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85% of Us Are Wearing the Wrong Workout Shoes--Are You Among Them?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Although I'm able to give people advice about finding the best fit for a running or workout shoe, I have to be honest. When it came to workout shoes, I always chose style over support. In the store, I'd ignore things like cushioning, stability, and fit. I'd stand back, look at the wall of shoes, and pick whichever ones I thought were prettiest. After all, I'm about to fork over $100 for these suckers. I want to like them! I want to be motivated when I wear them! Ugly shoes didn't have a place in my closet and they certainly didn't make me want to put them out and head to the gym. I was very brand loyal and I wanted a sweet looking pair of shoes to go with my cute workout clothes. I was a shoe snob.

I really should have known better. I was a runner in high school and I'm a fitness professional. I know how important shoes are when you're working out—they are your foundation, after all. But I didn't heed my own advice about getting fitted for shoes or wearing sport-specific ones either. I figured it didn't matter because I wasn't a "runner." Finally, being a slave to style caught up with me. I started experiencing debilitating knee pain on a regular basis— while I worked out, after I worked out, and even when I was sitting still. I could barely bend my knee to squat or lunge.

Talking to Coach Jen (an experienced runner) one day, she asked me what kind of shoes I was wearing. We both knew that I wore "the cute kind" and that it had been a while since I replaced them. We also agreed that I should have known better.

Maybe it was because I was desperate to rid myself of knee pain that I finally listened, but she convinced me to go to a local running store to get fitted. It wasn't easy. After all, I didn't like how any of the shoes looked style-wise. But I forced myself to look past their color and design and listen to my other senses—how the shoe felt. The staff was so helpful. I was probably there for two hours trying on every shoe that had "motion control" to help fix what was a killer overpronation problem (which was likely causing my knee pain). I tried those shoes in all sizes, too. I finally ended up with the shoe that felt the best to me. $130 and several months later, I have not experienced any knee pain.

Do I like how they look? Well, they're not stylish, in my opinion, but they're not exactly ugly either. They're kind of average, I guess, but they've grown on me. Are they my favorite brand? Nope, but maybe I'll become loyal to a NEW brand since these shoes make me feel so great. Am I glad I did it? You bet. I thought that shoes without style wouldn't motivate me to exercise. But as it turns out, I am MORE motivated to go for a run now because I feel so great when I do. And I realize how silly it was to care about what my shoes looked like. It's not a fashion show.

Happy feet make for a happy exerciser. If you're ready to treat your tootsies better, the following resources will help you get on your way:

  • I found a great spread in the current (September) issue of SELF magazine called "Find Your Sole Mate." According to an American College of Sports Medicine report they cited, 85% of people wear running shoes that don't fit. That's not a little—that's a lot! And I was one of them! Here's a great little tip from the article: For the ideal fit, your big toe should be a thumbnail's distance from the end of the shoe. That could mean that you go up one or two sizes from your casual shoes for your workout/running shoes. I went up one full size when getting fitted for my new shoes. But my toes, which used to get a little sore from hitting the top of my shoe when I ran, sure do appreciate it. You can find an abbreviated version of this story online, but I'd recommend checking out the magazine while you can because it's full of many more tips than the online version contains.

  • Nancy recently blogged not once but twice about finding the right shoe. She's got some great experience and tips to share, so check out her posts!

  • SparkPeople's article "If the Shoe Fits, Wear It" is a pretty handy guide, not just for running shoes, but for all types of exercise shoes. For example, did you know that walking and running shoes are different and can't really be used interchangeably? Find out why and get more shoe shopping advice from the link above.

The right shoe for you doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, a recent Consumer Reports test showed that some inexpensive sneakers, such as Champion brand sold at Target stood up well with high-priced ones.

Could you be one of the 85% of people who wears the wrong kind of shoe? Are (or were) you vain about your workout shoes (or shoe size) like I was?

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REDROBIN47 12/15/2019
Good information. Thank you. Report
Great Blog, Thank You Report
Great article ,shoes is really important .For comfort working shoes ,i recommand this
/ , also nike air max series and NB running shoes is also good,too. Report
very good article....Now the best third party app store is Pandahelper now u can download it from

Thank you. I’m not a runner so didn’t realize my shoes were that important. I will definitely take the time to get fitted properly. Thanks again. Report
I always go to a place that measures your foot before putting on a shoe. For years I wore men's because they were the only ones to fit but I have found a store that has shoes my size in stock!!! Report
Great article Report
good info Report
excellent info Report
Thanks for sharing. I am in the process of picking a good pair of trainers for running. I realized my regular gym shoes end up hurting my knees and feet when I run but are great for classes. I wear some old sketches for running because the fit and cushion is perfect but the grip lack. Never thought I would need 2 pairs for the gym but it seems that way and my feet and body will thank me. Report
This is a great post. I learned a lot by reading it. Report
Hi Nicole, great post! Instead of trainers I prefer nike's runners with firm soles. I find them to be way more comfortable. In addition to Consumer Reports' guide, I'd recommend this infographic as a resource for buying athletic shoes:
// Report
My problem is that I want a a pair of running shoes like the ones in my Spark email today. Exercise of the day is the heading. Does anyone recognize the brand etc of the black and blue shoes? I have searched online but not found blue, only aqua. Pink seems to be everywhere, but I want them to go with my blue jeans and I like the blue black combo with blue soles. Can anyone help? :) Report
Good article...a few things I have learned...1) a lot of local shoe stores do not stock women's sizes larger than 10, and since running shoes usually run small, it can be a problem to find shoes to actually try on! 2) Feet can change as you lose weight; mine have gotten a little narrower, so the shoes I have been wearing for about 6-7 years are now too wide in the heel, causing me a lot of ankle pain.. 3) there are many online sites that discount shoes all the time, and they usually have a greater variety of sizes too! This is a great option if you already know what shoes are a good fit. Report
I am glad I read this. I am trying to become a runner and I know that I need new shoes I just never realized how important and helpful they can be. I think I will get some next month as my reward for sticking with my treadmill. Report
This really is a great blog Coach Nicole...even though it's a bit "old" the information is still right on the mark! I tried running and know I can't but I do walk at least 5 miles 6 days a week. I was having issues with my bit toenails turning black and falling was because of my shoes! I too went to a "running" store and even though I don't job they still spent lots of time with me watching my gait etc. to find the right shoe for me, and the shoe I bought was an entire size LARGER...I was told that as we age (I'm almost 60) that our feet do spread out more and your size changes. My toenails grew back and I'm now walking in total comfort! Great blog! Report
Anybody can tell me a good shoe for zumba? Report
I don't run, but I do a lot of walking, especially since I got rid of my car last November. I also take my backpack almost everywhere. I love my Vibram Five Fingers. They have no padding and no stabilization, but I've discovered that my feet hurt a lot less than when I'm wearing my New Balance shoes, and because the soles are so flexible, I recover far more readily when something tries to cause my ankle to turn. They take some getting used to, and you learn not to come down on your heel real quick. There's nothing like the jar you get stepping off a bus the wrong way to drive that lesson home.

As for the New Balance, I wear those in the winter because a) I can wear socks with them, and b) the uppers are, if not waterproof, at least more water resistant than the Five Fingers. I have wide feet, and it's hard finding shoes that fit. New Balance seems to one of the few brands I can find that come in the width I need. Report
I wish someone told me where I can buy them cheaper. :-( I usually wear Nike because they almost always make them with good arch support and wide enough for me. But my God, aren't they pricey! In the US they are cheaper, but buying online means paying for shipping, so I stuck with the UK prices. :-( Suggestions? Anyone? Report
this is great blogg more people need to read this Report
Erm... I wear my hi-top converses.... =( Report
Birkenstock makes a great sport insole that has four arches in the footbed. You can have cute shoes and good support this way!You simply pull out the footbed of your sport shoe and replace it with the Birkenstock one. It eventually molds and conforms to your foot, creating a custom orthodic at fraction of the price. I even wear mine in my Ugg type winter boots for support year round.!Birks are also great for plantar fascitis, they take the weight off of you heel, and distribute it more evenly through out your foot. Report
I am probably someone with the wrong shoes...I have had plantar fascitis ever since I bought my marked down Nikes, because they were a good deal! Thanks for the wake-up call! Report
Nope. My shoe is the right shoe. The main thing I may be guilty of is wearing them beyond the "500" mile mark. (Too bad they don't little trackers inside that help you know how long/far they've gone!) -- Seems like my knees let me know when they aren't getting enough cushion. Also, I trade out between 2 pairs at a time: the older pair and the new one I'm moving into. That way they dry / air out between uses, and it extends the time in the new shoe a bit further.

When I trained for walking a marathon, I went to a sports store where they watch your gait on a treadmill & recommend the right fit for one's needs. The store wants to be the top at what they do, and they want your return business, so they make a point to record your foot needs and assist their customers every way possible.

Due to the high cost of good shoes, I watch for when they have closeouts & sales. (small shop) The last time I bought 2 for a little more than the price of 1 pair! So I'm good for another year! Report
I was wearing the wrong shoes for such a long time...even ran my first 5K race in them. I knew something wasn't right though because i would get really bad knee pain sometimes. So, i took my shoes to a local running store and they had me run on a treadmill while they video taped it. Turns out, i over-pronate and my shoes had no stability to them what-so-ever. Basically, they were an injury waiting to happen. So after running in about 5 different pairs of shoes, i found the ones that fit perfectly. They offer me the stability that i need and i found that i shaved 4 minutes off my 5K time simply because my legs no longer got tired and i didn't have any more pain.

I urge everyone to get a professional fitting if they are thinking about getting new shoes. If it's a good place then they usually don't even charge for the fitting...just the shoes. Report
I have foot & knee issues so I always try to go with what feels best-however I convinced
myself a pair of sandals fit & when I got them home I realized I really need a larger size.
Like clothes-sometimes it's hard to believe your feet have gotten larger! Report
I think I might be a bit vain about shoes, I'm a very fussy, very detailed when shopping but in the end, I'll look at the price and didn't buy at all, hehe Report
I'm one of those who has spent alot of dough on so called "walking shoes" that were so danged uncomfortable, made you hate to walk! Then I found Champion brand at Pay Less Shoe Source, lol, for $12, bought one pair, and when I loved them, went back and grabbed another to have on hand. I take them on vacation with me, so I can get my walking done in comfort. It was a relief to find them. The other expensive shoes I gave away to those donation places. Report
Its so true that people need to realize the importance the right shoes. A few years ago my mom had horrible pain in her feet, to the point she could barely walk! The doctor tried to diagnose her with planter fashiatis, (don't know if I spelled that correctly) and wanted to put her on a medication... She got the idea to buy some new shoes... found out she was wearing the wrong size! No more pain! All she needed was new shoes! Report
What a great, informative article! Thanks! Report
I am now a runner but I am in the health care profession and I walk a lot. A few months ago my feet hurt so bad I could barely get out of bed. I went and bought New Balance shoes the clerk had told me the higher the number the better the support and that greater than 500 is best. The ones I got are 758's and my feet no longer hurt. They are awesome. Report
It's time for me to get a new pair as well Report
I took up running because I thought it wouldn't be an expensive exercise habit LOL, but with the prices of running shoes, it can get to be expensive. I'll have to save up for this pair. Report
I was hit by a car approximately 9 1/2 mos ago. I received a tib plateau fracture which was surgically repaired with a plate and screws. I have since started walking and quickly realized that the shoes I wore everyday were not working for me. I had alot of pain at the end of my walk. I went to Dick's sporting goods and received alot of help finding a pair of shoes tha fit right. I will not wear any other shoes to walk in now. Report
I went to my local running store, they had me run barefoot on a treadmill. Then with the various shoes they recommended, all while video taping, so then we got to compare on a video which straightens me up the most. And now I have a great pair of shoes, yes more costly than I normally pay ($130 vs. $75) but the shin splints in both legs are getting better with these new shoes. Report
When I was a young girl of 13 I was having foot pain, so my parents took me to an orthopedic Dr. He told them that the shoes they had me did not fit correctly and if it wasn't fixed I would have bad feet problems later. My parents took me to a shoe specialist person and fitted me with a good pair of shoes. Since that time I will not compromise my foot health for style or fashion. Report
I learned the VERY hard way that my devotion to "cute shoes" and my stinginess was dangerous! I bought a pair of athletic shoes that I LOVED, they had those neat little "shock absorbers" on the heal. Since they were not made the greatest, the absorber began to tear, and I am still healing my ankle from the nasty sprain I managed during a Body Combat class about two months ago. I know I rolled my ankle b/c of the shoe, and I should have known better. I now have a good pair of more expensive shoes, probably not the BEST shoe for me, but I didn't have the money to get the BEST pair so these will have to do. Report
I know I am wearing the wrong shoe because my feet hurt. I thought I was getting a good shoe NIKE but I have realized that the shoe is to small and my feet just pain after wearing the shoe and exercising. I will be buying a new shoe in the next couple of weeks and will take the advice that is given in the article. Report
In this past year I've gained 40 lbs., been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, and been putting off new shoes. But the ones I have hurt! I thought when I saw the Skechers Shape Ups that they'd be just right for me. Unfortunately, they are now sold out of my size! Reebok also has the new type shoe, and you can customize them! So, I'm ordering my new shoes, a half-size larger, and I'll update how they work. Report
Since reading Nancy Howard's last post on buying the "right" kind of shoe, I went to The Running Store in Brunswick, Maine, and had them do a total fit for my new running shoes. They watched me walk away from and towards them, barefoot, and then I got on their special machine that shows where I place most of my weight on my feet. After that, they had recommendations on the different shoes that would work best for me. I came away with a great pair of New Balance shoes, which I love.

I have always been aware that I need to replace my walking/running shoes every 3-6 months, especially when I weighed over 400 pounds! Now, I go by how broken in my shoes are. Report
I worked on my feet on concrete floors for 40 years. I always bought the best walking shoes I could find and had them fitted. I also had professional orthotics. I'm retired, but I still walk in good shoes: New Balance 587 (Made in the USA). Having no pain is worth the extra effort and expense to get good shoes. And here's a bonus for being a loyal customer: I can phone the store and they order me a pair of shoes and ship them to my home so I don't have to drive into the city for them! Report
I was horrified the first time I went into a running store and they told me I needed a 9 1/2 instead of my usual 8 1/2. They made my feet look like I was wearing clown shoes! But I got over it once I found out that I was waaay more comfortable when I ran, no more pokey toenails or cramped feet. Recently I went back in for another pair, I had been in a motorcycle accident and needed extra cushioning due to a bone bruise. They were extremely helpful and brought out 5-6 pairs for me to try. I ended up buying two pairs so that I can switch off and not wear them out so fast. Expensive, but very much worth it. Report
I am ready for a new pair. I tend to wear a 9 or a 9 1/2. I go by fit and not just how they look. It is great to know $$$ are not eveything when buying a new workout shoe. Report
I haven't been in a position to worry about pretty shoes for a long time. About 16 years ago when I was about 20 weeks pregnant with my first child, I started having debilitating pain in my sacroiliac and pelvic joints. I could barely stand to walk, and the OB told me I could take Motrin, so I did, everyday. The pain finally went away when that baby was 9 months old. Then it happened again with my second child, but this time, it didn't go away. I'll keep a long story short. My pelvic and sacroiliac joints did not recover from those two events. Taking Motrin probably did not help. My ligaments were overstretched, and when I finally found my current doctor (my 2nd child was 2), I couldn't roll over in bed without waking up in pain, let alone exercise. Fast-forward now. I'm 100% better now: I walk, run, bike, sleep soundly, and do anything I want. BUT, I really pay attention to my shoes. I replace mine about every 3 months. I can feel it in my hips when I need new shoes. If I wait a little longer, I start feeling it other places too. My best shoes ever are Brooks Addiction Walkers, and Brooks Ariels (for running). (I found them by trial and error.) I also wear prescription orthotics for the slight leg-length discrepancy I never knew I had until all this happened to me. I used to love Italian leather shoes, but I love being able to move comfortably even more. Am I in the wrong shoes? I strongly doubt it. But I've had lots of reasons to have learned about the importance of the right shoes. One of the things I like about Brooks Addiction Walkers is that they come in black, so I can wear them discreetly to work and hardly anyone notices. I'm glad you found the right shoes. They're worth every penny. Report
I have one foot that pronates and one that supinates (one rolls in and one rolls out)--needless to say, I have a tough time finding shoes that work well with my orthotics. Independent running stores are the BEST places to get fitted--and the folks there are generally runners who love to encourage new runners--no matter what their shape and size! You will find a wealth of experience and knowledge at these shops. Also--check out the Runner's World website for lots of info on shoes, including reviews and ways to determine your foot type. But be on the alert--it is possible to have a high arch and STILL be a pronator who needs motion-control shoes. That's why going to a running store is really important--they'll watch your gait and let you know what will work for YOU. Go get the right shoe--your feet and your entire body (knees, hips, back) deserve it!
Oh--I'm an ASICS girl. Fit comes before fashion--but I like the way my shoes look, anyway. Report
I have always needed wide shoes and to get them had to spend more. But I really do wear the wrong shoe for the job these days. I had been hiking regularly in my SAS walkers, they were the third identical pair I had had and they were used for 3-5 years each pair. When I walked along a trail where a farmer had spilled a little straw and had a hard time walking on the flat I decided I just had to have new footwear. Ohhh it was painful....the ugly ugly ugly Garamond hikers are brown, suede so they never come clean, the laces are all cockeyed and there is a protective rubber toe cap to make them even prettier. NOT. And they cost over $ 200.00. They do work with my snowshoes. After wearing hiking boots 4 times a week and walking hard and fast over all terain I now have trouble with my nice dress shoes....if I walk to the corner and back with the dog (2.4 Km 1.5 mi) I get a blister on the bottom of my foot. My new job is downtown and the places I need to pick up and drop off things are all within a few blocks and without my hiking boots my feet are so tender. I have started a bit of interval running hikers. So I definately have the wrong shoes, but I walk more than run and now have a very aggresive stride and need the support, cushioning and those ugly lugs for traction. Oh and the waterproof gortex is nice too.
I bought a pair of Ryka walking shoes. I was super excited when Lady's Foot Locker helped me find the right shoes for me. I have super wide feet and I always had to buy mens shoes :( I so very much wanted a pair of pink or purple shoes because I was sick of mens blacks and blues. I was also hell bent on buying New Balance shoes as I have never had any. Well the sales lady introduced me to Ryka. I have a sea foam green walking shoe that I love! I hope it the right one for me because in 2 days time I start College and Monday's and Wednesday's I have Physical Conditioning. So I hope these will work, if not I'll have to get another pair for Physical Conditioning and the Fitness Center. But I still got my Lady's Shoes!!! Report
Yep, I like a cute shoe. I have experienced side effects of the wrong shoe. I went for a professional fitting at a well known retailer and was sold a pair of wide shoes (probably because that's all they had in my length in the cute ones and they wanted the sale). I had trouble with pain in the side of my legs and in my feet when I walked. I thought it was residual problems from a car accident a while back. One day I switched into a pair of old sneakers and I didn't have the pain at all. My feet were slipping to the side in the wide shoes. Listen to your instincts. If you don't think they fit right, you're probably right! Report
I have a problem with shoes in general. No one locally fits shoes and the best that I have found is they are out to sell the highest price shoes. I end up going to WalMart and just getting what is initially comfortable. The biggest problem with that is they don't stay comfortable and I will continue to wear them till they wear out (about 1-2 years). Another problem are work shoes (same problem) and now my legs are suffering from blown blood vessels now. Any suggestions on where to look??? Report
I finally took comfort into consideration the most recent time I had to shoe shop. I tried on about 5 pairs of sneakers before finally settling on the most comfortable - though not the most attractive. I felt it was a big step for me to take to actually think about the support I was getting from the shoe! Report