Choosing the Best Workout Shoe: 5 Biggest Mistakes

Choosing the Best Workout ShoeWhat’s the one piece of workout gear you can’t live without? Your Ipod Nano? A good water bottle? A truly supportive sports bra?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The single most important piece of equipment to virtually any kind of exercise program — running, aerobics, hiking, tennis, basketball — is the right pair of shoes.

A good pair of shoes can make or break your workout — but it’s easy to go wrong.

1. Grabbing Whatever’s Handy

“The biggest mistake people make when they start running, jogging, or doing any exercise program, is just reaching into the closet and pulling out an old pair of sneakers,” says Tracie Rodgers, PhD, an exercise psychologist and spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.

But how do you choose the right shoe for your workout?

A recent search of a popular shoe-buying web site yielded more than 4,500 different pairs under the category “sneakers,” including more than 1,000 running shoes, 199 “cross-trainers,” 133 pairs of basketball shoes, 110 pairs for tennis, and more than 1,500 in a nebulous category dubbed “athleisure.” Supposedly, you can wear these to the office and for a workout — but you probably shouldn’t.

2. Choosing the Right Shoe — for the Wrong Workout

First, you need to choose the right type of shoe for the kind of workout you’ll be doing. And yes, it does matter.

A shoe made for running is very different from a shoe made for basketball or tennis, in a number of ways.

“Running shoes have no lateral stability built into them, because you don’t move your feet laterally when you run,” says Joe Puleo, the author of Running Anatomy and the head men’s and women’s cross-country and track and field coach at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J.

“You’re only going forward, and a running shoe is built to give you support and stability as you move your foot through the running gait cycle,” Puleo says. “Basketball and tennis shoes both have to be stabilized laterally, because you move your feet side to side a lot when playing these sports. You can’t build a running shoe that has lateral stability, and you can’t build a shoe for basketball or tennis that doesn’t have it.”

Even walking shoes differ from running shoes.

“Runners land more on their forefoot, while when walking you have a heavier heel strike,” says Catherine Cheung, DPM, a podiatrist and foot surgeon with the Post Street Surgery Center in San Francisco. “So for running, you want a shoe that has more cushioning on the forefoot, while walking shoes should have stiffer rubber to support the heel.”

Can’t you just get a good cross-trainer and use it for everything? Probably not.

“Cross-trainer” shoes never existed before Bo Jackson, who played professional baseball and football (remember the “Bo Knows” ad campaign?).

“Before Jackson, we just called them sneakers,” Puleo says. “Then, Nike came up with an ad campaign and now we have cross-trainers. But there’s no specificity to them: you can’t do any one thing well. They have some lateral stability, so you can play a game of basketball with your kids occasionally. You can run a mile or two. But most of them are not very good shoes for any particular activity.”

Then again, some people aren’t heavily into running, hiking, tennis, or any one sport. They go to the gym occasionally, maybe play tennis with a work buddy once in a while, or shoot a few baskets with the kids.

For them, a cross-trainer might be the best choice.

“A good cross-trainer will allow you to do the treadmill, some walking on asphalt or on a track, and light jogging,” says Kathleen Stone, DPM, president of the American Podiatric Medical Association. “Not mileage, of course. But I like them for people who are doing a variety of athletic endeavors casually.”

To choose a good cross-trainer, Stone suggests you look for:

A firm heel
Good support (you shouldn’t be able to bend the shoe too easily)
Light weight (you don’t want to add a lot of pounds to your feet)

But the APMA recommends that if you’re going to participate in a particular sport on a regular basis (2-3 times a week or more), you should choose a sport-specific shoe.

3. Loving Them Too Much

“Your workout shoes should be your workout shoes, and not your running-around-town shoes,” Rodgers says. “You’ll break down a pair of shoes standing in them or wearing them to the mall and running errands much faster than when you’re running or exercising.”

So buy yourself a pair of casual tennies for running around town, and stow your good workout shoes in the closet as soon as you get home from your run or your tennis game.

“That’s where I buy the shoes I think look nice, but aren’t good for me to work out in,” Rodgers says. “Certain brands, I can’t work out in because they hurt my feet, but I love the way they look, so I wear them with my jeans for just hanging around.”

4. Loving Them Too Long

Another big mistake many people make when buying athletic shoes is not replacing them often enough.

“They think they should replace their workout shoes when they start looking bad,” Rodgers says. “But shoes start to break down while they’re still looking good. The support — the reason you buy the shoe in the first place — is gone, and you’ll start feeling strange aches and pains in your knees, hip, and back.”

Most experts recommend that runners replace their shoes every 300-500 miles. If you don’t run enough to have a mile count, or running’s not your sport, you should replace your athletic shoes at least once a year.

“If you’re exercising on a casual basis, you can make your shoes last a year, but if you’re working out every day, six months is pretty much your limit,” Stone says.

You should also have your shoe size rechecked every year, Cheung says. “Foot size doesn’t stay the same; our feet tend to grow bigger as we age.”

Do you need orthotics — the specialized, custom-built inserts designed for people with specific gait problems? For most people, the answer is probably no, Puleo says.

“There are certain foot types and injuries that can be corrected with orthotics, but my opinion is they’re dramatically overprescribed. They work well for some patients, but I’ve been wearing the same brand of over-the-counter generic insoles for years, and they’ve worked great as well, and are much cheaper,” Puleo says.

5. Doing It Yourself

Unless you’ve been playing your sport for a long time and have learned exactly what shoe is right for you, it’s a bad idea to just walk into a sporting goods store, try on a few pairs of shoes, and walk out with what you think is best.

Instead, go to an athletic shoe specialty store to get an expert insight on the right shoe and the best fit.

“The staff there will do a real fitting, evaluate your foot, and take a history of your athletic activities and what shoes may have worked for you before,” Puleo says. “They’ll watch you walk or run on a treadmill or outside.”

And they’ll take three measurements — not just one — on the metal plate we’ve all seen in shoe stores, known as a Brannock device.

“You need to know not just length, but also width and arch length,” Puleo says. “All three of those numbers together determine what size you should wear. And each shoe can be cut a little differently — a 10.5 isn’t a universal 10.5 in all shoes — so they’ll start with that number and work from there.”

A good athletic shoe specialty store will also have a liberal return policy — so ask. Others may permit you to return shoes if you’ve only worn them indoors, but not outdoors.

The New Jersey running store Puleo founded allowed customers to return a shoe at any time, for any reason. “You don’t like ‘em, you bring ‘em back,” he says. “It was on me to make sure you were satisfied before you left. We had a very low rate of return because we spent so much time with every customer, we knew they’d be happy with them. You should never be stuck with a shoe that doesn’t work for you.”

9 Ways to Get Motivated to Run

Running
Running grows more and more popular every year with good reasons: You can get involved in this fun and affordable sport with just a pair of running shoes, shirts and a T-shirt. You can run on sidewalks, a track or trail and no matter where you live, you can run. Running is one of the best things you can do for your body and spirit.

If you’ve never run before, turning off the TV and getting of the couch might be challenging. These tips will help get you motivated and progress from a couch potato to a race runner in no time while having fun.

Know Your Objective

If you don’t know why you are doing it, you are likely to give up too soon. You may want to lose weight, lower blood sugar, get healthy, spend more time outdoors, fight depression or embrace the activity a friend or loved one is doing so you can spend more time with him or her. No matter what the reason is, make sure you know why you want to run.

Set a Goal

It is much easier to stay motivated if you have a concrete, measurable goal. If you are new to running, sign up for a race. Registering for a race can perform miracles for your motivation—you’ll have to work hard to have your money pay off. Participation in a race is also a great way for a beginner to get involved with the running community. Once you cross the finish line, you’ll be hooked forever.

Find Partners in Crime

Everything is easier and much more fun when you have someone to share it with. Running is a great way of spending time with people you care about or making new friends. Schedule runs with your spouse, kids or friends, and you’ll run out of excuses not to run when someone asks, “Are we running today?” Can’t encourage your close ones to run with you? Sign up for a local running club. You will make new friends and get lots of support.

Follow a Training Plan

Many beginners make the same mistake. They just put on their shoes and try to run for as long as they can. In five minutes or less, they run out of breath, switch to walking and swear not to do it again. Following a training plan will make it easy for you to ease into running and progress safely. Programs like the popular C25K are designed just for beginners and bring you, step-by-step, from 60 seconds of running to a 5K race. Plus, they are a great motivation: Once you start week one, you can’t wait to graduate.

Track Your Progress

As you go through your training plan, mark milestones: your first mile, your first run without walk breaks. Write everything down—record not only time and distance but also your feelings and emotions. Get a nice notebook or go digital and start a blog. Who knows, you may become the next popular run blogger.

Educate Yourself

Try to learn as much as you can about running. Subscribe to magazines, read websites and blogs, participate in forums. It will keep you interested, give you useful information, and make you feel part of the running community. Check out books and movies about runners—they’re fun motivational tools.

Reward Yourself

Training might be tough at times but it doesn’t mean hard work leaves no room for a little treat. You run because you love yourself, not because you want to torture yourself. Halfway done with your training program and didn’t miss a day? Did you better your race time? Celebrate success. This doesn’t necessarily mean throwing a pizza party or indulging in sweets and fast food. Buy something that will help you with your new hobby: a new running shirt, a pair of new shoes, a water bottle or a runner’s watch.

Enjoy It

We all prefer to do things we enjoy. If you like something, you keep doing it. Think about running not as an activity you have to do, but as a way to unlock your physical and spiritual potential. Every time you run, you learn something new about yourself, and this is priceless.

Smile

It may sound silly, but it works. Smile when you run—it tells your brain you are happy, and you should be. Think about all those people who would love to do what you are doing. As your body gets stronger, fitter and healthier, your life will get better. Isn’t that reason enough to smile?

Sheryl Crow Loves P90X

Sheryl CrowSheryl Crow spent a few minutes talking to Giuliana Rancic on the red carpet at the Grammy Awards yesterday, and rather than just asking her what she was wearing (or her favorite karaoke song, which, with most celebs, Giuliana went ahead and sang with them), Giuliana quizzed her on her workout habits.

Sheryl told her that she used to be a big runner, but now that she has a little one (her son, Wyatt, is not quite two years old), she just can’t find the time. Instead, she’s raving about the P90X workout system.

You might be familiar with P90X — we heard from That’s Fit readers late last year that this workout was fantastic. And, seriously, if it helps Sheryl Crow look that good, I just might have to give it a shot. An hour or so a day is totally worth it to have a body like that, right?

P90X