Super lightweight running shoes, toning walkers and sneakers with iPod sensor pouches – these days there’s no such thing as an ordinary pair of sneakers. Jennifer Kang puts these new-age shoes to the test to show you how to make the most of their unique benefits

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Super lightweight running shoes, toning walkers and sneakers with iPod sensor pouches – these days there’s no such thing as an ordinary pair of sneakers. Jennifer Kang puts these new-age shoes to the test to show you how to make the most of their unique benefits

 

 

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Skechers
Curved platform walking shoes claim to tone as you walk.

 

Today, fitness footwear is not so much about whether ‘the right shoe fits’. Selecting workout shoes has become a process based on science and podiatry principles, and of course, style.

With shoe-fitting contraptions in some footwear stores matching your foot type, and different shoes specifically designed for certain types of exercise, many of us have come to realise wearing the right shoe can allow us to put the right foot forward towards our fitness goals.

The basics

The new shoes on the fitness market do more than just complement our footwear needs and workout programs – they are more high-tech, customised and comfortable than ever before, not to mention, more stylish.

With shoe stores awash with a variety of shoes, including toning walkers, super lightweight running shoes, sneakers with iPod pouches and modern retakes on old classics, it’s clear we’re spoilt for fitness shoe choice.

But which shoes are right for your workout? Here’s your guide to choosing the right shoe that’ll fit your feet and your needs.

Getting started

Before you head to the shoe store to explore what’s available, ensure you know your footwear needs.

If you’ve experienced pain in your feet during a workout, or if you’ve got a particular foot type such as flat feet or high-arched feet that require special shoes, keep this in mind to ensure you’re selecting a shoe that provides the right support.

It’s also important to respect your dominant workout style – are you a runner or a gym bunny? Depending on what exercise you do most, you’ll need shoes to match.

Consider the surface on which you work out, too. The surface will determine whether a shoe will provide the ideal level of comfort and shock absorption. As an example, if you run on concrete footpaths, lightweight footwear with thin, non-cushioned soles should be avoided as it can cause pain in the feet. However, these shoes are suitable for a soft surface, such as sand.

Ensure you purchase your shoes from a specialty store that sells running shoes and has  a knowledgeable staff to help you fit the right shoe. Ask the shoe store’s assistants which shoe will best suit you and before you make your purchase, research the shoe’s features online. If in doubt, seek the advice of a podiatrist who will be able to prescribe the right fit for you.

Here are four new-age shoes that we put to the test.

Running in tune:

Your shoes, together with your iPod or iPhone, can become your new PT. The Nike + iPod Sport Kit and iPod Sensor claim to enable you to ‘rock and run’. Exercisers can simply pop the sensor, which tracks the run, underneath the innersole of Nike+ shoes, which then sends data straight to your iPod.

You can then see the time, distance, pace and calories burned through your iPod, and also receive feedback on your progress.

The benefits

The program provides a menu for you to choose how you want to run and options on customising your workout.

You can also input goals. Whether it be to run for a specific length of time or distance, or to burn a certain number of calories, the program will provide you with feedback at the halfway point and during the final lead-up to your goal, giving you the motivation you need to achieve a PB.

You’ll also have the right beats and tunes to accompany your workout, or you can even program a ‘power song’ to play when you’re in need of an instant motivation boost.

The risks

As with any piece of new-age technology, there are always risks to bear in mind.

Remember, this program has been designed for running only, and not for other types of exercise. Consequently, it’s important to remind yourself that a varied and challenging workout plan will enable you to optimise your fitness.

While the program claims to give you feedback, know that it won’t be personalised feedback and cannot be compared with a professional providing on-the-spot feedback on your technique and running style.

Feeling fly:

Want to run but feel like you’re flying? You can with lightweight shoes. As their name suggests, lightweight shoes allow you to carry less weight on your feet and run faster.

While these shoes are sought after for athletic and running events, some types are suitable for general workout wear. The most popular are Nike Free Run shoes, which were designed after a team of researchers discovered African athletes suffered less foot, ankle and calf injuries due to barefoot athletic training.

The benefits

Lightweight shoes are said to reduce injuries and improve performance, encouraging the feet to return to natural movements by offering less artificial support and cushioning.

According to Mark Simpson, exercise physiologist and director of PACE Health Management, barefoot running allows the foot to adapt to a surface, consequently causing it to work harder than when running with the cushioned support of an ordinary sneaker.

“Imagine barefoot running on the beach and how your foot adapts, compared to running in a shoe which creates an even platform for you,” he says.

They also make you feel lighter when you move, allowing you to run faster.

The risks

The risk of injury can be greater if you have been running in supportive shoes for years and swap to lightweight shoes, as they may overwork or damage the feet and leg muscles.

“Users should take caution before jumping into running in lightweight shoes and remember, it takes time for the structures in our feet to adapt,” Simpson says.

The lack of cushioning and support may mean some lightweight shoe converts are at an increased risk of injuries such as shin splints, heel pain or stress fractures, particularly when running on a hard surface such as concrete, podiatrist Matthew Armfield from Complete Feet explains.

“Consequently, softer surfaces such as a track or grass are more suited to these lightweight shoes,” he says.

Walking on a curve:

Curved platform walking shoes have been endorsed by celebrities such as curvaceous Kim Kardashian and her mum Kris Jenner, who claim these shoes can tone and shape your body while you walk.

But do these shoes really allow us to shape up, improve posture and keep our curves in the right areas?

According to Simpson, they probably won’t contribute to weight loss more than any other shoe, but they can help tone lower limbs.

These shoes work the leg muscles harder than other shoe styles as the uneven platform mimics the effect of walking on an uneven surface, thereby recruiting increased muscle use to help balance the body.

The benefits

Ideal for straight line walking on even surfaces, these shoes can boost coordination and balance, also encouraging us to stand more upright, which improves posture. And if you think these shoes are merely a workout substitute for high heels, worry no more – they don’t pose the same risks as stilettos.

Armfield says because most platform-style walkers are curved towards the front of the shoe, your feet are balanced as you walk.

“What this does is create a rocker to walk on – your foot rocks from the back to the front,” he says. “This can be compared with high heels in which you’re constantly in that flexed position with all your weight on the front of the foot.”

Good for the joints in the feet, these shoes can also help strengthen stabilising muscles, which results in improved balance at the knee and ankle joints.

The risks

When first wearing them, toning walkers may increase the risk of soft tissue injuries such as ankle sprains, due to the uneven platform.

“Research has shown that overweight participants have reduced proprioception (the ability to sense orientation and movement of the body) and balance in their lower limbs, so when we put them on an unstable surface, it is too hard for their joints to correctly stabilise, resulting in soft tissue injuries,” Simpson says.

They are also not recommended for people with poor ankle stability.

“This is because they tend to make you unstable on your feet,” Armfield says.

It’s also essential you’re walking in these shoes on an even, steady surface to prevent injury, and that you’re walking in a straight line. This is because the curved platform works from back to front, and is not designed for sideways movements. So they are not suitable for gym workouts, other than walking at a slow and steady pace on the treadmill.

Retakes on old classics:

Shock absorption shoes have been around for years now. Designed to absorb the shock of your foot hitting the ground, the supportive cushion built into the shoe can prevent injuries to your feet, knees and lower back.

These days, however, shock absorption shoes have upped the ante with many shoe brands now creating relatively lightweight shoes featuring enhanced cushioning and technology to stabilise, control and complement your foot function.

According to Armfield, some shoes have what shoe experts call ‘dynamic stability’. This feature means the cushioning is activated when you need additional support.

The benefits

“They provide more cushion and act like a spring for your foot,” Armfield says.

Ideal for those who experience heel pain or feel pressure on their feet while exercising, Armfield says the extra cushioning and extra spring supports foot movements, particularly on hard surfaces.

The risks

The extra cushioning, however, could potentially mean your foot isn’t made to work as hard. Shock absorption shoes are ideal for those with high-arched feet – runners with flat feet may find that they wear these shoes out very quickly.