Footwork There's more to finding the right athletic shoes than buying what the superstars are wearing. Here are some tips

August 09, 1998|By Howard Cohen | Howard Cohen,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

To Nike or not to Nike? Running trainers, or racing flats?

Even for serious athletes, choosing the right athletic shoes can be tough in the sea of offerings. Market leader Nike alone dreams up 350 new models every year, everything from must-have air bags to see-through heels.

Most people know which shoe they'll buy before they enter a store, experts say - often, the ones they've been seeing sports stars advertise. They'll give the shoes a cursory try-on, decide they fit and saunter out $50 or $100 or $150 lighter in the wallet but with a hot logo in their possession.

Maybe the sneaks you snag will be just fine, but a poor choice could mean nagging injuries to the feet, ankles or knees. There's no one shoe perfect for everyone; make sure you get the right shoe for your feet. Here's how:

* Don't put all your faith in what Michael Jordan or any other athlete is pitching. "I think sometimes companies are competing against each other to have more bells and whistles on their shoes than is necessary," says marathon runner Laurie Huseby, president of FootWorks shoe store. "Sometimes, they get carried away exposing their cushioning technique; sometimes, they get too cosmetic."

* Don't think that the more you pay, the better the shoe is for you. A recent study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found, for instance, that there's no link between the cost of a running shoe and the incidence of stress fractures.

* Get shoes that match your activity: Do you run much? Run fast?

* Get the right width. Some companies, like New Balance, have won admirers because they make shoes in varying widths; others just offer standard sizes.

* Determine whether you need support for weak ankles.

* Determine what kind of cushioning you need - do you weigh 100 pounds and don't need much or 250 pounds and do? Cushioning, in fact, is the biggest advance in athletic shoes over the past decade. Still, sometimes you'll find "air bladders" (often visible as clear tubular plastic windows on either side of the shoe) that are deflated or not equally inflated on both shoes, which could lead to injuries. You can check this by looking in a mirror when you try on the shoes in the store.

* After you buy, use them for what you bought them for. Don't play basketball in your running shoes. Don't wear a racing shoe to run for distance.

* Be aware of the craftsmanship. The athletic-shoe industry claims a 1 percent return rate. But often customers don't recognize that their physical problem may be a defect in their shoes, says Bruce Wilk, a Miami physical therapist. "More defects have been popping up," he says.

* Injuries also can be caused by improper fit, shoes that are too short or too narrow. Which is why it's smart to try on shoes later in the day, after you've been up and around and your feet naturally swell.

* If you still can't find a shoe that fits well, consider inserts called orthotics or orthotic devices, which are usually available from medical professionals. An optional heel cup can alleviate pain beneath the heel; an arch support treats pain in the arch and can be placed in a shoe after removing the insole that originally came with the shoe; a metatarsal pad relieves pain beneath the ball of the big toe or the other toes.

* One last bit of advice: Don't go out the second you buy your new shoes and do a killer workout in them. Break them in.

How to pick the right shoes

No one athletic shoe will be perfect for everyone, so what do you look for when buying? Here's a checklist from orthopedic rehabilitation specialists:

* Check that the shoe is securely glued together. Hold the shoe and try to pull the upper part from the lower. Does it come apart in your hand? It shouldn't separate.

* Is the upper part glued on straight? Put the shoe on a level surface and look behind it: You don't want it to be crooked, inside or out.

* With the shoe on a level surface, the sole should rest evenly, not pitch inward or outward.

* When on a level surface, the shoes shouldn't rock forward or backward.

* Air or gel pockets should be evenly inflated. On a level surface, push down on the inside and outside pocket, and see if it resists collapsing. Compare the right and left shoe inside and out. If an air pocket has lost air, it's going to collapse under that side. Some shoes have separate air pockets on the inside and outside: If the outside is fully inflated and the inside is underinflated, it will roll your foot in, making it unstable. That can make your foot or leg twist.

Consumer Reports says ...

What's the best running shoe, in general, for weight, shock absorption, stability, flexibility and price?

Consumer Reports magazine rated them last month. The winners:

FTC Adidas Response for men ($75)

Ryka 10K Stability for women ($70)

Runners-up include the Asics GEL-MC126 and Adidas' the Formula for men and the Etonic Pro III and Saucony Grid Stabil for women.

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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