Find the Right Running Shoes

Photo Credit: Josiah Mackenzie CC-BY-2.0
Since the settlement between the Federal Trade Commission and the shoe company Sketchers, some people may be wondering if there is any shoe that lives up to fitness claims. Beware of any shoe company that claims you can lose weight, strengthen your muscles or improve your circulation if you wear their shoes. If there is one lesson to be learned from the Sketchers case, it is to always carefully evaluate the claims made by fitness equipment manufacturers. If you are a runner, it is critical that you wear a shoe that cushions and protects your foot. Running shoes are not the same as tennis shoes or sneakers. They are designed specifically to absorb shock and protect your foot. How can you select a shoe that is comfortable and protective? 
Each runner has an unique style and some run more miles more frequently than others. There is no perfect fit for everyone, but every runner needs a stable shoe that protects the foot from shock when it hits the ground. Most running shoes are designed to absorb the shock of 2 1/2 to 3 times your body weight. There should be ample cushioning in both the heel and front of the shoe. Running shoes should also be flexible, yet provide stability for your foot. The bottom of the shoe should have a tread designed to grip the ground to prevent slipping. 
Make sure that the shoe you buy has adequate arch support. Shoes are designed for high, neutral and low arches. The best way to determine which type of arch support you need is to see a podiatrist, but you can find your type of arch by simply looking at your bare foot print. Select a shoe that fits snug but comfortably and is designed for the type of terrain where you will be running.
Runner’s World has an easy-to-use shoe finder to help you find a style of shoe that can work for you. 

"Barefoot" Running Shoes?

Photo Credit: Aleser PD

One of the fastest growing trends in running shoes is the minimalist or “barefoot” shoe. These shoes have been flying off the shelves of exercise and fitness stores across the United States. The shoes are designed with a minimum of amount of material between the runner’s foot and the ground in order to mimic running in bare feet. The risk of injury is high for barefoot runners due to scrapes, cuts and bruises from the high-impact on runners’ feet. Minimalist running shoes provide little support, but can protect the feet from injury.  Do these shoes actually help you get more from exercise value from your run? 
Manufacturers of these shoes claim that barefoot runners tend to land each step near the balls of their feet near the big toe instead of on the heel as runners wearing regular shoes. Landing each step on the ball of the foot reduces the impact on the feet and legs. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) exercise physiologist Pete McCall recommends minimalist running shoes that mimic barefoot running because the foot has better contact with the ground. According to McCall, regular running shoes have an elevated heel that can interfere with balance. Wearing minimalist running shoes during your walk or run may also increase the dexterity of your feet and toes. ACE sought the assistance of a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse to conduct a study of the effectiveness of the barefoot shoes. A group of casual joggers were given a pair of barefoot shoes which they used for 20 minutes three times each week for 2 weeks. At the end of the trial period, about 1/2 of the subjects had changed from the common heel-strike style of running to landing on or near the balls of their feet. 
The bottom line on bare-foot style running shoes is that they provide no cushioning for heel-strike runners  who should either not wear the shoes or change their running style to a toe-strike gait. Heel-strike runners risk injury to the feet and legs if they run or jog in minimalist style shoes. Be prepared to change the way you run if you want to try a pair of these shoes.

Strengthen Your Feet & Ankles

Photo Credit: אנדר-ויק CC-BY-SA-3.0 2009

Everyone, especially walkers, joggers and runners need strong feet and ankles to avoid injury, soreness and pain. Strong ankles and feet can  help you avoid injury from a sprain. Ankle sprains are a common injury, even among people who do not run or jog. Untreated ankles sprains can cause long-term joint problems, such as stiffness or weakness. See a doctor right away if you sprained your ankle and notice any swelling, bruising or other discoloration of the foot and ankle, coldness, numbness or tingling in the foot and toes. Begin exercising to rehabilitate your sprain only under the advice of a doctor and supervision of a rehabilitation fitness expert. There are a few exercises you can do to strengthen your ankles and help prevent injury. Try these exercises in your bare feet. 

Stand on one foot and hold your arms out from the shoulders parallel to the floor. Keep your eyes open and look straight ahead. Hold the position for 60 seconds, if possible. Try to avoid rocking on your foot by keeping the sole of your foot on the floor. Lower your leg and repeat with the other side. This exercise will not only strengthen your foot and ankle, it is a great balance exercise too.

Stand on the edge of a stair with your toes and allow the heels of your feet to drop an inch or two inches below the stair. Hold the wall or a hand-rail for support and balance if needed. Hold this exercise for up to 60 seconds. Lift your heels and stand on the edge of the stairs using your toes. Hold this position for up to one minute. Next, lower your heels as far down as you can and hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds and relax. Repeat the stretch for 10 repetitions.

Use a table or a stable chair for balance and stand on your toes. Hold the position for 5 seconds and then lower your feet back to the floor. Repeat this exercise for 20 repetitions. When your feet and ankles become stronger, increase the number of repetitions or perform the toe stand exercise using one foot at a time. 
Increase your ankle range of motion by stretching and rotating your foot. Sit on a chair and raise one leg about  2 to 3 inches off the floor. Point your toes and rotate your ankle clockwise 5 times and then counter-clockwise 5 times. Repeat with the other foot. Try to move only your ankle and not your leg. Next, drop a towel or a sock on the floor and use your toes to pick it up. Drop it and pick it up again 2 more times. Repeat the exercise 3 times with each foot. Increase the number of repetitions as it becomes easier for you to pick up the towel or sock.