How to choose the right sport shoes

Your shoes are probably the most important piece of exercise equipment you’ll ever buy. With more and more people opting for a healthier, more active lifestyle, the sports footwear industry is booming – and so is the variety of shoes available.

Jacqui Gallagher, a Johannesburg-based musculoskeletal and sports physiotherapist who has also just completed her second Comrades marathon, says that your shoes play a huge role in the mechanics of your stride. “Being in the wrong shoe for you or for your sport can result in nasty injuries and send you straight back to the couch,” she warns.

If you’re in the market for a new pair of sports shoes, where should you begin? Here are four points to consider:

  1. What will you use your shoes for?

While cross trainers may be fine for gym classes and casual walking, it’s essential to have a running-specific shoe for longer walking or running. In the same way, a running shoe isn’t appropriate for sports like tennis or squash, as it doesn’t give your foot the sideways stability it needs.

  • Your foot type

There are generally 3 types of foot:

  • Flat foot/over pronator: A very mobile foot that’s an excellent shock absorber but is much less stable; needs a motion control shoe with maximum support.
  • Neutral: Neither high arched or flat, with a nice balance of stability and shock absorption; needs a shoe with a mix of cushioning and support, with some flexibility.
  • High arched/supinator: A more rigid foot with less natural shock absorption; needs a more cushioned shoe with a softer mid sole.
  • Biomechanics/pre-existing conditions

Our feet form the bottom end of our lower “kinetic chain”, which means that putting them in the wrong shoes can affect your knees, hips and lower back. If you have an old injury or any current symptoms, it’s best to be assessed by a physiotherapist first, as they’ll help sort out your biomechanical/alignment issues and then advise you on the best shoes to buy.

  • The Fit

If your shoe is the wrong size, you’ll land up with blisters or black toenailsor worse: angry shins or calves. So, what is the right fit?

  • Toe: You should be able to put one thumb width between your longest toe and the front of your shoe.
  • Heel: Should feel snug, not slip out.
  • Upper part of shoe: Should fit snugly over your toes but allow enough room to wriggle them comfortably.

And what about the current minimalist running shoe craze? Gallagher says that while it’s great that these shoes encourage a more natural gait where your toe/forefoot strikes first rather than your hind foot/heel, if this is new to you, the soft tissues in your lower kinetic chain won’t be used to this type of running. “This can lead to compensation and then pain and injury later on,” she says. Gallagher recommends that if you want to experiment with minimalist shoes, you should do so gradually on different surfaces, and under the supervision of a sports physiotherapist or practitioner.

When buying a pair of shoes, make sure they’re suitable for the exercise you’ll be doing, and then check that they’re comfortable the moment you put them on. Overall, they should feel like they complement the way your foot falls – rather than trying to change it.

Choosing the right medical aid is no joke, but we’ll leave you smiling.