footwear for exercise

How To Choose Footwear For Exercise

If you are like many women, you have started an exercise program to get fit, healthy or to lose weight. Footwear is often overlooked when you decide what you need to get started. Footwear for exercise is one place where you should choose based on function, not on looks.

Depends on the activity

If you are first starting a new activity, you may be tempted to make do with whatever footwear you have until you decide if you like it. There are a couple of problems with this approach. Inappropriate footwear can lead to injuries and it can also make the activity less enjoyable. Getting your shoes at a reputable sports or running store will help to make sure they are right for your activity and they are sized correctly.

If you decide to take up running, then using the same pair of shoes you have used for low intensity cardio classes is a bad idea. Running requires more cushioning and stability than shoes suitable for cardio classes. However shoes designed for running have a wide sole which may cause you to trip when doing lateral movements in a cardio class.

Running shoes usually come in various amounts of stability ranging from neutral to stability to motion control. A running store or sports store can check to see which type will work best for you.

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Walking shoes are different from running shoes. With running you tend to land on the ball of the foot first, with walking the heel strikes first. Walking shoes will likely be more flexible and have less cushioning than running shoes. Arch support is important with walking shoes and stability may be required in both types of shoes.

You can choose cycling shoes that clip into the pedals for group cycling classes or for outdoor cycling, but you can get started with other shoes. The shoe should have some stiffness so you don’t lose too much power in your pedal stroke to the shoe cushioning.

Strength training can be done in any type of shoe, but a shoe with minimal cushioning is best.

Replace when old, especially for walking or running

If you can’t remember the last time you bought new runners then it is probably time to replace them. Walking and running shoes will lose their cushioning over time. The recommended lifespan of a shoe is 500 to 800 km (300 to 500 miles). If the shoes have been sitting in your closet for years, then the foam may have degraded so they might not be that useful any more.

So what can you do with the old shoes? Footwear stores often have places to donate old shoes or you can put them in a donation bin. They may not be the best shoe for you to use, but someone will get use out of them.

Proper size

Your feet keep growing so the size you wore in your 20’s probably doesn’t fit any more. Shoe size is measured in length and width and shoes can have different size toe boxes or wider and narrower heels. Get your feet measured and make sure the shoes feel comfortable. Its best to try on shoes in the afternoon because your feet expand throughout the day. Use the socks you are likely to use for the activity.

Breaking in

Shoes for exercise should not require breaking in. The materials that most exercise shoes are made from won’t soften with use. If the shoe is not comfortable when you first wear it, it probably won’t be.


I got my first pair of custom orthotics last year. I’m not 100% sold on them, but they have made several pairs of my shoes more comfortable and do seem to be helping with some of my foot and ankle issues. If you have chronic foot or ankle issues, then custom orthotics may help.

If you have orthotics and plan to use them for exercise, then make take them with you for shoe shopping. Make sure the shoes you choose have a removable insole to include the orthotics. You may need to purchase a slightly larger shoe, or at least make sure the toe box is high. You likely want a neutral cushioned shoe because the orthotic will provide the stability you need.


You may wish to keep using the shoes you have now, or buy one pair to cover all activities. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on how to choose your next pair of shoes and when you need to get new shoes.

Ready to get started with exercise, but not sure where to start? Check out this free exercise plan to get you started.

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