Updated: Jan 30
Put your best foot forward. Chances are you've heard this expression a couple times. In a literal sense is one of our feet really better than the other? Although most of us have a dominant leg/foot that is more adept at certain tasks than the other one, they are probably pretty equal in their characteristics. So what exactly does this saying mean? Maybe that a parent, coach or significant other is reminding us to demonstrate good behavior and set an example for others to follow or wishing us good luck on a job interview or promotion at work. Using these role models as guides, each have specific tools that allow them to do their job effectively and efficiently. Most of us know that to accomplish a goal, appropriate equipment is necessary. For a parent this may mean support from extended family, friends and loved ones, a coach possibly balls, large grassy areas, racquets, etc. used for sports, while a significant other sometimes extreme amounts of patience and love. Whatever the case may be, proper equipment is essential to perform at our best. With the Winter Olympics rapidly approaching, we will see athletes competing at very high levels striving to achieve lifelong dreams of winning a gold medal. While hours of specialized training are involved to even get this esteemed opportunity, there is more to it than meets the eye. To these elite individuals, having the correct equipment can be milliseconds between a first place finish and shattered hopes. But what about not so famous commoners that just want a quick rush of adrenaline found in a gym setting or outdoor trail? Those of us fitting into this category, it is all about comfort and injury prevention. By now, you're probably looking back and re-examining the title of this blog and wondering where it is going. Ok, let me tell you. Every day we wake up and have to make choices. What should I eat for breakfast, talk about at this mornings meeting, or even what to wear. For some, the answers depend on what is available in the fridge or pantry, a specific event that happened at work on Friday, or what is clean and hanging wrinkle free in the closet. However, when engaging in exercise sessions, fitness apparel is vital to both looking and feeling good. My next two posts will be addressing this topic with my first one covering shoes. While the perfect footwear is essential to an Olympian (or hopeful), it is just as important to a regular Joe, especially an avid gym bum. Our feet take on many responsibilities over the course of just one day so having shoes that are a good fit is crucial to ensuring they with"stand" the entire day and are protected from harm. Being on them all day with improper sizing can create both short term (acute) and long term (chronic) conditions that, although initially start with the feet, can migrate further up the kinetic chain into knees, hips or lower back. Problems like fallen arches or plantar fasciitis arise when poorly fitted shoes are worn for extended periods of time. Bowed knees, rotated hips or sciatica can both be due to unsuitable footwear and relieved by choosing a pair that is tailored to your specific needs. In selecting ones that are right for me, what should I look for when shopping? That is a great question and I hope that by the end of this article you will have all the information you need for your next trip to your local mall. Keep in mind that even with the countless options available, the "perfect" solution may be difficult to find so focus more on the ideal rather than exact fit. There are numerous manufacturers competing for your dollar so be patient and take some time making a final decision. Also understand that, like the elements of sleep mentioned in my last blog, a great deal of science goes into making each pair of shoes and just because a friend or personal trainer recommends a certain brand or style, it may not be YOUR best choice. Because of the millions of different shaped feet that roam this earth, one size fits all does NOT apply here! With that being said, I am going to share general ideas for you to consider when locating your next pair. These, I feel, are the most imperative: 1) Determine their primary use. Not all shoes are created equal so something like a basketball shoe probably wouldn't work very well on a day long hike. An "athletic" shoe, commonly used in sports, is a generic term for a durable, rugged, thick soled version. They can serve many purposes so a more recent term, cross trainers, has been implemented into the fitness world. Group fitness buffs and routine gym goers often wear this type because of their versatility...they can be used on multiple surfaces like carpet, hardwood flooring, and rubber mats. Other specific types are specially designed for one or very few tasks (i.e. running shoes) so it is best to know before you buy how you plan to use them. This helps prevent injury and the hassle of having to return them. 2) Shop around. There is a reason so many stores carry shoes and also why you will notice a vast array of colors, sizes, styles and widths. Never buy from the first place you go. You may decide after the fifth store that the first ones were the best fit, but trust me, the retailers don't mind repeat customers! In so doing, you can also compare prices to ensure you get the most bang for your buck. 3) Try on multiple sizes and styles. Each brand is sized differently contingent to where they were made. Shoes made in Asia vary greatly from those made in Europe or the United States so a size eight (8) in Nike may be completely different than a size eight (8) in Reebok or Adidas. Not all brands make half sizes. If that is the case, go up instead of down for the most comfortable fit. 4) Be willing to spend some dough. A good pair of shoes should run between $90-$125 and specialized varieties can cost upwards of $200 based on type and where you buy them. This may seem pricey, but if you look at what you would be spending to treat knee pain or shin splints, for example, suddenly your shoes become a much better value. If still over budget, watch for your favorite pair to go on sale. Retailers always have sales so watch their ads or visit the store often. Frequently a store clerk will know what items are on sale so don't be afraid to ask. 5) Buy more than one pair. It is a good idea to have an extra set for several reasons. Having a spare helps prevent rapid breakdown of the inner components of the shoe and its liner. Alternate days you wear the same pair of shoes. Sweat breaks down the elasticity of the material so by switching off, you allow the fabric to dry out and preserve its integrity. Additionally, if one pair gets dirty or soaking wet, you have a backup when necessary. Furthermore, a second pair in a different color or style may mean you can match them to more outfits (if that's your thing). Keeping all this in mind how do I know when I have found the ideal shoe? Before purchasing shoes, contemplate these few tips: 1) For most shoes a size larger than is measured is most appropriate. There are a couple exceptions, however. Say you have a professional dancer, their shoes need to be tigher fitting so as not to come off during a practice or performance and so judges can see degree of toe point. Therefore, these individuals should look for ones in their size, are flexible enough to allow for movement, and have soles that make spins and turns effortless. 2) Athletes and avid group fitness buffs do substantially more running and jumping so get shoes 1 1/2 - 2 sizes larger than what is determined by the store guide. The foot needs to have room to shift directions a bit so a longer length and wider toebox are necessary. Arch and heel areas should be slightly stiff but padded comfortably to prevent excessive heel strike and protect joints from external ground forces. A lightweight athletic version helps for mobility so once they are on, walk around a bit and test their feel. You really shouldn't notice you're wearing them if they fit properly. 3) Just like the sleepwear on which I briefly touched in my last blog, a breathable material is best so the foot stays dry during exercise. Mesh is a great choice as it airs out quickly and eliminates nasty odors. Please note the entire shoe doesn't necessarily have to be mesh, only small sections. Breathable materials are also lighter so distance running and jumping is made significantly easier. Wow! That seems like a substantial amount of info. But I do have one last question: how often should I replace my shoes? I'm so glad you asked! Unfortunately, I can't give a definitive answer because of the number of factors that play into the equation. A general rule of thumb is every six months but know that may not be feasible for everyone depending on a particular circumstance. However, there are specific issues that indicate a new pair is needed so these may be a more realistic guide. 1) If shoes are becoming uncomfortable, consider purchasing new ones. This can range from minor symptoms like developing blisters to more severe concerns such as excruciating back, hip or knee pain. If you notice any or all of these, do not hesitate in buying a new pair. Word of advice though: although you should be immediately aware of the difference, properly fitting shoes can take up to two weeks to remedy serious ailments as the body is adjusting to its normal alignment. 2) Your current pair is no longer available. Shoe designers and manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve their product and release current trendy styles. Using science, they analyze normal gait patterns, heel strike and valgus/varus structure (among others) to develop technology included in each pair. Chances are pretty good that if you can't find your favorite ones anymore, they have opted for a newer model. On occasion, these updated versions swing the wrong way so you may have to look for a more desirable brand to accomodate your feet. Sorry this post is so long so I will leave you with one final thought: with all the tidbits I have presented here, I hope the next time you get up, get out and get moving you can put your best foot forward. See you next week for the remainder of this series on athletic apparel. Let's have a little fun: What is it you love the most about your shoes?