There are three essential factors that should be taken into consideration before purchasing a new pair of walking shoes.
- Stability - the shoes should have a balanced and secure feel throughout range of motion.
- Flexibility - the shoes should allow for a good degree of give at the base of the toes, providing smooth motion.
- Comfort - walking shoes should comprise contours and padding conformed closely to the feet, providing a snug fit at the heel and midfoot, with ample room in the forefoot.
When trying on shoes for exercise walking, it is advisable to examine the following four particular areas of walking shoes:
- Heelcounter - the area of the shoe that holds the back of the heel, just underneath the Achilles tendon. This area should be snug but not tight, comfortably cupping the back of the heel. A good heel counter will help prevent the feet from over pronation or supination.
- Midsole - the area between the tread and the cloth upper of the shoe. This is the most important component of any footwear. Midsoles are made of a variety of materials that give the shoe greater or lesser degrees of cushioning, support, and flexibility.
- Insole - the area inside the shoe, on the bottom, where the sole of the foot is in contact with the shoe. It should contour comfortably to the foot. It is designed to reduce shear forces between the foot and the shoe and provide some shock absorption.
- Toe box - the entire area that surrounds the toes. The toe box should provide adequate room for the toes to move freely. Wiggling and bending the toes at the knuckles should be unrestricted. Conversely, too much space will cause shifting and discomfort. There should be approximately one half to a full thumb's width between the end of the longest toe to the end of the toe box.
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Fitting Guidelines for Walking Shoes
Here are some general guidelines to consider when getting fitted for a new pair of walking shoes:
- Have the salesperson take dimensions of both feet since there may be differences. Take measurements while standing, as feet expand when bearing weight. Base new shoe size on these measurements, not on previous shoe size.
- Take foot measurements at the end of the day, since feet tend to swell throughout the course of the day.
- Try on and lace up both walking shoes (left and right) while wearing regular socks. Stand up and walk around to make sure the fit is correct.
- Never buy walking shoes that immediately feel too tight. Though they will go through a break-in period, if walking shoes initially feel very tight, they are too small.
Finally, keep in mind that arch supports or orthotics can supplement the original shoe to help attain the best fit.
Walking Shoe Inserts
Walking shoes alone may not provide the needed comfort or support needed for exercise walking. Because of discrepancies in leg length or foot shape, each shoe may need certain adjustments in order for the feet to feel or perform balanced within the walking shoes.
Orthotics are removable shoe inserts that are placed within the walking shoes to remedy these discrepancies. They should enhance shock absorption, weight distribution, and alignment of the feet and body while walking. Some inserts may provide support for a flat arch, while others provide padding for a sore heel. Store bought orthotics can be relatively inexpensive compared to custom-made orthotics, but are nonspecific for discrepancies between the left and right foot.
See Prefabricated Vs. Prescription Foot Orthotics
Other additions to walking shoes include heel and sole lifts. These are added to the heel or sole of the exterior of the shoe. Their purpose is to compensate for leg length inconsistencies.
Having the appropriate walking shoes is an important element in exercise walking. The combination of proper footwear and sound exercise walking technique will impart the maximum benefits of an exercise walking routine.