Athletic Shoes for Every Occasion

by | Mar 7, 2019

So how much use have your favorite pair of sandals gotten this winter?

It’s a ridiculous question, isn’t it? This is Michigan, after all.

No matter how comfy your sandals are, no matter how well they support your arches or how great they make your toes look, they’re not exactly going to be your first choice of footwear when you need to shovel the driveway.

(Or your second. Or your third.)

We might as well ask you if you like running in your high heels, or how your feet feel after shooting hoops for two hours in your wingtips.

Athletic Shoes for Every Occasion

It’s Time to Get Sport-Specific

It’s a pretty obvious insight: specific shoes are made for specific purposes. You don’t run marathons in your steel-toed work boots. You don’t go sledding in sandals.

Yet when it comes to sports and athletics, many people seem to suddenly forget this principle.

The problem is most obvious with recreational runners, weekend warriors, and people who are just getting back into a regular workout routine.

But we’ve even seen pretty serious athletes—students on school teams, regular rec leaguers and runners, every-weekend tennis players—hobble into our office after playing their sport in the flat-out wrong shoes!

Different Activities,

Different Risks

Let’s go back to the ridiculous example we used at the top of the blog. What’s so bad about wearing sandals in a snowbank?

The obvious answer: snow and freezing temperatures pose very different risks for feet than, say, a summer day at the beach!

Sandals might be great in warm weather, where they can keep your feet well ventilated and reduce your risk of getting a fungal infection from your sweaty shoes. But when temps are cold enough to cause frostbite, they’re obviously a poor choice.

The same logic applies to varying sports.

Take basketball, for example. In this sport, you’re going to be doing a lot of jumping, a lot of pivoting and moving side to side, and a lot of starting and stopping.

Basketball shoes

For one, that means your feet are going to have to withstand a ton of impact force every time you land from your jump. And two, your ankles are going to be in a vulnerable position for a good chunk of the game.

Oh, and there’s a chance you might have to make these motions on slick floors, too.

So it’s no surprise that most basketball shoes come equipped with extra thick soles, tons of cushioning, lots of grip, and high tops that provide lateral support for the ankles. They anticipate the risks of the sport and are designed accordingly.

By contrast, a straight-ahead running shoe is going to look totally different. A distance runner doesn’t have to jump, doesn’t have to start and stop or pivot on a dime, and doesn’t have to move side to side.

Obviously cushioning and support still matter to some degree, but now there’s a greater priority on lightweight construction to avoid fatigue. High tops and thick soles just weigh you down and get in the way, and may even prevent you from running in a biomechanically efficient form.

Breaking it Down Further

But let’s get even more detailed.

Earlier we used the term “sport-specific,” which is a nice easy term that applies well to the matter at hand. But the truth is even that’s a little bit oversimplified.

It’s one thing to say you need a basketball shoe, but:

  • Do you play mostly on indoor courts, or outdoor blacktop?
  • What position do you play?
  • How often do you play?

Once again, the context of your activity determines the choices you make in terms of your footwear.

Take hiking, for example. Same principle. At a basic level, any “hiking shoe” is probably going to be better than rocking the trail in your cross-trainers. But even here, a backpacker carrying his or her gear over a multi-day hike is going to need more robust footwear than someone just making a simple 4-mile loop over the course of an hour or two.

Runners probably have the greatest challenge in finding the perfect shoe. Here you’re not only talking about your distance and your terrain, but also your gait and pronation style.

To briefly explain, all people pronate when they walk or run—which just means that your foot rolls a little bit inward and your arches flex and flatten a small amount in order to cushion the impact force of your step.

However, not everyone pronates the same amount. Overpronators have excessive inward rolling, which causes the feet to splay a bit and can be linked with flat feet, shin splints, and knee pain. On the other hand, underpronators (or supinators) experience very little inward roll and might be more at risk of metatarsal stress fractures and ankle sprains.

The best choice of running shoes will take your own personal gait style into account. If you severely overpronate, you might want to check out a pair of “stability shoes” to help distribute impact forces a little more evenly. And if you underpronate, getting a shoe with a lot of extra cushioning (which helps offset the relative lack of natural flex in your arch) is going to be key.

Running shoes

How to Even Begin Choosing

Okay, deep breath.

We get it—this can be a lot to take in. There’s a whole lot to consider when trying to pick out the appropriate athletic shoe for your activity!

First things first: your shoes must fit! For some sizing tips, check out this recent blog of ours on choosing winter boots, under the “How to Shop” section. Even though the blog is about boots, the shopping tips still broadly apply to any footwear.

But beyond that, you may be wondering if you really need a sport-specific shoe for every last activity in your life. Do you really need “tennis shoes” if you play tennis only three or four times per year? Won’t your cross-trainers be okay if you want to go on a quick jog? Where’s the harm in taking a short hike in your trekking boots?

All good questions. And no, we’re really not saying that you need to buy a brand-new pair of shoes for every activity that you’re only going to use one or two times, unless you’re literally made of money. That would be madness.

A good rule of thumb might be if you’re planning to play a sport at least once a week for an extended period of time, or it’s a lifestyle sport that you return to every now and again (such as tennis or golf), you should probably have a dedicated pair of shoes. And for more varied workouts, a pair of cross-trainers will probably provide a reasonable compromise.

But really, what you should do is check in with us before you start a new season or change up your workout plan. We love caring for athletes at Freeland Foot & Ankle Clinic, and are happy to provide any guidance you may need—or perhaps a set of prefabricated arch supports or custom orthotics to give your feet even more of what they need to function best in any activity.

Sound like a plan? We hope so! To schedule an appointment with Dr. Dailey and the team at Freeland Foot & Ankle Clinic, give us a call today at (989) 695-6788.

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