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How to Choose the Right Footwear

Would you wear loafers to run a marathon? We didn’t think so. Find out how the right footwear can make or break your workout.

You might think you can get away with wearing any old shoe to work out, as long as the footwear has an “athletic” look or claim, but truth: Your shoes are an important piece of training equipment, and should be chosen carefully to best suit your sport — and prevent injury.

Running Shoes

Generally speaking, a running shoe should offer forefoot mobility, lateral stability and good cushioning while still providing enough reaction to move you forward. But choosing a running shoe is much more complicated than the basics, because no two runners move in exactly the same way. Your body mechanics and movement patterns are individual to you, as is your foot shape, so finding a shoe that will stay comfortable and effective for thousands of strides and hundreds of miles is paramount.

Your best bet: Hit up a professional running store that provides assessments such as a gait test to see what kind of shoe will play to your strengths and weaknesses. No running store in your area? Altra, Asics and Saucony are at the top of the running-shoe food chain, so look into those brands if you’re going to wing it.

Weight Room Shoes

Training with weights seems straightforward enough, and since you’re not really going anywhere, you might not think your shoes matter much. As a result, many people train wearing running shoes, basketball shoes or even heavy work boots. This is not such a big deal for exercises such as cable pressdowns or leg extensions (in which your foot position doesn’t really come into play). But with moves such as squats, the cushioning — or lack thereof — in these kinds of shoes can create an unstable and uneven surface between your foot and the ground.

For example, running shoes have a raised toe, extra cushioning in the heel and very little lateral stability since they are designed for forward
motion. This prevents you from keeping more than the ball of the foot and heel on the ground at one time, limiting ground contact, and can pitch you forward in a squat, altering mechanics and putting you at risk for injury.

Here, weightlifting shoes such as NOBULL with a flat bottom and an elevated heel can optimize depth and accentuate proper mechanics. For deadlifts, overhead presses and other standing movements, a minimalistic, flat-soled shoe with good structure and width works fine. If you’re not of the work-boot ilk, CrossFit-branded shoes by Reebok and Vibram are excellent options.

All-Around Athletic Shoes

If you’re a jack-of-all sports, but don’t want (or can’t afford) a closet full of sport-specific shoes, buy for the activity you’re most focused on. For example, if you’re going to be training outdoors, a lifting shoe with a flat sole and little reactivity is not going to cut it. Instead look for a shoe with good treads and solid lateral stability that can deftly handle agility work, quick changes in direction or tough ascents and descents, such as Merrell, Adidas and Salomon brands. If you’re more into general fitness that includes walking, indoor cycling or group fitness classes, skip the heavy lugs of the outdoor shoes and invest in a solid all-around trainer that is comfortable and offers stability in multiple directions, such as Rykä (for women) and Nike. Try on several brands before purchasing, since the fit and comfort will depend on your foot shape.