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.

Don’t Forget Your Feet!

Walking, jogging and running can take a toll on your feet. If you have tired, achy feet make sure your shoes support your feet properly and try some foot strengthening exercises. Foot strengthening and flexibility exercises can help to relieve foot pain when you exercise. Strong, flexible feet can help improve your balance and posture too. See a doctor if you have persistent pain in your feet. 

Improve the flexibility of your feet by lifting objects with your toes. Sit in a comfortable chair and remove your shoes. Place a small napkin or a sock on the floor and try to pick it up with your toes. Release the napkin or sock and pick it up again. Do this exercise daily 10 times with each foot to increase the flexibility and strength in you toes and upper foot.

Photo Credit:  Miss Otilia Luther CC-BY-SA-2.5,2.0,1.0

To strengthen your toes and increase flexibility in your feet practice toe lifts. Sit down and then pace your bare feet flat on the floor. Begin with your big toe on the right foot and lift it up toward the ceiling, but keep all other toes flat on the floor. Lift each toe on the right foot one at a time and then do the same exercise with the left foot. It will be difficult to lift only one toe at a time, but with practice your toes will become more flexible and the exercise will be easier to perform.
Another way to increase foot flexibility is to walk around on your toes and heels. Take off your shoes and walk on your tip-toes for 15 to 20 seconds and then stand for 5 seconds with your feet flat on the floor. Repeat tip-toe walking-resting 5 times. Next, walk around on your heels for 15 to 20 seconds.  Repeat the tip-toe and heel walk 5 times each day.
Stretch tired feet by standing on the edge of the stairs in your feet. Place your toes and the ball of your foot on the stair. Allow your heels to hang over the edge. Steady yourself by holding the hand-rail or leaning against the wall. Let your heels drop down until you feel the tendons in the back of your lower legs begin to stretch. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds and the lift your body up using your toes and the balls of your feet.