by you or someone else) or the end of a piece of equipment (surely I’m not the only one who has broken a toe more than once at home in bare feet)? A shoe with proper cushioning and support minimizes trauma on muscles and joints and reduces post-exercise discomfort.

A shoe worn for lifting weights need not be as “high tech” as one worn for impact activities such as walking, jogging or step aerobics. A weight lifting shoe should cover the entire foot, enable comfortable movement in all directions, and offer enough cushioning and support so the floor doesn’t feel too hard beneath your feet (low back and lower extremity joint discomfort often indicate inadequate cushioning).

If you run or engage in other high-impact activities regularly, you should buy very high quality (expensive) exercise shoes. Also buy the best footwear if you wear your shoe soles unevenly. A reputable sporting goods or running store won’t recommend a shoe without first having someone observe you walking or jogging on a treadmill, measure your arch height, and study your posture. Try on the shoe to make sure you get the proper fit (sizes vary from brand to brand), wearing your normal socks and orthotics.

Shoes worn for activities that include lateral movements, such as step aerobics and tennis, should provide lateral support so they don’t “roll over” when you move side-to-side. Running shoes are a poor choice because they are designed exclusively for forward movement. I prefer owning two pairs of shoes—a pair for running and a separate one for aerobics—over buying a once-size-fits-all “cross-training” shoe which doesn’t work optimally for either activity.

Exercise shoes should be replaced regularly. Once the cushioning in a shoe is broken down, it fails to do its job of protecting you. Get in the habit of replacing shoes every six months or about every 350 to 400 running miles to avoid unnecessary injury and pain.

There is a comfortable shoe out there waiting to be found. So when the shoe fits…buy it (and then wear it)!

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2 Responses

  1. cheryl Palen says:

    But the message is “barefoot” or minimalist footwear now in every publication I have picked up! I see so many idiots walking and running in the vibram toe shoes too. All I know, is that I wish I was a podiatrist. I would be rich in a couple of years!

  2. Susan Dawson-Cook says:

    Cheryl, each of us is structured a bit differently, but barefoot has never worked for me – I have tried it a few times in dance classes, each time to my chagrin the next day…. Most of us need the shoes cushioning affect to protect us from the impact. I am also a big believer in replacing shoes regularly – my body pretty much tells me when my shoes’ cushioning have expired.

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