It is important to find the right pair of shoes before beginning an exercise program. The right shoe will make you walk straighter and walk further without tiring as easily.
There is a wide selection of shoes out there, and they are all specifically designed for each sport – there are tennis shoes, running shoes, golf shoes, and there are also shoes designed specifically for our purpose – walking!
Shoes are designed to provide a specific fit in terms of –
- Support – cushioned or motion control.
- Last – curved or straight
- Flexibility – soft or hard
- Widths – wide or narrow
- Tread – for dirt or pavement
It is best to go a running/walking specialist store in your area, where the sales assistants should be knowledgeable and able to help find the shoe that is right for your gait, weight and walking distance. They should watch how you walk, to see if you overpronate (feet roll in excessively), supinate (feet don’t roll in enough) or have a neutral gait (feet roll in normally). Be prepared to spend about an hour finding the right shoe for you – try not to be in a rush.
Whenever you take a step, your foot strikes the ground and rolls inward. If it rolls excessively, you are considered an ‘overpronator’, if it does not roll enough, you are a ‘supinator’, if it rolls just the right amount, your gait is ‘neutral’. Over and under pronation leave distinctive wear patterns on your shoe, and can lead to injury. For that reason, it is important to find the right shoe for your feet.
Here are a few tips when looking for the right shoe –
- Get both your feet measured – most people have at least a half size different between their left and right feet. Buy shoes that fit your larger foot, otherwise you can damage your toes, nails etc.
- Make sure you try on a few different brands and models. Each shoe will feel a little different – wider, softer, higher… it is important to try on a few pairs and find the one that feels the most natural on your foot.
- Take your old shoes with you. The sales assistant will be able to tell what level of support you need by how your sole has worn down on your old shoes.
- Take your own socks, the ones that you are most likely to wear when walking. Then you will know exactly how they will feel when you get home.
- Take your orthotics (if you wear them) to ensure they fit in the shoes you try on.
- Go shopping towards the end of the day. Your feet swell during the day, and this will give you a better sense of what size shoe fits you best.
- Lace up the shoes properly and walk around the shoe a few times. Don’t just slip them on and wiggle your toes. If the store has a ramp or stairs, try them out on these different surfaces as well.
- Ideally, there is one finger width between your heel and the back of the shoe (approx ½ inch) when you have your toes touching the front of the shoe. This will help stop your toes hitting the front of the shoe when you walk downhill.
- A good pair of shoes will usually cost about $100. Try not to skimp on price – you are usually skimping on quality!
- Don’t think that the shoes will ‘wear in’. They should be comfortable as soon as you try them on, with no rubbing or pinching your feet.
- When you take them home, wear them around the house for a few days before wearing them outside. That way, you can take them back if you decide you do need that half size bigger or the back of the shoe is rubbing on your heel.
- Don’t be afraid to make a return on the shoes if they do not feel as comfortable as you thought they would. Erring on the side of caution is better than taking them outside and regretting it 2 weeks later.
So what is the difference between them all?
- Motion control – these are the most solid shoes. They are designed for people who need a lot of support for excessive pronation (feet roll in excessively), and heavier individuals. Often built on a straight last, they may have a denser material in the mid-sole to help prevent over-pronation. Look for a different coloured material on the medial (inside of the foot) side of the heel.
- Stability shoes– these have more flexibility than motion control shoes, but still a fair amount of support and control for mild-overpronators and mid-weight walkers. They are usually built around a semi-curved last, and may have a denser material in the mid-sole to help control the foot.
- Cushioned shoes – are the most flexible and the least supportive, but the most cushioned. They are made with a semi-curved or curved last, and are for those people who do not overpronate or need extra support.
A last is the solid form around which the shoe is molded. By looking at the bottom of a shoe, you can tell what shape of last the shoe is made with.
- Straight last – generally used for motion control shoes and people with a low arch. It helps control the foot, and reduce excessive pronation.
- Semi-curved last – more flexible than the straight last and more stable that the curved last. Generally used for stability shoes and those people with a normal arch.
- Curved last – most flexible and least stable, this last is generally used for cushioned shoes, and those people with high arches.
Shoes should be relatively flexible. You should be able to bend the toe section towards the heel of the shoe – this simulates how easy it will be for you to flex your foot as you walk. The natural rolling motion from heel to toe requires the shoe to flex across the ball of the foot. You can also try to twist the shoe slightly in opposite directions, and see if the heel rolls up when you push the toe down on a flat surface. These tricks will help you work out how flexible the shoe is, and how easily it will help you roll through your step. If a shoe is too inflexible, it will create an unnatural gait, and make you tire more easily. The more support a shoe offers, the less flexible it will be.
There is a huge variety in the width of people’s feet. No one shoe width would ever suit all people. Check out the table below to see the general shoe widths range:
When you have your feet measured, the sales attendant should measure the width as well as the length of your feet. That way, they can find the right fit for you.
Think about the outside tread you will need for your shoes – are you mostly going to walk on pavement, or will you be going down some dirt trails as well? Trail shoes have a more aggressive sole to avoid slipping on loose surfaces like gavel and dirt. A sole made from carbon rubber is very durable, but heavy, while blown rubber is lighter, but less durable. If you need more support on the trails, it might be worth having a pair of walking boots, as well as shoes for the pavement.
Walking shoes last about 800km. If you walk 5km three times a week, you will need a new pair each year. If you walk every day, you might want to buy two pairs of the same shoe and alternate them. This allows each pair to regain its shape between workouts.