It used to be that sneakers were sneakers. It was just a shoe that you played sports in. Unless it was a sport that required something special, like cleats for soccer or football the sneaker was pretty basic. Then as technology got better we learned that the kind of athletic shoe you wear is almost as important as having proper form when performing your chosen sport. If you think athletic should only be comfortable and fashionable you are mistaken. The feet are a strange, but interesting body part and when taken care of properly you will get decades of pain free miles out of them, but treat them badly and not only will your feet get angry, they rest of your body will too.
The way we walk is referred to as gait. In very simple terms, when we walk, our heel should evenly strike first, then our arch and then we push off from the big toe and then the other four toes follow. If this is not the way your foot hits the ground it can alter proper movement and cause imbalances in the rest of the body. Everyone has a degree of pronation when the foot strikes. Pronation is the rolling inward of the foot upon contact with the ground. If you ‘over-pronate’ your foot rolls too far inward. If you ‘under-pronate’; your foot doesn’t roll inward far enough. You can tell which category you fall into at home by picking up a pair of shoes that you wear a lot. Below is a graphic of the three categories.
If you under-pronate the wear will be on the outside of the heel and outside of the foot which means when the front of your foot strikes the ground you push off from the outer edges of your foot. An over-pronator pushes too heavily off the heel and inside edge of the foot, but the front force is not evenly distributed. The goal to strive for is normal pronation where force is distributed evenly over the heel on the strike and all five toes, but with slight emphasis on the pad of the big toe. Generally speaking, unless you have a structural imbalance, both feet will perform the same way. Today’s performance shoes are so advanced that they can cater to your specific gait and with the proper shoe, bring you as close to ‘normal’ as possible. Regular day-to-day shoes aren’t made this way, but shoe inserts have come a long way to help in this area. While fashion is important, if you have a under or over pronation issue, prolonged wear of shoes that exacerbate the problem will likely cause you pain over the long run (no pun intended). Flip-flops are great and I have quite a few pairs, but I don’t walk a mile in them. Heels are great for evenings out, but not to run errands. You get the idea. There are stores that will help you find out what type of pronator you are. In Los Angeles stores like Road Runner Sports have gait analysis software and treadmills where you can test shoes and find the right one for your feet. They can also recommend inserts for other shoes as well.
Sneakers aren’t just sneakers anymore. Using the proper performance shoe for your gait is essential for you to work out smart and safe.