The Shoes You Choose
Athletic footwear is an $11 billion a year industry, and manufacturers spend billions to convince buyers their brand possesses the magic to help them lose weight and run and walk pain-free.
Recent developments include rocker-bottom shoes purported to increase calorie-burning and help tone legs (MBT®, Skechers® and Curves®) and minimalist shoes, like Vibram fivefingers® or Nike Free. "There are two streams of thought," says Sherry McLaughlin, MSPT, OCS, CSCS, of Michigan Institute for Human Performance, Inc. (MIHP). "Some believe the more supportive or technologically advanced the shoe the better, others are more minimalist. I'm more on the minimalist end. The MBT and Curves shoes are quite pricey. These shoes claim to help reduce pain with walking, because the rounded bottom decreases the heel strike, rolling you forward. But your body is supposed to do that on its own -- the shoe shouldn't do it for you. The sole makes you feel less stable initially, which provides a little balance training. That benefit lasts just a short time, though, because your body gets used to it."
A recent study supports Sherry's assessment. A test of volunteers wearing traditional running shoes vs. a second group wearing the curved-sole toning shoes showed no significant increase in calories burned, muscle strength or toning. Read the study.
When buying shoes, Sherry advises:
- Fix your legs, not the shoes. "If your back, feet or knees hurt, it's not the shoe. It's because the muscles in your legs are weak," says Sherry. "Engage in an exercise program that increases your leg strength, so you don't become dependent on any one pair of shoes."
- Buy your shoes from a running shoe store. Running shoes have invested in the shoes' technology and have more variety.
- Make sure the "last" fits. The last is the shape of the bottom of the shoe -- each company's is different. Visit a running shoe store and ask to try a neutral shoe in every brand they carry. (Neutral shoes don't correct for motion or offer excessive cushioning.) Buy the brand that fits you most comfortably.
Start your walking program today -- even if the weather's cold. Download our Detroit-area mall walking guide.
- Should you replace your shoes? Check the sole. If it's worn in one area, or if it feels like your foot is not flat when you put the shoes on, it's time to replace your shoes.