We used to call them sneakers. And anything with a canvas top and rubber sole would do.

Then the fitness boom hit, and as out excercising became more sophisticated, so did our shoes. Now, if you walk into any sports shoe store, you'll see walls lined with dozens and dozens of different shoes. There are basketball shoes and tennis shoes and running shoes and walking shoes and aerobic shoes and soccer shoes and football shoes and yes, even canvas sneakers.Finding the right pair of shoes can be confusing, but it is also important.

You may not be able to afford a different shoe for every activity, says Garth Fisher, director of the Human Performance Research Center at Brigham Young University, but you need the right type of shoe. "If you have a running shoe, for example, that that is constructed for forward movement and you wear it to play tennis, where you need a lot of lateral movement, you could twist an ankle or have other problems."

Improper footwear can lead to such things as sprained ankles, shin splints and knee problems, he says. "The mechanics of how the shoes are constructed are important."

"I've seen people who will never run again because they got the wrong shoe," says Rick Kirschenbaum, manager of Fleet Foot at the Crossroads Mall, a store that specializes in sports shoes. "The wrong shoe can be a disaster."

And how do you get the right one? Fit is the important thing, says Kirschenbaum. "If you go into a store and ask what is best running shoe, and they tell you a certain brand, you're in the wrong store. The best running shoe is the one that fits your foot and your style of running."

If you don't get that, he says, you are wasting your money, no matter how much you pay.

A knowledgable salesperson should watch you run in a soft shoe to see what problems you might have and to know which kind of shoe you need.

Different types of shoes need to be fitted differently. With running shoes, for example, you should have about a 1/2 inch of space between the toe and the shoe; for tennis, you need about 1/4 inch of space.

While fit is the most important consideration, there are other things to take into account as well. Look for quality construction and materials.

Leather is pretty much the material of choice for the upper shoe, says Kirschenbaum. If your feet sweat a lot or you want a cooler shoe, you might look into leather and mesh combinations.

Midsoles come in three basic materials: EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), compression-molded EVA, and polyurethane. EVA is light and has good cushioning but is less durable than polyurethane. If polyurethane lasts longer, however, it is also heavier and less flexible.


Pronation is one of the critical factors of a runner's style. This refers to the way the heel rotation turns the foot inward as it comes down on the ground. An estimated 90 percent of all runners pronate to some degree, and the amount of pronation is important in choosing the proper shoe.

For a runner with an overpronating foot, a straight-shaped shoe offers more support. A runner wtih a high-arched foot that may not pronate enough- or even turn outward instead of inward- a curved shoe encourages mobility.

Matching the shoe to the pronation style not only helps the life of the shoe, but benefit's the runner's body as well. If shock is absorbed properly by the shoe, it will not add extra stress to ankles and knees.


Running shoes come in three major categories: pronation, stability and cushioning.

A pronation shoe is designed specifically for runners that pronate. A stability bar runs along the inside heel and sole to provide more support as the runner's foot turns inward.

A stability shoe is designed for someone who is 180 lbs. or heavier and pronates just a bit. The sole is neither hard nor soft, but falls in between. There is a rear foot control plate to keep the heel in place.

A cushioning shoe is designed for a person who weighs under 180 lbs. and has little or no pronation. It has a very soft construction.

Good running shoes will run from about $40 to $100 and up.

Do you need special shoes for walking? Rich Kirschenbaum is not completely sold on the idea. "You can walk in a tennis shoe or a running shoe. The important thing is getting the right fit." However, he says, a lot of shoes designed specifically for walking are coming on the market and are basically a combination, with the stylish features of a tennis shoe and the midsole construction of a running shoe. They also tend to be lighter than running shoes. Walking shoes can range in price from $50 to $90.


To address the problem of the person who does a little running, plays a little tennis or basketball, does a bit of aerobics, but can't afford a specialized shoe for each sport, the fitness shoe is the answer. It is designed to have good lateral support, has good stability, is well-cushioned for comfort and is fairly light. Leather and mesh is a popular combination for thsoe who was a cooler shoe.

"It's just a good all-round shoe," says Packard. Fitness shoes cost anywhere from $50 to $80.


Whether for basketball or tennis, the outersole construction is important for court shoes. It should be designed for front and back movement as well as side to side movement.

Court shoes also have a lateral support bar across the top, made of polyurethane. Court shoes should be made of firm leather to provide stability. Tennis shoes will have a toe cap to provide for longer wear.

Court shoes come in high tops, which provide more ankle support; low tops, which have more flexibility; and three-quarter tops, which provide some andkle support and some flexibility.

You will also see court shoes with air bladders or gas-filled tubes in the soles to absorb shock. These also tend to be more expensive.

Good quality high top or three-quarter top shoes range between $50 and $100. Low tops sell for $35 to $65. Tennis shoes go for anywhere from $35 to $90.


Flexibility and stability are important characteristics of aerobic shoes. They will have a lateral support bar across the top and a stability bar to keep the heel firm in the shoe. Lateral cuts on the sole add to the flexibility.

Aerobic shoes are light, have good cushioning; the sole is often made of ethylene vinyl acetate.

They come in both high top and low top; the high top is mostly cosmetic, says Dave Packard, who also works at Fleet Foot. Prices range from $35 to $65.


Additional Information


Allow 1/2 inch of space between the toe and the shoe for running shoes and 1/4 inch for tennis shoes. This space is needed for swelling and movement of the foot during activity.


Made of a rubber compound. The more durable compounds also weigh more.

Blown rubber (lightest)

Solid rubber

Carbon rubber (heaviest)

Mesh: It allows feet to breathe better providing a cooler shoe


A harder leather is preferred because of the better support it provides.


It provices cushioning and controls excessive foot motion. The midsole come in three basic materials:

EVA (more flexible)

Compression molded EVA

Polyurethane (durable, heavy)

Heel counter:

It holds the heel in place and controls excessive motion.

Construction options:

There are three basic construction options in running shoes: board lasting, slip lasting and combination lasting.

Board-lasted shoes, with a fiber-board running from heel to the forefoot, have the greatest stability. Slip-lasted shoes, with stitching only and no boards, provide the greatest comfort and flexibility. The combination-lasted shoe, with a board running from the heel to the midfoot area and stitching the rest of the way, is a good compromise.

You can tell the form of construction by removing the sock liner.