Not all cardio sneakers are created equal — especially if you deal with foot pain. So even though shopping for running or walking shoes can be undeniably overwhelming, it's important to slow down (it's a marathon, not a sprint) and do your research — for the sake of your workout and your body. To help you avoid getting lost in hundreds of open tabs, we asked a podiatrist what to look for in a cardio activity sneaker. Check out his top tips, below.
A Rigid Shank
Dr. Miguel Cunha, DPM, founder of Gotham Footcare, said the shank — which is located between the insole and outsole — is "the actual structure of the shoe and should be rigid to hold up and support the arch."
So, how are you supposed to know that your shoe's shank is up to par? Dr. Cunha suggests trying to bend the shoe in half. You shouldn't be able to — and that's how you know the shank is rigid enough.
The Right Flex Point
"The flex point of a walking shoe should be the point at which it bends while walking," Dr. Cunha explained. "For optimal comfort, the flex point of the shoe should match the bending point of your foot; when it doesn't align with your foot it can cause problems like arch pain or plantar fasciitis."
To check the flex point of the shoe, Dr. Cunha said to hold it by the heel and press the toe of the shoe onto the ground — the point where the shoe bends and creases is the flex point.
A Rigid Heel Counter
To test the firmness of the heel counter, squeeze the heel of the shoe.
"There should be a good bit of padding called an ankle collar, which is intended to protect and cushion the rear foot," Dr. Cunha said. "You shouldn't be able to compress it, so when you are running it supports the heel which will help prevent ankle sprains in people with high arches."
He added that the heels of the shoe should be slightly wider on the bottom to improve stability.
A Spacious Toe Box
Dr. Cunha explain this will allow your toes to move freely with no restrictions — aka your toes shouldn't feel all squished up.
A specious toe box should also minimize discomfort placed on the arch of the foot, he added.
A Shock Absorbent Outsole
Dr. Cunha said that a "shock absorbent outsole made of rubber will alleviate the impact of step on the spine far greater than a shoe with a hard sole."
Purchase the Correct Shoe Size
When it comes to working out, Dr. Cunha urges that the wrong shoe size is a dealbreaker. Don't shove your feet into a shoe that's too small — or vice versa. This is one area of shoe shopping to be specific. Dr. Cunha suggests purchasing workout shoes at the end of the day when the feet are most swollen to ensure a proper fit.
"Have your foot measured with a brannock device for both length and width," he said. "It's important to remember that sizing can be different across different brands, due to their design and the materials used."
Address Your Foot Type
One way to figure out your arch is to look at the wear pattern of your shoes, Dr. Cunha explained.
If the top outer edge is worn out, Dr. Cunha said you might be a supinator or an underpronator, and suggests cushioning sneakers for shock absorption.
If your shoes are evenly worn, Dr. Cunha said you are neutral and have an average gait with equal weight distribution across the foot. "With this foot type, you need stability or moderate-stability sneakers, which offer a balance of cushioning and support," he explains.
If you notice that your shoes have the top inner edge worn, you're a pronator, Dr. Cunha explains. "With this foot type, you need motion-control or high-stability sneakers to keep your feet better aligned with your legs."
Everyone's injury history (and feet!) are different, so be sure to reach out to a professional for a personalized fitting or guidance on shoe support.