Want to enjoy a lifetime of exercise? Make sure you wear the shoes that best suit your feet. Shoes are made for all types of feet and actions, and knowing your foot type can aid you in selecting shoes that will help prevent injury.
Alexandra Williams, MA, a fitness writer and editor in Santa Barbara, California, and co-owner of FunandFit.org, shares experts’ insights on the different foot types and how to discover yours.
Determining Your Foot Type
Running expert and 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Jason Karp, PhD, of San Diego says that the right type of shoe for you depends on two things: your foot type (size of your arches) and what your foot does when it touches the ground. Karp recommends the “wet test” to find your foot type. “Walk across a flat surface with wet feet so you can see your footprint and see the kind of arches you have.”
Understanding Foot Type
Here are the three basic foot types, according to Runnersworld.com.
Normal arch. If you see about half of your arch on the paper, you have a normal (medium) arch. You are considered a normal pronator. (When you run or walk, you land on the outside edge of your foot and roll inward. This entirely normal inward rolling is called pronation.) Normal pronation absorbs shock and optimally distributes the forces of impact when the arch collapses inward.
Low arch. If you see almost your entire footprint, you have a flat foot (low arch), which means you’re probably an overpronator. That is, a microsecond after footstrike, your arch collapses inward too much, resulting in excessive foot motion. This means the foot and ankle have problems stabilizing the body, and shock isn’t absorbed as efficiently.
High arch. If you see just your heel, the ball of your foot and a thin line on the outside of your foot, you have a high arch. This means you’re likely an underpronator (also called a supinator), which can result in too much shock traveling up your legs, since your arch doesn’t collapse enough to absorb it. Forces of impact are concentrated on a smaller area of the foot (the outside part) and are not distributed as efficiently.
When trying on shoes, mention which type of foot you have. A knowledgeable salesperson should be able to help you find shoes suited to your type.
Don’t make shoes multitask, recommends Amy Ashmore, PhD, an ACE-certified personal trainer and an associate professor in sports and health sciences with the American Public University system. “Walking shoes are stiffer; running shoes are more flexible, with extra cushioning to handle greater impact. If you do both activities, get a pair for each one. For [other fitness activities] cross-trainers are fine.”
When testing shoes, wear workout socks and get fitted in the evening, when your feet are largest. There should be half an inch between the longest toe and the toe box (Asplund & Brown 2005). Look for stores that allow you to return the shoes within a certain time period if they aren’t working for you.
Barefoot “shoes” have gotten a lot of press. These “slip-ons” are not exactly shoes, nor are they socks; in some cases they are more like thick rubber foot gloves. Their purpose is to mimic barefoot movement while avoiding some of the risks (e.g., sharp objects, extreme heat).
Are they for you? To explore this subject, work with a running expert or certified personal trainer who specializes in running. Other body parts impact the feet, and it is important to understand how the whole body impacts your running biomechanics.
Asplund, C.A., & Brown, D.L. 2005. The running shoe prescription: Fit for performance. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 33 (1), 299-303.
Runner’s World. 2004. Running shoes & gear: Running shoe basics: Orthotics & pronation. www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-240-319-327-7727-0,00.html#; retrieved July 17, 2012.
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