These days, buying a new sports shoe can be a confusing process. First, it feels like you’ve got to commit to a dedicated activity and decide between a running shoe, walking shoe, cross-trainer, netball shoe – or one of the other options. Then, you’re confronted with a range of extra features and ‘specialised technologies’ that may be in-built into your shoe.
All in all, when you have a lot of decisions to make, and not as much information behind them as you’d like, it can leave you second guessing your decision – and casting a shadow over your fantastic decision to pursue or continue your fitness journey.
As a well-matched shoe can help you start your fitness journey on the right foot by keeping you supported, steady and even reducing your injury risk, today our podiatrists are cutting through the confusion and explaining what all of these terms and features mean, and how to make the best decision about which shoes you should choose.
Activity-Specific Shoes: What Do They Mean?
When you land during running, you do so with the force of approximately 1.5 to 3 times your body weight, which puts a lot of pressure on your joints and ligaments – and it’s the job of your running shoes to help you stay comfortable and ideally pain-free over long distances. As such, running shoes tend to be packed with cushioning to help with shock absorption, reducing the stress to your joints and body over time. There is great stability around the ankle, limiting side-to-side movement (to help prevent spraining your ankle if you run over unstable ground) and promoting smooth heel-to-toe movement with good flexion beneath the ball of the foot that mirrors the natural bend of our feet.
Running shoes tend to have higher ‘heel drops’, meaning the height difference between the heel and toe of the shoe, to help propel you forwards with each stride. Running shoes also have good traction soles to prevent slippage, and also tend to feature lightweight materials to help reduce muscle fatigue from the weight of the shoes when running.
If you’re planning on getting into running, having your shoes support this motion can help improve comfort, enhance performance, and reduce the risk of injury.
Walking shoes are typically designed with less cushioning than running shoes, and the cushioning tends to be more focused around the heel. This is because walking is a low impact activity with less force and stress going through the feet when the heel strikes the ground. Walking shoes also have a smaller heel drop, instead having a lower profile heel often with a slight bevel on the outside of the heel to steady the foot and ankle, preparing the foot to roll through and promoting an efficient foot strike.
While both walking and running shoes must be flexible, your foot flexes more in walking than running during toe-off where the foot leaves the ground, so the construction of a walking shoe typically allows for this extra flexibility. It’s also why the toe box may be wider in walking shoes, allowing your toes to flex up when you plant your heel on the ground, and spread out and flex as you toe-off and your foot leaves the ground.
Cross Trainers (Training Shoes)
Cross trainers, or training shoes, are designed to support a wider variety of movements. While walking and running shoes are both designed for repetitive forward motion, cross trainers are also designed with side to side movements in mind, like those often performed at the gym.
They typically have a minimal heel drop, which provides increased stability across a wide range of motions. Cross trainers also tend to have a flexible midsole, further supporting plenty of range of motion and varied directional movements during activity.
Like cross trainers, netball shoes are designed to comfortably and confidently move in all directions, ensuring foot stability is maintained through rapid change of directions. This is typically achieved through a ‘wrapped outer sole’, which supports the foot during side to side movement. They also have wider tongues to make space for strapping, a higher cut to support the ankle, and a higher heel drop. All of these features work together to make the accelerations and decelerations, landing after a jump, pivots, and quick changes in direction during netball as efficient as possible, while helping reduce injury risk.
Other Sport Specific Shoes
Beyond these categories, you can also get sports-specific footwear, such as football boots, athletic shoes, tennis shoes, golf shoes and cricket shoes. These shoes will have features that are unique to the sport being played, such as spikes on the bottom of football shoes, and so are best to avoid for general physical activity.
So, How Do You Know What To Choose?
The simplest answer from our podiatrists is that when choosing between a runner, walker or cross-trainer, it doesn’t matter all too much as long as your shoes are comfortable, support your feet well, and match your foot type. If you’re not sure what your foot type is, then we highly recommend an appointment with your podiatrist, but feet tend to fall into three categories:
- Flat (pronated) feet: If you have flat feet and roll in when you walk, then ideally you want to select shoes that offer some ‘pronation control’, meaning increased arch support to help you feel more comfortable. The level of arch support can vary greatly between different shoes, ranging from an ‘average’ level of support to ‘maximum control’. If you’re unsure and haven’t seen a podiatrist, start with an average amount of control and see how it feels when you walk. A sign that you may have chosen a shoe with too much arch support is if you feel like your shoe is tipping out when you walk.
- Neutral feet: If you have a relatively normal and neutral arch, a neutral shoe is a good starting point. These shoes don’t have the same arch support as for flat feet, and tend to be more lightweight.
- High arched feet: If you have higher arched feet, your base shoe will typically be a neutral shoe, but you may select ones with extra features such as more cushioning (as higher arched feet tend to be exposed to more shock and forces during activity), excellent ankle support (to reduce the likelihood of rolling out) and sufficient height in the shoe, so there’s no painful pressure on the top of the foot. There is where the lacing technique can also help.
Looking For The Best Style And Fit?
If you still feel uncertain and need help getting the best fit for your new shoes, come into one of our My FootDr centres that has a retail store, and get personalised care from our professionally trained staff. We stand by our shoes and recommendations, and offer:
- Our fit promise: We will use our expertise and professionalism to ensure the correct fit, every time.
- Our care promise: Our diverse and expansive approach will ensure value, satisfaction and best options are evident in every sale.
- Our quality promise: We will offer premium brands that have quality features.
See our full list of clinic locations here.