The Key to Choosing the Right Shoe for Your Workout

Our shoes are some of the most important pieces of equipment when it comes to our workouts, so it’s important to take a little extra time to select a pair that will not only help you crush your workout goals, but also help keep you injury-free in the process. There are three major factors you should always consider when you’re on the hunt for your next pair: the type of workouts you do, past or recurring injuries, and your foot shape and size.

If you’re a newbie when it comes to your fitness expertise, do your shoe shopping in person, and opt for a store that focuses on educating customers about the “why” behind the best styles of footwear for your type of workout and your body’s needs. My favorites include Road Runner Sports, Fleet Feet, and Finish Line. Now, to the fun stuff: everything you need to know about choosing the right shoe.

Running (and running only)

If you prefer to hit the road, trail or treadmill, you should opt for a specialized running shoe. Some of the major characteristics of classic running shoes are motion control, increased arch support and stability. Why is this important? Since our bodies experience a higher level of impact when we run, it’s critical for you to find a shoe that not only fits you structurally, but also supports you physically.

The basics 
Our feet are widest around our toes, so it’s important to find a shoe that is more narrow through the body, and more roomy in the toe box, to allow for the natural swelling that happens due to increased blood flow during our workouts. Running shoes should be a half size (and sometimes even a full size) larger than your street shoe size to allow for this. Pro tip: Place your thumb down on the toe of your shoe, directly above the top of your big toe. If your thumb barely fits, or you can’t press the top down at all, your running shoe is too small.

Injuries or special considerations
If you have ankle or arch support needs, finding a shoe with more stability is important. What this means: you’ll get added support through the heel of the shoe. 

If you over-pronate, or have a flatter foot, opt for models that are labeled to provide motion control.

If you’re an advanced runner and have conditioned your body for a more lightweight racing style option, go for it! A common term used to measure and describe these types of shoes is “heel drop” which is the ratio of how much higher the heel is in relation to the forefoot. If you’re looking to transition to a barefoot running form technique, gradually lower the heel drop and cushioning as you teach yourself to transition to a midsole strike. One of the best brands that help you learn to do so and have models for all stages of your abilities is Newton.

Strength training/circuit training

If you’re a cardio queen, most shoes will suffice for classes like bootcamp, cardio machines and aerobics-based workouts. However, if power lifts, CrossFit workouts and overall strength training are your primary goal, you’ll need a pair of lifting specific shoes.

The basics 
Proper lifting shoes have flatter soles and increased support that focuses on ankle stability (given the quick changes in direction you experience in circuit training) and a sole that is relatively flat. This allows you to press firmly off the ground for exercises like squats and jumps, getting the most out of your lifting session.

Injuries or special considerations
If you have high arches (supination), it’s super important to add in a pair of insoles to your lifting shoes, or find a model that provides a bit more support, like a cross trainer. Cross trainers are designed to give you the ability to lift with limited cushioning, while still having enough to run and jump safely in a circuit training class.

If you have a flatter arch or pronation is an issue you face, look for shoes with a “heel counter,” which will help you more than shoes with arch support. This also helps alleviate pain for anyone with plantar fasciitis or patellofemoral syndrome.

Indoor cycling

If you’re a die-hard cyclist when it comes to your favorite ways to sweat, it’s super important to invest in your own set of cycling shoes. While some studios do provide them (thanks, Flywheel!), it’s smart to have your own personalized pair, especially if you are recovering from a knee injury or other physical setback.

The basics 
A well-fitting cycling shoe needs to be snug and supportive around your heel, with even support through the body of the shoe. Room in the toe box is less important here than running shoes, as in order to keep yourself from causing knee injuries, the shoe needs to fit a bit more snug. You should have enough room to wiggle your toes, but not enough to hold down a finger in front of your toe.

Injuries or special considerations
It’s super important to get a snug fitting shoe when it comes to cycling. The more your feet move around in the shoe, the more likely you are to get a knee injury due to your foot being locked into the pedal. There should be a tiny bit of room around the toe box, and the velcro straps should fit snugly across the top of the foot, giving you support for your arches. To prevent injuries, remember to sit back into the seat when you’re riding out of the saddle, keeping the weight in your heels to take pressure off your knees.

Mandy Gragg is a New York City-based certified personal trainer and an active fashion and beauty blogger. She shares her fitness, fashion, and skincare tips on her blog Haute Unofficial. Follow her sporty adventure on Instagram for more fitness, beauty, and active fashion inspo.