It's gotta be the shoes
|For distance runners and neighborhood walkers alike, an essential choice in fitness training concerns what's on your feet.|
Whether the customer is an advanced runner training for a distance race, a novice who likes to jog around the LSU lakes or someone who walks on a treadmill, everyone starts on the same level when he or she steps into Fleet Feet Sports.
Perhaps surprisingly, the first step begins with selecting the right socks, which Fleet Feet owner Michelle Forte says is just as important as choosing the right shoe.
“Definitely choose a moisture-wicking sock made of polyester or nylon, because cotton doesn't breathe or hold a shape well,” she says. “I will not put one of my shoes on someone with a cotton sock because I can't get a proper fit.”
From there, a customer's feet are analyzed and measured to determine whether he or she is a candidate for inserts. The compatible insert is based on the amount of pronation—the natural back-and-forth movement of the foot during walking or running—and overpronation occurs when there is too much side-to-side movement.
A good insert can help compensate for overpronation and eliminate problems like shin splints by identifying the correct arch height. Finally, a customer's walking or running pattern is observed in order to choose a shoe with the proper stability.
“People who have not been fitted properly in the past come in with their feet hurting, or having problems with plantar fasciitis and shin splints,” Forte says. “We can definitely get them in the right stability shoe, and that's going to help them tremendously.
No matter how thorough the process, however, finding the right shoe depends on the athletic endeavor for which the footwear will be worn.
As a head trainer overseeing three Foxy's Fitness Center locations, Ty Barrett has seen how shoes can make as much of a difference in working out as machine choice or weight repetitions.
“There are times where we'll make our clients take their shoes off if they are unable to balance because of the arch in their shoe or the support that they have,” he says. “We don't make someone wear a particular kind of shoe. At the end of the day, it depends on what they are most comfortable in.”
The average life of a shoe is 300 to 500 miles—between 50 and 80 six-mile runs around University and City Park lakes—depending on such factors as weight and stride length, but no shoe can compare with the longevity of the human foot itself.
Enter the minimalist movement. In 2005, Vibram introduced the FiveFingers line, which features thin, flexible soles that complement the shape of the foot and an individual section for each toe—much like a glove fits on a hand. Originally aimed at helping yacht racers maintain their grip on slippery decks, the FiveFingers shoes soon attracted the attention of runners seeking an alternative to a typical running shoes because they closely simulate the experience of running barefoot without compromising the protection of the foot from sharp objects.
In spring 2009, FiveFingers' popularity skyrocketed with the release of The New York Times best-seller Born to Run. Author and runner Christopher McDougall sought to disprove a doctor who told him that running was harmful to the human body. For years, he studied the Tarahumara, a Native American people in northwestern Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability while wearing only sandals with thin soles made of rubber.
Though FiveFingers shoes offer many benefits, Forte says, traditional runners should take caution when switching to a minimal-style shoe.
“It's a good tool to use if you're an efficient runner and can go straight to the toe-off position,” Forte says. “But it can put strain on your Achilles tendon and on your calf muscles, so if someone is running five miles and they've never run in a minimalist shoe before, they would need to gradually transition into that kind of shoe.”
Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight founded the company that would later become Nike in 1964. Seven years later, Bowerman—then the track and field coach at the University of Oregon—poured hot rubber into his wife's waffle iron to create a new sole for footwear that would grip but also be lightweight. The “waffle trainer” helped fuel the company's explosive growth.
“Then they started building it up, adding more cushioning and support to it,” Barrett says. “Now we've gone back to almost what they started with.”
The amount of choices for athletic shoes continues to grow as exercise techniques evolve.
Neutral shoes are a good start for most runners with normal pronation, and motion-control shoes offer maximum support for runners with overpronation. Walking shoes target fitness walkers who want the benefits and comfort of a running shoe but with a more basic appearance. Trail shoes are designed to handle varying styles of terrain and weather for off-road runners. And racing flats are made for speed, with low cushioning and support, for track runners.
On the other hand, weight trainers need more of a minimalist shoe and not something with a big heel so they can get a better sense of the ground.
“Your walking and running shoes are going to be more flexible, but you wouldn't want to do a lot of lateral movements in a running shoe because of how the sole is made,” Forte says. “Minimalist shoes are better for aerobics, which have lots of lateral movement.”
Barrett himself prefers the New Balance Minimus, which has a very lightweight sole but with the appearance of a traditional shoe. The Minimus, with versions ranging in price from $109.99 to $84.99, is good for running, lifting, plyometrics and kettlebell training.
While the Minimus might be Barrett's shoe of choice, he says the secret of finding the perfect shoe comes down to personal preference.
“As long as there's no pain or injury, and you're most comfortable in the shoe that you're in,” he says, “that's the most important thing.”
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