How to Choose the Right Footwear for Your Workout

Choosing footwear that will support you in your workouts becomes more important as we get older. As we age, we lose some of the fat pads protecting the bottoms of our feet. This means your heel presses harder against the floor, which can lead to irritation or inflammation. We may also start dealing with conditions like plantar fasciitis, heel spurs or bunions.

How to Choose the Right Footwear for Your Workout

Regardless of foot shape or conditions you may have, it’s important to use a slightly different type of shoe for walking and running compared to lifting weights at the gym. We’ll explain what to look for in each type, and how to make sure your shoes fit properly for the best performance and lowest risk of injury.

Shoes for Walking and Running

Whether you’re running or walking, you’ll want shoes that provide some cushioning. This will absorb impact, protecting your joints and preventing injuries. Running shoes are made for all foot types; I’d suggest shopping at a specialty store where knowledgeable staff can assess your foot type and gait, then recommend shoe brands based on your individual needs.

If you experience knee, back or heel pain, a supportive shoe with heel cushioning may help. Look for a wider, softer shoe if you have bunions (enlarged big toe joints).

Christian Johannsen, Pedorthist at Foot Solutions in Vancouver, B.C., has some tips for older adults purchasing walking or running shoes:

“Stability is an important factor when choosing walking or running shoes. Footwear should have a wide heel base to prevent the foot from rolling too far outward, potentially resulting in ankle sprains. Check to make sure that shoes don’t flex in the middle of the sole and that they can’t be wrung out like a towel. This indicates poor structural support that may cause the foot to work harder than it needs to, which could cause fatigue.”

Johannsen also notes, “If the footwear doesn’t feel supportive enough, consider talking to a pedorthist about the potential of adding arch support. When toe deformities are present, seeking out footwear that provides additional depth can significantly improve walking comfort and prevent blistering and callousing to occur.”

Shoes for Gym Workouts

If you primarily enjoy cardio or circuit training at the gym, running shoes can do the trick. If you lift weights, however, you may need to consider a different type of shoe.

Running shoes are designed to absorb impact, and have cushioned, compressible soles. When you’re performing exercises like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses, your feet need to create a strong, stable base. A cushioned sole provides the opposite.

Cushioned soles prevent you from being able to drive your feet into the floor (which activates your hamstrings and glutes). A padded heel means more of your weight is shifted toward your toes, rather than your heels, which can affect your form during moves like squats and deadlifts.

For strength training, look for shoes that have minimal cushioning. Sometimes marketed as “training” shoes instead of running shoes, make sure that the heel of the shoe isn’t elevated higher than the toe. These types of shoes also feature excellent traction to prevent slipping.

5 Tips to Ensure Your Shoes Fit Properly

Whether you’re looking for running shoes or gym training shoes, these tips will help you make sure you’ve found the perfect fit.

1. Allow for a finger width of space.

Make sure there’s about a finger width of space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe.

2. Ensure a secure fit around the ankle.

Ensure that the heel counter (the part of the shoe that wraps around the heel) fits securely and there’s no gaping. To improve the fit around the ankle in running shoes or walking shoes, try the “lace lock” technique. This ensures a seriously secure fit around the ankle.

3. Check for pressure points.

Be sure there’s plenty of wiggle room for toes and that the forefoot and toes are free of pressure points. When unsure about pressure points, check the foot for red spots after the footwear has been worn for a while.

4. Evaluate how you feel in your shoes.

Rather than choosing shoes based on their marked size, go by how they feel when you wear them. Sizes can vary greatly by country of manufacture and brand.

5. Purchase shoes at the end of the day.

Make sure you try on and purchase new shoes at the end of the day, especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet. Day-to-day activities can cause feet to swell, so most people’s feet are largest in the evening.

About the Writer

Karina Inkster

Karina is a Certified Personal Training Specialist with a Master’s degree in Gerontology, and specializes in health and aging. Based in Vancouver, BC, she's the author of Vegan Vitality and Foam Rolling: 50 Exercises for Massage, Injury Prevention and Core Strength.

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