There are so many types of athletics shoes available now that choosing can be a sole-destroying task. So what do you need to know?

Do you need different pairs of shoes for tennis, basketball, running and aerobics? If you participate in an activity more than twice per week, the answer is probably yes.

shoesA running shoe provides extra cushioning and has a more durable outsole, but is essentially designed for going in straight lines. Fine for walking, jogging and running, but lacking the support you need for aerobics.

An aerobics shoe will offer better support for side-to-side movements and help prevent you from rolling your ankle, but has more cushioning in the forefoot and less in the heel.

Tennis and basketball shoes also provide better support for side-to-side movements and have cushioning in fore and rear-foot regions.

And cross-trainers? It’s fair to say in the shoe world they’re the jack of all trades but master of none. Relying on them alone if you do a lot of a specific activity is not a good idea.

Some of the technological innovations in running and other athletics shoes might actually reduce their effectiveness. The drive for product differentiation and market leadership might actually supersede functionality. This may particularly apply in some of the minimalist shoes we are currently seeing sweeping the market

These technological advances aren’t for everyone and often the midsole these supposed technological advances replace is actually better at absorbing shock and providing stability for certain people.  We would recommend everyone seek professional advice from a trained podiatrist or physiotherapist dealing with runners and feet.

Gotta have sole

An athletics shoe’s midsole is one of its most important features. It’s the part that absorbs the shock of your foot striking the ground and therefore protects you most from the injuries repetitive pounding can cause.

Hard or spongy?

Midsoles are spongy, whereas outersoles are hard and durable to resist the wear and tear of striking the ground. Low density midsoles can be more comfortable but absorb less impact force and offer less stability. Even those brands like ASICS who have not gone down the path of having a true minimalist shoe, have decreased the density of the midsole in most of their running shoes. This has the effect of making a shoe lighter and encouraging a runner to land slightly more to the front of their foot.

Higher density midsoles traditionally have been more common in the better known brands, along with dual density models in which the density of the foam in the inside of the heel is greater than on the outside. Both of these designs offer improved stability and greater absorption of impact shock.

As described above, shoes that have been designed for different activities will have greater or lesser thickness of the midsole at the front or back of the shoe, depending on what part of the foot hits the ground first and therefore needs the most protection.

The right shoe?

Simplicity of design is the first thing to look for in a running shoe.

In choosing a shoe a safe rule of thumb is; first, it must fit the purpose. Second, you’re often better off without the bells and whistles.

As a general rule ( although this may change with professional advice for some people) avoid chunky midsoles and shoes with a flared rear foot because they can often reduce stability and avoid the very light shoes that you can twist into a knot as they are deliberately designed with very little stability.

There is no “best” running shoe on the market. There might be a number of models that fulfill your requirements, depending largely on three things:

Your running technique– whether you over-pronate (excessive inwards rolling of the foot after heel contact), over-supinate (you bear weight on the outside of the foot) or have a neutral style. Over-pronators will often have excessive wear on the inside of the sole of an old pair of shoes. The shoes of an over-supinator are more likely to show more wear towards the outside of the sole.

Your body weight– a heavier body often requires a heavier shoe.

The distance you plan on running– lightweight models used for road racing are only good for occasional use since they offer less protection than training shoes.

Expect to pay anywhere between $140 and $220 for a decent pair of runners, and, depending on how much running you do, expect to pay it two to four times a year.

Selecting a running shoe:

If you over-pronate (50 per cent of runners do this) choose a high or dual density midsole with a straight “last” (minimal curve along the long axis of the shoe) and rigid heel counter.

If you over-supinate (20 per cent of runners), a less rigid shoe with a slightly softer midsole and a curved (not excessively) last should be more suited to you.

Make sure the shoe is broad enough for your foot – some brands offer a range of width fittings. Excessively wide shoes will allow your foot to slip and may increase the risk of injury.

Allow for one to two centimetres between your longest toe and the end of the shoe.

The height and shape of the shoe’s upper will affect the snugness of the fit around the heel and your toes. Try a few different pairs while wearing the socks you’ll be running in. There are also a few different ways of lacing a shoe that can affect the comfort of the fit

Many of these principles apply to other athletics shoes, particularly the latter three. Sizes and shapes vary between brands. Once you find a brand that suits your foot, it can be wise to stick with it.

Choosing the shoe that best fits your needs will make you more comfortable and more likely to keep active. Get it right. Shoes are a very important investment.

The debate between a traditional running shoe which is largely described above is an entire different subject which we have touched on in other posts. Generally the more efficient runner can transition to a minimalist shoe with greater ease. This needs to be done with care to avoid overload injuries and a safer bet can be to stick to the guidelines listed above.