Choosing the right pair of running/walking shoes

6:30 PM

We all have different feet, different needs and different fitness levels, the right pair of running/walking shoe is an absolute must.

So, you decided to start walking or jogging. You read the memo about wearing a pair of sports shoes. Go buy the most basic, if not most affordable pair on the market and hit the road.

All is apparently first that is. A few days or weeks into your new fitness routine and you start experiencing joint pain, and inflamed ligaments. At this point you either decide that you aren't fit enough to walk and give up, or chalk it up to you being new at it and experiencing "newbie pain".

Guess what?

It's neither of these two that are to blame. The human body is literally built to walk and walking does not normally cause excruciating pain that will plague you even while resting.

What you are ABSOLUTELY right about though, is that there is indeed something wrong. And that something is your shoes.

Walking and running are both physical activities that put a lot of pressure on your feet. The faster your walk, and the longer your run, the more your feet will be put to the test.
So much so, that it is VERY important to find the right pair of shoes. And the right pair of shoes for you is different from the right pair of shoes for your neighbour, friend, relative or that Olympic Athlete you admire.

There are no two feet that are alike

We all come in different shapes, sizes and built. With that in mind it is only logical that the exact same theory applies to your feet. 
There are people with normal foot arches, people with flat feet and people with high arches (I fall in that category). 
The very shape of your sole determine how your foot will cushion the impact whenever it hits the ground, and as an extension, determine how your whole leg will move during a stride. 
You can't correct that, you need to work with it, and find the best foot support to help you achieve that. 

People with normal foot arches have a very neutral stride. This means your foot absorb the shock evenly and your leg's axis is balanced. This is said to be the easiest type of foot to have when you are shopping for sports shoes (but more on that later)

People with flat feet usually have a stride that causes the foot to absorb the impact inward. This is called "Over-pronation" a technical term that means you wear out the inside edge of your shoes more than any other part (if at all). This stride causes the leg to bend inward as well. 
This means you will need a pair of sports shoes that offers a strong sole support all over to prevent the knee and hip joints to suffer in the long term. 

If you have high arches, this means that very little of your foot is in contact with the ground and you naturally put the weight of your body on the outer edge and rotate your leg outward during your stride. This problem is known as "Under-pronation" or "Supination". People with high arches need two things from their pair of sports shoes: a strong arch padding on the inside edge of the foot (where the arch has no support) and a flexible mid-sole to compensate for the lack of pronation during the stride. 
High arches are the least common of all three foot type, and often the more demanding when it comes to shoes...any shoes.

So, how do you find that perfect pair of running/walking shoe? 

From experience, and you can totally take it from me as a high arches person, the best is to go to a dedicated sports shoes and apparel store. 
Skip the regular shoe store, the supermarket, the hypermarket, or the department store. Unless you have totally normal feet, and even then I would not fully recommend that approach if you are a newbie at sports shoes choosing. 

The reason behind going to a specialist store? Simple enough, they all have at least one person that is qualified enough to recommend a good pair of shoes.
In India, you will get great advice in any of the Adidas, Nike, Reebok and other big brand outlet. These guys KNOW their stuff. 
If for any reasons the staff at the store you picked is not asking you questions about you, your physical level and check your foot, run the other way and find another store. 

Your type of activity and intensity level matters. 

The very first thing you should bring up with the sale assistant in a sports shop is what you plan on using the shoes for, and what fitness level you have. 
If you are going to mostly walk for example, you will need a pair of sports shoes with narrower heel pad than if you are going to constantly run. 
If you are going to run or walk on a hard surface such as concrete or tarred roads, you will need far more cushioning for the sole than if you run on softer surfaces like dirt and mud. 
You will also need better quality shoes if you are a regular walker/runner instead of just a weekend enthusiast. 

Don't be shy telling them about health issues

If you have arthritis, or have BP problems that cause your feet to swell, or have a tendency to get knee pain easily now is the time to speak up! 
This will determine the kind of sole support and cushioning your sports shoe will need to have. You won't embarrass yourself, and the sales assistant will be better equipped to make you try the best shoes. 
If you already know what type of foot arch you have (and you should at least check that yourself), mention it too. If you have no idea in which category your foot falls, don't feel stupid asking them to help you determine it. 
After all, we already covered how important a role the shape of your foot sole play in how your foot strikes the ground. 

Size matters

Well, to be fair it matters with all type of shoes, but in the case of sports shoes you want to play it extra safe. 
Did you know that a sports shoe size should be bigger than a regular pair of shoes? There should be a little more room for your toes to wiggle in the "toe box" in a pair of running shoes than there is in a pair of everyday shoes. This is because your foot will swell as you walk or run long distance, and you don't want to compress the foot in a too small shoe, shoe-bite is the least of your worries with that scenario.
If you are not entirely sure about your foot size ask the sale's assistant, most sports store have a measuring tool to help you determine that.

Try both shoes on and jump

Unlike your regular pair of everyday shoes, you want to go beyond the "fit" and get an idea of how they will perform. This means testing the cushioning before making a definite choice. I found that the best way for me to judge that is to perform a few static jumps. 
I also walk around the store at a brisk pace and roll my feet back and forth to test the arch support that is oh so crucial for me. 

Try more than one pair

Even if the first pair you try feels great, ask to try other ones as well (if they haven't already suggested it).
The current pair I have and is my second purchase was the one I tried first. But guess what? I was only 95% sure it was the right choice even then, even with me no longer being a shoe shopping newbie. It took me trying every single models meeting my arches requirement to finally decide that my initial 95% was really a 100%.
If you aren't in a multi-brand outlet and still aren't sure, it's ok to visit other brands stores to make your decision. 

Don't let the price scare you

I'm going to be very honest and blunt here: Quality shoes cost money.

No ifs, no buts, no nothing! It's not up for debate, and let's face it of all the sports and fitness activity out there, walking and running will still be the cheapest, so the LEAST you can do is invest in a good pair of shoes. 
The first pair of shoes I bought when I started being serious about walking 3 years ago set me up 6000 rupees, the new pair I bought this year was 8k. If you choked on whatever you were drinking while reading this blog post, I apologise. 
The fact is that the wrong pair of shoes can do some SERIOUS and IRREVERSIBLE damage to your joints and ligaments. Surgery to correct these issues alone is higher than the price I paid to protect my ridiculously high arches (we are talking 1 cm of skin left in contact with the ground when barefoot).

Not to mention that surgery will never correct a damage caused to your body 100%. Is that worth gambling and pinching a few rupees? 
My point is to buy the best shoe you can afford for your foot type.

Don't forget to retire your shoes

It is said that a runner need to change shoes every 4-500 km ran. You can stretch them a bit longer if you are a walker, but still need to mind the padding and cushioning. 
Most people wait until the shoe falls apart completely before replacing it, and it is usually WAY too late to consider doing so. 
You need a new pair of shoes the instant you start feeling pain, any pain that is not just due to you being tired. Your heel feeling the burnt, your toes going numb, or the knee feeling the impact of each of your steps is a sign that the cushioning of your shoes has gone kaput.

Another sign that your shoes has lived a long and happy life is if the sole is uneven and has some worn out spots on the heel part and the traction spot under the toe box. Just like with a car tyre, the sole profile having bald and smooth spot is a sign it is too old to be used and that you are just a few steps away from risking a severe injury. 
My old pair of shoe did last 3 years and I could feel that the cushioning was near to non-existent during and after each of my walks. And because the model I had had been retired by Adidas and was no longer available even online, I opted to try another pair in a store rather than buy a new pair of a similar model in the same brand. 

Don't buy a pair of shoes just because someone else find them awesome. 

Remember that we all have different feet, and needs. What works for one can prove to be a total disaster for someone else.
This is exactly why every big brands of sports shoes out there has engineers and doctors and specialist entering in the design of every single shoes they create and why one brand will have dozens and dozens of models on display at their flag store. The colour and style is the least important aspect in that move. 

Anybody that has bought sports shoes in the past, including myself can assure you that the right pair of shoes will make ALL the difference, so consider this choice and purchase as a health investment from your part and take your time making that decision. 

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  1. Anonymous8:12 AM

    Ate these just your walking shoes? Or do you use them even for outings that involves lot of walking.

    1. I use them for outings that will involve a lot of walking as well. In the past, wearing anything but sports shoes for that type of outings has proven to be a complete disaster. Due to my high arches issue I am extremely prone to plantar fasciitis, a condition that leaves you in severe pain for weeks even while resting.

  2. Anonymous11:05 AM

    Happy vijayadashmi to u and family. This is the most comprehrnsive piece of information about sports shoes and pretty useful too.


  3. Very nice to see a detailed and informative post on something that is so important but few care about. It's so important to have the right type of footwear, whether one is walking or running.

    1. I have had knee problems my entire life due to a congenital malformation, seeing my orthopedist was a once or twice a year routine, even more so when as a teen I developed scoliosis.
      He could not stress enough how important shoes were and that if there was one expense nobody should be cheap about it was this one, especially for physical activities that put stress on the feet. My parents were a bit reluctant to buy expensive shoes I would outgrow almost immediately though :-)
      In the end I took Synchronised Swimming as a sport eliminating the sports shoes dilemma, but started shelling a lot of money on Swimsuits, nose clips, swimming caps and googles as chlorine is not kind to these and it wears out quickly enough, especially when you spend half your life at the pool training :-)


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