Choosing The Right Athletic Shoe For Your Sport


By Dustin L. Kruse, DPM

The shoe industry has exploded over the last century, with men and women in the USA spending about $6 billion a year on athletic shoes alone. The number of options has exploded, too. While your parents probably just bought a pair of tennis shoes and used them for everything back in the day, you have many more choices.

Sport-specific shoes are a good thing, because the more we learn about how our feet work, the more we see how specific shoe styles help to protect them better and improve our performance at the same time.

Types of Athletic Shoes

What you use them for determines what you need in a pair of shoes. Following are some types and the characteristics needed for a good design:

  • Running, jogging, walking. The main thing to look for is proper arch support to avoid pronation issues: a cushioned type for underpronators, stability or motion-controlled styles if you overpronate. Running shoes are generally lightweight; walking shoes have less tread and may feature a rocker bottom to encourage proper foot movement.

  • Court shoes. These are for sports like basketball, tennis, and volleyball. All are made of soft leather and have a solid, smooth tread. They provide stability from all directions for the back and forth motions of these sports. Basketball shoes typically have a higher cut to provide extra stability to the ankle for all the jumping and landing required.

  • Cleats. These are extra spikes or studs on the sole to grip porous outdoor surfaces used in sports like soccer, football, baseball, or lacrosse. Not all cleats are equal, though. Soccer styles have no toe cleat and often run narrower, so be careful when choosing these (especially if you need to use an insert in them). Football styles have a toe cleat for quick acceleration off the line and may be stiffer than other types. Lacrosse shoes also have a toe cleat and others that are placed around the perimeter of the sole; these often have more support in the midsole and higher tops. Baseball cleats are longer and narrower to grip the infield surfaces, but on artificial turf only the pitcher and catcher may need to wear them.

  • Hiking boots. Stability is necessary for the uneven surfaces you will encounter, but so is cushioning for impacts from rocks, tree roots, etc. The tread should be good to keep your feet planted firmly (especially on hill trails), and higher uppers help with ankle stability.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There is also special footwear for golf, skating, hockey, biking and skiing, among others.

How to Buy a Sport-Specific Shoe

Start by shopping later in the day, when your feet are their largest. Wear the types of socks you will wear when you play and be sure to take any inserts you need along. Go to a store that specializes in your sport and use their knowledgeable sales people for help. You should always have your feet measured, because feet can change for many reasons. Don’t go just by the size on the shoe, either, because sizes can vary between different styles and manufacturers.

Try on both shoes and fit to your larger foot (most of us have one). Pay particular attention to the toe area: you should have a half inch beyond your longest toe and room for them to lie straight. Women with wide feet or bunions may want to try men’s styles, which have more width in the front. The shoes should feel great the moment you put them on and stay comfortable as you walk around the store a few minutes.

Finding Help for Foot Pain from Specialists in Colorado

At Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center, we love being active and want to help and encourage others to do the same. Come to us for everything from advice for choosing athletic shoes for your sport to the most complex foot surgery, and we promise to give you the level of care you expect from experts in the field of podiatry. Call our Wheat Ridge, Golden, Evergreen, or Granby, CO offices at (303) 423-2520, or schedule an appointment through our website.

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