The Perfect Fit: Athlete's Guide to Purchasing New Shoes

December 3, 2012 | Z Altug

New Shoes

If you've been putting off purchasing a new pair of trainers until the glue holding your old shoes together breaks and flakes, stop what you're doing and head straight to the nearest Foot Locker. Experts recommend ditching shoes after they've logged 350 to 500 mile, because by then they have lost half their cushioning. (Jonas and Phillips 2010, Nesbitt 1999).

But just like no two athletes are the same, not all shoes are created equal. The life of a shoe depends on factors like brand quality; training conditions (pavement, grass or cushioned track); climate (warmer temperatures contribute to shoe breakdown); and your weight and running mechanics (pronator versus supinator). (Read Training Shoe Breakdown.)

If you're realizing it's time for a change, use the following tips to make the most of your new purchase for training purposes.

Find a knowledgeable salesperson

A smart, experienced salesperson will be able to recognize your foot type and focus on the shoe features you need. Make sure both of your feet get measured, since they may differ slightly in length and width; your feet change size as you get older; and shoe sizes vary among brands. If your feet are different sizes, buy the size that fits the longer and/or wider foot.

Shop toward the end of the day

Why? Because the foot gradually increases in size from the time you wake up.

Come prepared

Know your foot problems and training habits, and bring the socks and gear you normally wear. (Check out How to Pick the Right Training Shoe.)

Be specific

You need a shoe designed specifically for your sport or activity. Don't buy running shoes and use them to play basketball. Shoes have different features for different sports (Werd and Knight).

Look carefully

Inspect the shoes for defects that may have been missed by the manufacturer. Check to see if they are glued together properly and that air and gel pockets are inflated evenly. Manufacturing defects in shoes can contribute to lower-body overuse injuries (Wilk et al. 2000).

Shoe fit guidelines

For a high-arched foot, opt for cushioned shoes; for a flat or low-arched foot, look for a motion-control shoe; and for a "normal" foot (medium arches), choose a stability shoe (Asplund and Brown, 2005). Also:

  • Lace your shoes properly when you test them in the store.
  • Make sure there is at least a thumb's width of space (approximately a half-inch) between the end of your longest toe and the front of the toe box. The shoe should be long enough so that you can wiggle all of your toes and fully extend them without feeling cramped.
  • The width of the shoe should match the widest part of your foot and allow for movement of the toes and spreading of the foot.
  • The heel collar should be soft so that it won't put too much pressure on your Achilles tendon.
  • The insole should be easily removable, and the shoe should have enough room to accommodate orthotics, if required.
  • If the original shoe insole does not provide adequate arch support or cushioning, consider changing it for an over-the-counter cushioned insole . Quality shoe inserts can help decrease injury (Mundermann et al. 2001).
Now that you know the basics, check out STACK's Athletic Shoe Guide for info on all the latest training shoes.


• Asplund CA, Brown DL. "The running shoe prescription: fit for performance." Physician and Sportsmedicine. 2005;33(1):17-24.

• Jonas S, Phillips E. ACSM's Exercise Is Medicine: A Clinician's Guide to Exercise Prescription. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.

• Mundermann A, Stefanyshyn DJ, Nigg BM. "Relationship between footwear comfort of shoe inserts and anthropometric and sensory factors." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2001;33(11):1939-1945.

• Nesbitt L. "How to buy athletic shoes." Physician and Sportsmedicine. 1999;27(12):133-134.

• Nesbitt L. "Pain-free feet: Helpful hints for runners." Physician and Sportsmedicine. 1998;26(12):73-74.

• Werd MB, Knight EL, eds. Athletic Footwear and Orthoses in Sports Medicine. New York, NY: Springer, 2010.

• Wilk BR, Fisher KL, Gutierrez W. "Defective running shoes as a contributing factor in plantar fasciitis in a triathlete." Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. 2000;30(1):21-28, 29-31.

Z Altug
- Z Altug, PT, MS, CSCS, NSCA-PT, is a licensed physical therapist and athletic performance specialist out of Los Angeles. He co-authored the 2012 Healthy Lifestyle...
Z Altug
- Z Altug, PT, MS, CSCS, NSCA-PT, is a licensed physical therapist and athletic performance specialist out of Los Angeles. He co-authored the 2012 Healthy Lifestyle...
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