You love your athletic shoes, but do they love you back? Many people choose the wrong size or style shoes for their feet and activities. And they often wear them long after they’ve lost their performance and protective value. For comfort and safety, it’s important to know how to select shoes – and when to toss them away.
If your goal is to get the maximum mileage out of your workout shoes, physics is about to take on a possibly painful significance in your life.
“Shoe longevity is directly affected by the specific biomechanical function of your foot. The more balanced the shoe is to your body, the longer the shoe will last,” says Rob Tenny, footwear specialist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson.
But, he cautions, no shoe lasts forever, and most people wear their shoes much, much too long.
If the shoe fits
Because feet are like snowflakes – no two are alike, including the two at the end of your legs – shoes must be selected to meet individual needs and counter any weaknesses such as pronation (heel rolls out, foot rolls in) and supination (heel rolls in, foot rolls out).
“Proper fit of a shoe and proper shape of a shoe for your foot is essential to workout-shoe longevity and comfort. If you have a straight foot and your shoe is curved, your foot will sit askew inside the shoe. Choose a shoe that fits the curve of your foot and supports your arch,” Tenny says.
Tenny emphasizes that the most common footwear faux pas is wearing shoes that are too small.
“Out of any 10 people, 9.5 are wearing shoes that are too small, which causes a myriad of foot problems.”
Manufacturers’ lack of uniformity in shoe sizing contributes to consumer confusion: “Every brand fits differently. There’s no standard of specificity to size.
One company will have a size nine that is too small and another will have a size nine that is too big for your ‘size-nine’ foot. You can’t pay attention to sizes: Fit is what matters.”
Tenny’s recommendation: Bigger is better. Your foot will fit better and feel better inside a slightly larger shoe than it will with a shoe that’s a little too small.
Here’s some advice from the experts to get a fit that will make the most of your soles:
• Shop for shoes later in the day, when feet tend to be the most tired and swollen. Always accommodate fluctuations in foot size caused by various conditions, including pregnancy and weight gain – the number on the box is infinitely less important than your comfort and health.
• Get athletic shoes that are wide enough. “The only two manufacturers that make a full range of widths are New Balance® and Etonic®,” says Tenny. “If you’ve got a wide foot, you need a wide shoe. Period. All the high-tech materials in the world aren’t going to make a shoe work for you if you’ve got a D-width foot and a B-width shoe.”
• Most people’s feet are two different sizes. Always fit to your larger foot.
• Clown around. When shopping, go up in size “until the shoe feels like a clown shoe.” Then pull back about half a size, leaving at least an inch between the end of your toes and the tip of the shoe.
“It is really hard to convince people that they need to go that much bigger, but I consider an inch at the front optimal. It keeps the shoe from crowding your toes and prevents joints from being compressed, which can eventually cause hammertoes and bunions. You do not want these conditions.”
Shoes worn outdoors generally have a shorter lifespan than those worn in the gym, even if the mid-soles are made from polyurethane (as opposed to more porous EVA, or ethyl vinyl acetate). Shoes worn outside and exposed to lots of sweat, water, abrasion and dirt simply wear out faster.
But not even an expert can tell what shape a shoe is in just by looking at it.
“Some people wear them out from the inside out, some do it the other way,” Tenny says. “I’ve seen shoes that looked perfect that were shot – the mid-soles totally compressed. And I’ve seen shoes that looked like they’d been through the wars that were still just fine.”
Exercise rates also have a significant impact, making longevity generalizations difficult. Tenny estimates that people who exercise moderately indoors can expect six to nine months of wear from a pair of shoes; outdoor shoes average just three to six months. He judges wear by pinching the insole at the heel and ball of the foot. If the insole is thin, it’s time for action.
“You can lengthen the life of a shoe with a new, good-quality insole,” he explains, but not if the mid-sole is starting to become grooved and compressed.
“You might as well be walking around on a bunch of stale, broken-down marshmallows,” Tenny says.
Breakdown of the outer sole calls for instant action.
“When the outside lateral edge of the shoe is worn down at the heel and the insole is thinned – the shoe feels dead, with no cushion left – well, you needed new shoes some time ago.”
“Most people take their shoes to the wall,” adds Tenny, who strongly cautions against this practice, reminding clients that an investment in shoes is an investment in health.
The worst he ever saw?
“I once worked with a woman wearing athletic shoes she’d had for 20 years. That’s incredible – the trouble that sort of neglect causes doesn’t end at your ankles.
“Wearing the wrong shoes or worn-out shoes can have endless consequences, right up to your head,” Tenny warns. “When your shoes are too worn to cushion against shock, or are skewing or cramping your feet, every structure in the body is going to feel the effects.”
So treat your feet well. Good fit and fresh shoes can are good for the sole.