The Right Shoes for Walking: Advice From an Expert

Shoes Ready When You Get Off the Couch
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What is the right shoe for walking? "The #1 shoe is the one that fits your #1 foot," is the anthem of John Olsen of Pacesetter Athletic, a technical sports shoe store in Portland, Oregon. Walkers should think "fit, flat, flex" when choosing a walking shoe.

Walking Shoe Size and Fit Counts

Athletic shoes all tend to run short, says Olsen. If your shoes are too short, you will get blisters and aggravate bunions. Your athletic shoe size will run 1 to 1 1/2 sizes bigger than what you wear for dress shoes.

Your foot swells as you walk and as you stand around during the day. To get the right shoe, in the morning there should be a thumbnail's width between the end of your longest toe and the shoe. In the afternoon or after walking, it should still be half of a thumbnail.

Don't lace your shoes really tight. You can aggravate foot problems as your feet expand during walking.

Roll With It: Overpronation

Most people pronate—with each step they hit with the heel and then the foot rolls inward. Overpronation occurs when you roll too far inward and "roll off" the shoe. To correct for overpronation, shoes are made with different lasts—the shoe itself curving inward or not.

  • Curved last shoes have pronounced inward curvature to enhance the inward rotation most people have with each step.
  • Semi-curved lasts often have an area of the sole with dual density material that halts the inward rotation to prevent overpronation.
  • Straight lasts have no inward curvature and are best for those who overpronate.

Lack of Support

Athletic shoes have no arch support. Some appear to have it by undercutting the sole at the arch, so it feels like it is supported, but in fact is not. The result is an epidemic of plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, as the bottom of your foot is wounded, bruised and calcifies.

If you have a high arch, protect it by buying an insole with arch support for your shoe.

Racewalkers should not train in racing flats as they have zero support and can lead to injury. Save them for the race.

Flex Needed for Walking Shoes

"Walking" shoes and crosstrainers as designed by the shoe industry are too stiff and are not yet designed with motion control features found in running shoes. These motion control features prevent overpronation and injuries such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, bursitis and tendonitis.

The shoe industry is adding motion control features to walking shoes and hiking shoes, but for the present it is best to wear good quality running shoes that fit your foot.

Your foot needs to roll through each step, striking with the heel and rolling rather than just clomping down or striking and flapping down with a smack. Stiff soled shoes prevent this natural motion.

Flat Shoes Best for Walking

Running shoes often have a raised heel or one with a wide heel counter to meet the motion needs of a running stride. Walkers do not need these features. The flatter the heel the better - look at it in relation to the sole under the ball of the foot and choose a shoe with the least height difference.

Rather than having a heel that flares out on each side and at the back, you want a plain heel or one that is cut in at the back to allow you to roll when you strike with your heel and roll through the step.

The Life of a Shoe

You should wear different shoes for walking, aerobics, and work. Different styles will work different bones and muscles, so you will be less likely to have an injury.

Shoes, in general, have a 500-mile lifespan. Old shoes that have been in the warehouse age themselves. The glue dries out and hardens. The soles dissipate. They won't last as long as new shoes. This is why they were on sale!

Don't stockpile your favorite shoe. Buy new fresh ones as needed.

Rotate your shoes by buying a new pair four to six weeks after your present pair, with the same stability but a different model. Alternate them each time you walk.

You will be able to recognize them when the older pair dissipates. It won't feel as good as the newer pair.

How to Find the Right Store for Your #1 Foot

Finding a store where your foot can get fit properly is a challenge. Large sporting goods stores and most chain stores do not have fit experts—the kid trying to sell you stylish shoes worked at McDonald's last week. You don't want the latest, greatest style—you want a shoe that fits your foot and will keep you walking happily and without blisters.

What you need is called a technical shoe store. It is one where serious runners and walkers buy serious shoes, not expensive or stylish ones. There you will be fit by a real expert who studies your feet and gait to put you into the right shoe. Every other issue of Runner's World lists technical shoe stores throughout the U.S. Find a copy on the newsstand or in your library or check their website. Another source is to find the local runner's publication in your area—look for it at athletic stores—and see what shoe shops advertise in it.

If you have The Walking Company in a local mall, they will do a free digital foot analysis and help steer you to the right kind of shoes and insoles.

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