Choosing the right shoe can improve exercise routine

One question we hear quite frequently is “What type of shoes should I wear while exercising?” A simple answer might be “Whatever you feel comfortable in.” But, is the answer so simple? Let's take a look at shoe selection and how it affects your body during exercise.

If you're choosing your shoes solely based on appearance, you're probably missing out on the performance aspects of many models. Shoes are designed to support your foot in a way that facilitates a specific foot strike and stride.

Running shoes, for example, have impact-absorbing padding on the soles and may offer added arch support, allowing the runner to elongate their stride and cover more ground with each step, therefore making them faster.

A minimalist shoe, on the other hand, is designed to mimic barefoot walking, so there is very little padding or support. This barefoot shoe will force the muscles of your feet and legs to work differently because the foot is not “cradled” by any artificial support of the shoe. In time, your feet and stabilizing muscles of the legs become stronger and work more efficiently.

These are two examples of athletic shoe styles on different ends of the spectrum, but there are countless models in between.

So what type of shoes should you wear while exercising?

First, you need to be aware of your own biomechanics. When your foot strikes, does your ankle roll inward or outward? Do you have high arches or more of a flat foot? A specialty shoe store can answer these questions and get you set up in the correct shoe for your natural biomechanics. If you know you have foot problems, a podiatrist or chiropractor may have recommendations as well.

Next, take into account the types of activities you'll be involved in. If you plan on doing a lot of running on pavement, you'll want a shoe with plenty of cushion. Running shoes will absorb some of the impact and wear and tear that your joints normally would. If you're strength training or walking/hiking on natural surfaces, a minimalist shoe might be a good option. Minimalist shoes will allow your body to move and balance more naturally, almost as if you're not wearing shoes at all. Each type of shoe has its benefits based on your intended activity.

And finally, think about the goals you're trying to accomplish. If performance is what you're after, a specialized shoe for that activity is certainly the way to go. But, if you feel you have weak feet or ankles and would like to feel more comfortable on your bare feet, you may try to transition into more of a minimalist shoe. This way the muscles of the feet and lower leg will have to “exercise” more as you move. Of course it's OK to have a few different pairs of shoes in your gym bag depending on your activities.

No matter what your exercise consists of, there's a shoe out there that will help you perform at your best. Get set up in the right shoe and be ready to tackle any goal. For more exercise and nutrition tips, visit our blog at or find us on Facebook.

• Joshua Steckler and Mark Trapp are co-owners of Push Fitness, a personal training studio in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning and nutrition. Contact them at

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