SP Premium
SparkPeople Blogs  •  fitness  •  cardio

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?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


I like to get fitted for running shoes and think mine are a good fit, but agree that not everyone I run with goes to the trouble of being fitted.

Even among running shoe stores, I think there are some people better than others at doing the fitting. And a big yes to the person who commented that you do have to replace them too! It is somtimes a pain that some brands change their models from year to year enough that they no longer fit the same--you can't always rely on next year's model fitting the same so sometimes it pays to get fitted again. To help with cost, I sometimes will re-buy the same model when it gets discounted at the end of the running season. Report
I had the same problem. For years I had intense knee pain when I walked which made exercising a nightmare. I also had severe foot pain from plantar fasciitis. A couple years ago I broke down and bought an expensive pair of Asics for serious over-pronation and viola! The knee pain AND the foot pain was gone. And while they were expensive they lasted a really long time. When the Asics finally blew out I tried to find a bargain pair of walking shoes. Huge mistake! I've already quit wearing them due to my foot and knee pain reoccurring. I'm rebounding instead of walking right now. I can't wait until I've saved enough money to buy another pair of workout shoes specifically made for over-pronators. I've definitely learned my lesson! Report
I am having a lot of problem with heel pain that I hope might be fixed by getting fitted. I already wear an orthotic arch support, but has not helped. My podiatrist recommended a shop to me to be fitted. For me, it's not about style, right now it is about the cost. Just can't seem to find the extra funds right now for the shoes I need. So I am gritting my teeth and walking through the pain. Hope for a breakthrough soon that I can get fitted. Report
Having a history of a road runner for too long, with my skinny ankles, I still wear the ugliest but, very comfortable sneakers for my walks and work outs! I would rather not look chic than deal with Achilles Tendonitis. Thanks for the blog Nicole. Report
my hubby is the one that know what shoes we should buy so i let him pick them out .. we do get the shoes that fit we have a nike out let so that helps out a lot.. but my son has to have new balance he were a 12 4 e Report
Nah...my shoes are too ugly to be wrong! LOL

But seriously, I did get fitted...and not at one of those big name stores either..went to a running store. Yes, they do cost me a few pretty pennies. HOWEVER...with my foot issues [flat, wide, no arch slightly raised knees & one slightly turned out foot] I HAVE to get the right shoes.

I signed up for coupons and sales....so instead of me spending $130 on my shoes, I'll spend perhaps $80. Then I purchase 2.

When they are no longer fit for running, I put in a sole insert & wear them to work since I stand all day.

And by the way, they are men's sneakers! Report
I had one foot experience a break and the other had a tendon hurt (both on their own, not bad shoes). Needless to say, I make buying good running shoes mandatory in order to take care of what I have. I also like to walk, so my old running shoes become my walking shoes. Report
Funny you should post this now! I went last Wednesday to a running store to be fitted for a pair of running shoes and discovered that I'm actually a size bigger AND wider! I'm not one to stress over size, and I'm really excited that I now have shoes that fit. Going for my first run in them Monday! Report
I wear the most comfortable shoes for walking and I get them at WALMART for $17 and they are the EARTH SHOES. So, it isn't necessary to pay huge prices for fancy "walking" shoes. Report
I wear a 6-6 1/2 EEEE. I've read that I should be wearing 6 1/2 for running to allow for some swelling and fluid retention w/o cramping my feet. With my size, I can't buy shoes at the mall and I always have the joy of buying the expensive shoes. Report
I'm 67. If you are younger please heed my words. (Other things being equal of course - ) Life is not worth living after 60 if your feet or your teeth are a mess. Skimp anywhere but shoes or dental work. Report
WOW! What a great artical. After reading this. I'm going to keep in mind about my workout shoues. I've been needing to get new shoues anyway. Report
I too disagree about walkers wearing walking shoes. I mostly walk but I do so for long distances (more than 10 miles). I need a lighter weight shoe than a walking shoe and yes! I have been fitted by a running store. They are the ones that recommended running shoes for those of us walkers who do middle-distance races. Report
I have to beg to differ on the comment that you CAN'T walk in running shoes.

I have foot issues, and one of those issues are bunions. I have one that I had fixed in 1994 and the left foot needs to be fixed pretty bad now. I NEED the extra room that running shoes give me in order to walk. I have only once been able to find a comfortable walking shoe, and those were Ryka's. The next years model was changed so much I went back to running shoes. That 2nd pair of Rykas were awful and just didn't fit correctly and actually slowed my walking pace. The way I walk, I wear my shoes down on the ball of the foot, and I wear $500 orthotics made by a podiatrist. I've worn pro made orthotics for 24 years.

I just don't think you should say always never when people are individual and so are their needs. Report
I recently bought my first pair of proper walking shoes. In the past I'd worn running shoes or a pair of aerobic shoes to walk. That was when I was younger and slim.

When I committed to SP and getting healthy and in shape, I decided I needed to do it right. I have L5-S1 pain (like sciatica but a different nerve cluster) and walking more than a few yards was excruciating.

I also have odd feet with "A" instep, "AA heel" and a very high arch (you can see the bottom of my feet over the top of most shoes!) I underpronate (or is overpronate? Whicher turns out). In those young, slim days my feet were AA/AAAA and had a perfect gait. You could look at the bottom of my shoes and see where they'd worn perfectly evenly. Not any more.

I can usually get an approximate fit off the rack now for day-to-day shoes but hadn't successfully gotten walking shoes that fit right in years. So, when I decided to get proper walking shoes I talked to a coworker who is a serious runner. She recommended a local running store assuring me that they'd make sure I'd get a good fit and wouldn't laugh at me because of my size. I nervously dinked around for another month, walking in my dress shoes, and finally went into the store.

They were wonderful. The salesman watched me walk first in my regular shoes and then in every pair we tried on. And that was a lot. We spent over an hour and I must have tried on a dozen pairs before we found the right one. Frankly, I would have given up and taken the closest long before we finally got the best shoe for me. That salesman just would not let me give up!

The shoes are Brooks and cost about 100 dollars. They are NOT cute or even attractive but they feel incredibly good. I'd forgotten that my feet were supposed to feel so good. The support wasn't in the lacing or ankles, as I expected, but in the foot bed. Who knew?!

The truly amazing thing is that I can walk sooo much further before the nerve pain kicks in. I didn't want to spend the money but it was well worth it and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

And nobody laughed at me. Report
I am brand loyal to New Balance but not due to style. All running shoes are pretty ugly, IMO. Heh. I refuse to buy sweat shop shoes, though, and NB has factories in the US. I know not all their shoes are made here but I make sure to buy the styles that are. It limits me somewhat, as I'm an overpronator and have some plantar fasciitis issues, but in the end I'd rather run with inserts in a pair of ethical shoes than have perfect shoes that were made by really poorly treated workers. Report
Hey Nicole, it is so funny to line up before a race, waiting for the horn to sound that you can't help but check out other runner's shoes...could this be running shoe envy? LOL! Report
I always buy Asics and I have to say I choose the style I like first (the ones that look the best) and just buy my same shoe size--never even thought about getting "fitted" for running shoes. For my next pair, I'll definitely try to seek professional advice. Report
i have a horrible time finding shoes that work for me. i have a wide front foot section but my heels are very narrow. if i get them wide enough for my ball, then they rub blisters on my heels. anyone have any ideas for shoes that might work better. Report
Also, know WHEN to replace them!! I'd love to see an article on that SP!!! Report
I walk 60 miles for breast cancer each year... and that's not including the training I do. I fell in love with the way Brooks FELT. If you look at the colors of years past, they haven't been pretty (orange anyone?), but I can honestly say that after 60 miles in them over 3 days, I had a single sore spot. Just one. And when I saw the hundreds of people with multiple sore spots, suddenly, color really didn't matter. My feet (and body) thank me, and the right shoe really did make a difference. Who knew people would be envying me wearing not-so-pretty shoes? Report
I am attracted to the pretty ones, but will buy the ones that fit best. You get attached to them when they feel good. Report
Two weeks ago I finally went into Running Fit in Northville, MI to get fitted for running shoes. The salesman had me walk for him , asked me some questions and then brought out about six pairs of shoes in all different brands. I kept trying on one shoe on one foot, then another shoe from another brand on one foot, comparing. I ended up with a Nike shoe. I generally wear size 7 1/2 or 8 and these are an 8 1/2. I bought socks, too. I have run five times in them and they are great! I spent $99 on the shoes. Report
I'm sorry, but I cannot imagine wearing the wrong shoe for anything. I have always worked at a job where I ran around on cement floors and without the right shoe, I would be in big trouble. One can cheap out on clothes and a lot of other things but not your shoes. As a result, I am 62 and have no problems with knees, feet or otherwise. Look after those feet and they will love you for it. Report
P.S. And for anyone who feels intimidated by walking into a running store, don't! They are very helpful and friendly. No one will laugh at you if you are a beginning runner! Or judge you by how fast or how fun you run, or what you weigh! When I bought my first pair of running shoes I was seriously overweight. I told the clerk that I was signed up for my first 5K and he fell all over himself encouraging me in a very genuine way. It was great! Yes, cost is an issue, but please consider supporting your local running store -- these are people who really care about running and fitness and are involved in sponsoring local runs. If you must buy your shoes on Amazon (and there often isn't that much difference in price) consider buying something else while you're there -- socks, hat, water bottle, etc! Report
I think I have the right shoe, but OH NO they are PINK. And when the saleperson said they only come in in pink I was horrified. Not my color. But I sucked it up and bought the right shoes. Now my running buddy likes to tease me by telling me I look girly! Report
It would be nice to have "the right shoe" but unless someone wants to either give me the money of buy them for me I won't be getting them. I'm sure they would be better for me but just can't afford them, I'd rather eat. Report
For those of you not knowing, and in NO WAY, does it compare to buying the whole shoe. Many of these shoe stores will do the fitting and sell you just the insole to fit into a lesser priced shoe.
Not as good, and they will explain that, but better then tennies! Report
I've definitely skimped on workout shoes... I have 5 pairs that each cost about $25 each, but what I should've done is just buy 1 good pair! Report
I made the same mistakes as you did. I like small feet so I would try and get the exact size and ended up with blue toenails. Finally I capitulated and bought a size and a half larger and my feet do not hurt anymore. Report
Guess I should get new shoes for this. Since I've been off work for the last couple of months (and weekends before that) I pretty much wear the same shoes for everything - housework, shopping, walking, whatever. This could explain a lot - fatigue, back ache, knee problems, etc. Report
I bit the bullett last year and got a $105 pair of running shoes and i don't run. I bought them for the support . I power walk and use the eliptical and no longer have fatigued ankles or feet. They are Nike Shox and not at all my style but I'd rather have the stability and comfort than style. Report
when you look for a running sneaker there are many they will also say running sneaker...the number 1 sneaker is asics gel-150tr for men and women then men--champion amp2 (payless) women ryka core strength xt. each sneaker is different.....you need stability for your feet Report
I've never heard of a "running store" before. Can anyone give me a name? I do live in a very small town, so I know there isn't one here, but maybe there is one in the "big city" about 150-200 miles from here.
It will probably be next year before I make a trip there, but at least I could put it on my shopping list.
Would they also sell walking shoes that might be a little bit comfortable?
...and why is it that no one makes a cute walking/running shoe, anyway? They are all really ugly, aren't they? Report
Guess it's time for me to get fitted, too. I don't have knee problems but sometimes my back hurts after a run... if this fixes it, I'll stick with it more often. Report
I was recently indoctrinated into the 15% of those who wear shoes that fit! It was actually after reading the "If the shoe fits, wear it" article that I mustered up the courage to go to a real running store and get fitted for running shoes. I'm very happy with my shoes and didn't feel as intimidated in the store as I thought I would be. I even ran on a treadmill in front of a stranger so he could fit me for the right shoe! Report
How timely for me! I was just fitted for the first time today for running shoes after experiencing excruciating pain in attempting my first C25K the other evening. My cushy gel Asics just didn't cut it. I wear a size 8-8.5 typically, and was SHOCKED when I was measured as requiring a 10 AA. Go figure. I ended up with Asics GT-2140. The shoes are not what I would have chosen aesthetically, but WHAT a difference they made when I actually completed my run/walk today with much less pain. Report
once upon a time i wouldnt wear white runners, only black, navy or grey...now i will wear whatever colour or style, as long as it fits right. i came to that conclusion after running in walking shoes for a few weeks, my feet felt like beat up pieces of meat! Report
I like Consumer Reports, but that article is misleading because it compares apples with oranges. You cannot say "this is the best shoe", because shoes should be fitted individually based on one's gait (neutral, pronation, supination;), width and size of toes and heels, height of arch and weight. It is very rare that 2 single people have the same exact feet (and weight). So while the Champion brand at Target might be fine for a neutral strike runner with perfect mechanics weighing 120 lbs, it might injure a heavy overpronator weighing 250 lbs...

The best thing that people can do is to get an individual fit in an independent running store that carries several brands of shoes (not a brand store - like NB or Nike; not at a generalized sports store...) Report
I've felt a little intimidated walking into a "running shoe" store because I do not look very athletic. I'm also worried that I will be a bit sticker shocked. Maybe having the right shoes will help build that confidence...? Report
Not anymore! As one of my "rewards", I bought new work out shoes, with fitting and everything! They feel great and really were not more expensive than my other shoes. Report
I know I wear the wrong shoes. You should purchase a new pair a show twice a year and I'm lucky to do it once a year. It would benefit me to purchase a new pair soon. Report
The right shoes really make a difference but you also have to replace them regularly even if they still look like they are good. Report
I used to buy Easy Spirit but I think they don't make them as well. I've been buying New Balance for the past year. They are not the prettiest shoe. I'm planning on trying one of the Asics Gel shoes next. I really have to be careful. I have had plantar fasciitis in the past but it went away. I think the New Balance shoes helped it subside. Report
I too some times wear the wrong shoes & I know I do but I am slowly changing my perception that "being beautiful has to hurt." LOL Report
I think when I buy shoes I look for what looks good and then if its the best thing for my feet then try to find something in the middle. Report
i wear the same sneaks all the time. I have a tough time finding good fit for wide feet, so i get attached. Report
I got fitted improperly at two stores before someone finally found the answer for me. Men's shoes! If you have wide feet, women's shoes tend to be narrow. So now I have wonderful shoes. Check your socks too. I bought special running socks and now they are ALL I will wear because they are so comfy! Report
No, once I found out how to "fit myself" in my walking shoes I don't really care how they look, only now they feel.

Price is a consideration but fit still determines my purchases. I now purchase 2 pair at a time, spending about $100 when I do (generally 1 regular price, one half-price) and alternate them every day for my morning walks.

I am up to 9 miles at a time now and really, the shoe has to fit. Report
New clothes energize you. I love them. Report
Walking Guide