How to Pick the Right Shoe for Any Activity

Trail Running Shoes

Spectacular scenery, rugged terrain and a thirst for adventure entice runners to embrace the trail running life. Wearing the perfect trail shoe though can mean the difference between an epic run and a massive wipeout. 

When choosing shoes for trail running, keep your purpose in mind: Will these be used for loops around your local trail system or weekly trail runs in the mountains? Choose a shoe that makes sense for the types of trails you plan to run the most. 

Unless you are planning on running consistently muddy or snowy trails for long distances, avoid waterproof shoes.

If the majority of your runs will be on soft, muddy surfaces, you want to look for a longer "lug" length (the individual treads of the shoe) to help prevent slips and slides. For runs primarily on hard pack or rocky terrain, a shorter lug length works well. If your trails are especially rocky, you may want to consider a foam or rock plate in the shoe to protect your foot against hard edges. In general, foam is more shock absorbent, but plates provide better foot placement and a more natural feel for the ground. The right shoe profile and cushioning level will depend on your personal preferences. Just don’t overdo the support or you’ll be adding unnecessary weight.

Finally, while purchasing a waterproof shoe may sound cool, the reduced breathability in the membrane means that, as your feet sweat, your shoe is unable to keep up with the excess moisture and you could wind up with some wicked blisters. Unless you are planning on running consistently muddy or snowy trails for long distances, avoid waterproof shoes. 

Cross-Training Shoes

Cross-training can be a sort of catch-all term for athletic activities that aren't sport-specific. Many cardio machines, including the elliptical and arc trainer, as well as aerobics classes like Zumba, kickboxing, BodyCombat and step aerobics, require a shoe that supports both vertical movement (jumping, kicking and running) and lateral movement. 

The key to selecting a good cross-trainer is to choose a shoe that fits your foot well and provides ample support for the foot and ankle during those quick, side-to-side movements.

Pay attention to the level of traction that the shoe provides. When you try on the shoes, test them out with some side-to-side movements and pivots on the balls of your feet. You want enough grip to prevent excessive sliding. Next, check the fit to make sure it's snug enough to provide stability. Unlike running shoes, you don't necessarily need to go up in size since you won't be experiencing the same amount of foot swelling as runners do over multiple miles.

Once you've found your perfect shoe, a general rule of thumb is to replace them every 80 to 100 workout hours. A simple visual test can be your guide as well. If you notice excessive creasing or wear on the areas of the shoe that absorb the most load (the heel and ball of the foot), it's time to toss them.  

CrossFit/HIIT shoes

For high intensity workouts like CrossFit, Boot Camp and HIIT, your primary goal in a shoe should be stability. During weightlifting, your ankles and feet function best with a supported, locked-in feel, so choose a shoe that provides that perfect blend of stability and support.

Several brands offer HIIT-specific shoes that support you through deadlifts, while providing the traction and flexibility to help you crush the box jumps, side-shuffles and ladder work. Similar to the recommendation for cross-training shoes, there's no need to size up when selecting this type of training shoe since you won't be experiencing the same level of swelling as runners. You do want to ensure the shoe has good breathability—look for lightweight wicking fabric or mesh panels—so that when you hit your fourth round of mountain climbers you aren't thinking about how much your feet are sweating. Finally, you want to look for traction in both the outsole and midfoot. The former will support those fast, lateral movements, while the latter will help you conquer those rope climbs.   

A good shoe can often be the difference between a new personal best and a lackluster workout. Your time is too valuable to skimp on the footwear that makes every minute of your workout count. To get the most out of your next training session, choose the right shoe for the job and get after it!

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