So you've gotten the rest of your workout gear, and all you need now is your shoes. There are so many different styles and types of footwear on the market, that just looking at the footwear wall at a sporting goods store can make you dizzy. There are for walking, running, the gym, the studio, cross-training, and more. Picking one out can seem like an impossible task, but depending on what you need, it's can be easy to eliminate most of them.
Finding the right shoes for you depends a lot on what you're going to be doing in them, and how you do it. Here are some key things to look for as you're trying to pick out the right shoes for you and your activities.
One of the first things to decide on when selecting footwear is the width of the toe box. The toe box is just that, the area of the shoe where the toes stay. Some people have wider feet and like their toes to splay and extend out to the sides. A wider toe box can help with stability, as it provides more surface area at the bottom of the foot to keep you balanced. Others, however, prefer their shoe to be nice and snug around their toes, with a narrower toe box. This can give the foot more support, and prevent the foot from sliding around within the shoe
Shoes also vary in the thickness of the sole, which is the height when standing, from the ground to the bottom of the foot. A thicker sole can provide more cushioning and support, especially while doing something high impact like running. A thinner sole can give you more flexibility throughout the shoe and foot, as well as helping you feel the ground and provide some great feedback that we're used to from being barefoot.
A shoe's drop refers to the difference in sole thickness in different parts of the shoe, specifically from the heel to the toe. A shoe with a higher drop is much thicker in the sole than in the toe box area, while a smaller drop means an overall flatter shoe. For example, a pair of high heeled shoes has a large drop and a pair of flip flops, while still relatively thick, may have a "zero drop," or the same thickness throughout. Drop can affect running form and gait, as well as other exercises.
Shoes with a bigger drop provide more cushion to the heel, which helps prevent injuries for those who heel strike, or land on the heel of their foot when they run or walk. People that midfoot or forefoot strike, or land on the middle or front of their foot, respectively, may prefer a lower or "zero" drop shoe. A flatter sole makes it easier to position the foot with enough of an angle to land on this part of the foot.
With exercises such as the squat, having a zero drop shoe can be extremely helpful. Because the exercise almost necessitates pushing through the heels, starting with your heels closer to the ground helps to achieve as large a range of motion as possible. Because the body is composed of a kinetic chain, every body part is connected and affects every other body part. If the heels are higher than the rest of the foot, the knees are forced forward, and the depth of the squat is compromised.
A shoe's level of an arch is another thing to consider when picking out your footwear. If you have weak arches and want or need arch support, this feature can make or break your experience with a particular pair of shoes. Some people find that the added structure it provides helps them stabilize their foot. Others, however, find an arch too intrusive and gets in the way of their natural arch movement.
What you choose for each of these shoe elements is up to how you feel. Try a bunch of different styles and formats out with some walking, a quick jog, and some bodyweight squats, and see what you like and what works best for you. Some people have different pairs of shoes for different exercises, one for running, one for the gym, and one for a mix of both. If this is out of your budget, finding a cross training or in between shoe, can help bridge the gap and work good enough for each activity you do.