How to choose the right athletic shoe for your workouts

We’re talking all about the right athletic shoe today! Big disclaimer here: This is my general advice. You should absolutely speak to an in-person professional to assess your specific shoe needs, based on your routine and physicality. I’m a certified personal trainer, but I’m not your personal trainer, so proceed with caution.

As a group fitness instructor for more than 12 years, who always talks to members before and after class, I can tell you that a lot of people are having some aches and pains, and yet continuing to work out through them. I always suggest that my members meet with a physical therapist to discuss real pain. But I also go through a list of simple fixes that could provide some comfort. For instance, oftentimes if people are having knee pain, then they need to work on their knee alignment in squats and lunges to make sure their knees are facing the exact direction of their toes. They also may have tight quads, calves or IT bands, which can pull on the knee area, and they need to stretch and foam roll those areas. They may be doing too much repetitive movement without adequate rest and need to modify their routine. Or, they may need to change out their shoes. That’s what we’re talking about today. Shoes.

Shoes matter. Your feet matter. We have to take care of our bodies. And because your feet touch the ground all day, they get a lot of impact and can often develop injuries. And when your feet are injured, they start a chain reaction up the body, potentially leading to additional injuries and misalignment. What you wear on your feet is very important. Let’s get into how to find the right athletic shoe …

How to choose the right athletic shoe for your workouts

How to choose the right athletic shoe for your workouts by A Lady Goes West

Do you need more than one pair of athletic shoes?

The short answer is that it depends. If you are only running, then yes. If you are only doing studio workouts, then no. If you are only lifting weights, then no. If you are doing a variety of things, then most likely, yes. I think most people would benefit from having more than one type of athletic shoe, and of course, it should be the right athletic shoe.

Which type of shoes should you wear for which activities?

Let’s break down how to find the right athletic shoe for your specific workout needs …

For running on the treadmill, an indoor track or running outside: You need a running shoe. If you’re running more than a few times a week, you should absolutely have more than one pair of running shoes and rotate them, so you don’t get an overuse injury. You may want a lighter shoe for your faster runs, and a more cushioned shoe for your longer runs. This depends on your personal preference. I would highly recommend getting your feet fitted at a real running store to make sure you have the right fit, shape and style for your feet’s particular needs.

For studio workouts like Orangetheory, Barry’s Bootcamp, F45 or even Les Mills or combination cardio/strength classes, and a lot of what I do: You should be wearing a cross-training shoe. The cross-training shoe is your best friend, because it’s the most versatile. You wouldn’t want to wear it for a long run, but you can run in a cross-trainer. You can also lift weights and do a lot of lateral movements in a cross-trainer. Cross-training shoes provide more support for side-to-side movements, which helps protect your ankles. Also, cross-training shoes tend to have a more flat sole, which keeps you level on the ground, which helps for resistance work, so you can stay balanced.

For lifting weights: There are two types of shoes. A flat, light shoe. Or a platform weightlifting shoe, which gives you a tiny heel to help you get deeper into your squats. I prefer the flat shoes for sure, because you feel more balanced and stable on the ground for all your lifts. You can even go bare feet to lift weights, if your gym allows, and if you’ve worked up to it. I do all my home workouts in bare feet, and I love the way it feels to grip the floor with all my toes and to have better proprioception. I think the heeled lifting shoes are a little unnecessary for the average weightlifter. Flat shoes work best. And that’s why you sometimes see workout buffs in straight-up Converse at the gym, which are totally flat.

For cycling: You need cycle shoes. I know you can just put your sneakered foot in pedal cages, but it’s not the same. I once heard that you actually work harder in cycle shoes, because you have more direct contact with the pedal when you are clipped in. Also, apparently because cycle shoes have a more stiff sole, they take more of the impact from your consistent pedal motion and can help you to push harder too. I’m not a cycling professional, but I do use cycling shoes when I ride the Peloton, and it feels so much better than a sneaker. Not to mention, there’s no risk of slipping out during a tough push, like you may have with a sneaker.

For barre, dance or yoga: You can go bare feet for all of these activities. Or you can wear grippy barre socks. If you have any foot pain, you can also wear sneakers, but it’s not recommended. I like to do all of these types of workouts in bare feet. 

Workout shoes by A Lady Goes West

How often should you change out your athletic shoes?

This is one of those questions where everyone will have a different answer. But from someone who has worn my shoes to the ground too many times, I say that the ABSOLUTE max you should be wearing some sneakers is six months.

If you only wear your shoes to the gym or to a studio, they may not even show signs of getting dirty, but you may be wearing down certain areas of the shoe with repetitive movement, and this can lead to injuries in the long run. If you are rotating your sneakers, you can keep them longer, and will hopefully avoid overuse.

I think that a lot of people wear the same pair of sneakers for far too long, and this leads to pain throughout their legs. I know this is a strange thing to consider, but your foot health affects everything. You need shoes that fit your feet properly, you need shoes designed for the activity you are doing, and you need to change out your shoes every few months. One small area of wear/tear in the shoe can start pain from the ground up.

If you are wearing a sneaker multiple times a week (three or more), you should even consider swapping them out every three or four months to be safe. They may look good still, so turn them into street shoes or dog-walking shoes, or donate them. But don’t keep doing the same workouts in them. Trust me. Been there and done that. I’ve developed stress fractures from running shoes. It totally could have been avoided. And now I know better.

Choosing athletic shoes by A Lady Goes West

What are the best types of shoes to buy for each activity?

Cross-training shoes 

For Orangetheory, Barry’s Bootcamp, F45 and most Les Mills studio classes …

I happen to think that Reebok makes the best cross-training shoe. This is the shoe that I’ve been wearing for years, and I have four pairs. It’s solid. It’s flat. It has important lateral support for side-to-side movements. And it’s pretty light. I wear this shoe to teach Barbell Strength and to do all my cross-training workouts.

Fun fact: You CAN change your shoes during your workout, if you are doing two different things in one session. Back in San Francisco, I used to teach a double-header of BODYATTACK and BODYPUMP, and I would change my shoes in the five-minute transition between programs. It may seem extra, but if it will help your workout, it’s worth it.

Running shoes

For indoor and outdoor runs …

I am NOT a running expert. I repeat: I am not a running expert. You can find a million running blogs and accounts to follow if you’re super into running as a sport (may I suggest Amanda at Run To The Finish?). I have run. I do run. But I’m not a huge runner. That being said, in the past, my two favorite brands of running shoes have been Asics and Brooks. But there are some up-and-coming brands that people rave about like On Cloud, which I’ve never tried before and can’t speak to.

Because of the repetitive nature of running, I would suggest going to a track store to get your feet assessed. This will help you to choose the right type of running shoe, based on your needs. But, moral of the story: Buy a shoe designed for running, if you will be running. If you will be trail running, you’ll need something designed for that.

Once again, if you plan to do a lot of running, you really should get your feet professionally assessed at a running store to choose the right ones for you.

Lifting shoes

For lifting heavy weights at home or at the gym …

When you are lifting weights, you want to feel the floor. You want to have a flat sole (unless you’re an Olympic lifter who needs a slight heel, but I’m going to skip that for now). You want your feet to press evenly onto the ground, with just a thin sole between you.

  • I have these Nike Metcons as my weight-lifting shoe of choice. They are great for all things lifting. They are flat, light and give you a perfectly even stance, with enough protection for your feet.

Once again, I think Converse shoes can be a great option for someone who is conditioned and isn’t doing any major cardio or jumping during their weights workout.

Cycle shoes

For riding an indoor bike at home or in a cycle studio …

I am NOT a cycling expert, but I know that there are a couple of brands of shoes that are the most well-respected. And I highly encourage you to get cycle shoes to protect your feet and help you to push harder in your cycling workouts.

Quick note: When you buy cycling shoes, you often need to buy the “cleats” that clip into the pedals separately. And there are different styles of cleats, depending on the type of bike you are clipping into. You can ask at your studio, or check your bike at home. I bought these cleats, which are compatible with the Peloton we have, and Dave had no problem putting them on the shoes for me.

Athletic shoes by A Lady Goes West

Conclusion on how to choose the right athletic shoe for your workouts

You should definitely care about the shoes you are wearing for your workouts, and not just about how cool they look. What you wear on your feet matters. If you feel any pain, you may need new or different shoes.

If you’ve been wearing the same shoes for many months, it may be time to swap them out. Even though it may seem like a waste of money to have more than one workout shoe, remember that you are investing in your health and fitness, and that’s a worthy cause, any day.

Happy feet, happy legs, happy life! Or something like that. 🙂 

(I’m wearing this top, these leggings, which are awesome, and these shoes in the pictures in this post.)

I hope you found this post about how to find the right athletic shoe helpful, and feel free to ask any follow-up questions you may have in the comments below.

Thanks for coming by the blog today! 

Other posts you may like …

Questions of the day

How long have you had your current workout shoes?

Do you wear more than one pair of workout shoes?

What’s your favorite brand of workout shoes?

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