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The Right Shoes for Walking

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Updated April 19, 2004

What is the right shoe for walking? "The #1 shoe is the one that fits your #1 foot," is the anthem of John Olsen of Pacesetter Athletic, a technical sports shoe store in Portland, Oregon. Walkers should think fit, flat, flex when choosing a walking shoe.

Fit

Size Counts

  • Athletic shoes all tend to run short, says Olsen. If your shoes are too short, you will get blisters and aggravate bunions. Your athletic shoe size will run 1 to 1 1/2 sizes bigger than what you wear for dress shoes.
  • Your foot swells as you walk and as you stand around during the day. To get the right shoe, in the morning there should be a thumbnail's width between the end of your longest toe and the shoe. In the afternoon or after walking, it should still be 1/2 a thumbnail.
  • Don't lace your shoes really tight, you can aggravate foot problems as your feet expand during walking.

Roll with it

  • Most people pronate - with each step they hit with the heel and then the foot rolls inward. Overpronation occurs when you roll too far inward and "roll off" the shoe. To correct for overpronation, shoes are made with different lasts - the shoe itself curving inward or not.
  • Curved last shoes have pronounced inward curvature to enhance the inward rotation most people have with each step.
  • Semi-curved lasts often have an area of the sole with dual density material that halts the inward rotation to prevent overpronation.
  • Straight lasts have no inward curvature and are best for those who overpronate.

Lack of support:

  • Athletic shoes have no arch support. Some appear to have it by undercutting the sole at the arch, so it feels like it is supported, but in fact is not.
  • The result is an epidemic of plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, as the bottom of your foot is wounded, bruised and calcifies.
  • If you have a high arch, protect it by buying an insole with arch support for your shoe.
  • Racewalkers should not train in racing flats - they have zero support and can lead to injury. Save them for the race.

Flex

  • "Walking" shoes and crosstrainers as designed by the shoe industry are too stiff and are not yet designed with motion control features found in running shoes.
  • These motion control features prevent overpronation and injuries such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, bursitis and tendonitis.
  • The shoe industry will be moving in the next few years to add motion control features to walking shoes and hiking shoes, but for the present it is best to wear good quality running shoes that fit your #1 foot.
  • Your foot needs to roll through each step, striking with the heel and rolling rather than just clomping down or striking and flapping down with a smack. Stiff soled shoes prevent this natural motion.

Flat

  • Running shoes often have a raised heel or one with a wide heel counter to meet the motion needs of a running stride. Walkers do not need these features.
  • The flatter the heel the better - look at it in relation to the sole under the ball of the foot and choose a shoe with the least height difference.
  • Rather than having a heel that flares out on each side and at the back, you want a plain heel or one that is cut in at the back to allow you to roll when you strike with your heel and roll through the step.

The Life of a Shoe

  • You should wear different shoes for walking, aerobics, and work.
  • Shoes in general have a 500 mile lifespan.
  • Old shoes that have been in the warehouse age themselves. The glue dries out and hardens. The soles dissipate. They won't last as long as new shoes. This why they were on sale! Don't stockpile your favorite shoe, buy new fresh ones as needed.
  • Rotate your shoes by buying a new pair 4 - 6 weeks after your present pair, with the same stability but a different model. Alternate them each time you walk.
  • You will be able to recognize then when the older pair dissipates - it won't feel as good as the newer pair.
  • Different styles will work different bones and muscles, so you will be less likely to have an injury.

Next: Finding the Right Shoe Store

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