Maybe you shouldn't reach for those comfy old trainers after all.

What’s the one important piece of training equipment you can’t live without? Is it your iPod? Or a good water bottle? Or is it a truly supportive and comfortable sports bra? Well that’s wrong, wrong, and wrong again. The single most important piece of equipment for virtually any kind of exercise programme, whether it’s, aerobics, hiking, tennis, basketball -- is to have the right pair of shoes.

A good pair of shoes can make or break your training workout, and it’s very easy to go wrong. Here are the five biggest shoe mistakes people make.

1. Grabbing Whatever’s Handy

The biggest mistake people make when they start running, jogging, or some other exercise program is just reaching into the cupboard and pulling out an old pair of trainers. An old pair of training shoes will probably no longer have the support that you need. And even more problematic, that particular pair of shoes might be inappropriate for the activity you choose – so let’s start there with choosing the correct footwear for the workout.

2. Choosing the Right Shoe -- for the Wrong Workout

You need to choose the right type of shoe for the kind of workout you’ll be doing - it really does matter. A shoe made for running is very different in a number of ways from a shoe made for something like basketball or tennis.

To be precise, running shoes have no lateral stability built into them because you don’t move your feet laterally when you run. You’re only going forward. A running shoe is built to give you support and stability as you move your foot through the running gait cycle.

On the other hand, basketball and tennis shoes both need to be stabilized laterally because you move your feet side to side a lot when playing these sports. You can’t devise a running shoe that has lateral stability and you can’t build a shoe for basketball or tennis that doesn’t have it.

Even good specialist walking shoes differ from running shoes. Runners land much more on their forefoot while walkers have a heavier heel strike, so for running, you want a shoe that has more cushioning on the forefoot, while walking shoes should have stiffer rubber to support under the heel. If you find that there’s not enough support built into the shoe you’ll suffer – unless you fit orthotic insoles that will compensate for this problem.

The question however that comes to the mind of many is why can’t you just get a good cross-trainer and use it for everything? That is all very well but they are specialist shoes for nothing in particular – a hybrid.

Cross-trainer shoes never existed until Nike came up with a special ad campaign, and now we have cross-trainers. But there’s no specific design to them - you can’t do any one thing well. They have some lateral stability, so you can play a game of basketball, or can run a mile or two, but most of them are not very good shoes for any particular activity.

Then again, some people aren’t heavily into running, hiking, tennis, or any one sport. They go to the gym occasionally, and maybe play tennis with a work friend once in a while, or play some football with the kids. For them, a cross-trainer might be the best choice.

"A good cross-trainer will allow you to do the treadmill, some walking on asphalt or on a track, and light jogging," says Kathleen Stone, President of the American Podiatric Medical Association. "They are not appropriate for long mileage, of course, but I recommend them for people who are doing a variety of athletic endeavours casually."

To choose a good cross-trainer, you should look for:
•    A firm heel
•    Good support - you shouldn’t be able to bend the shoe too easily
•    Light weight - you don’t want to add a lot of pounds to your feet

But the APMA recommends that if you’re going to participate in a particular sport on a regular basis (two to three times a week or more), you should choose a sport-specific shoe.

 

3. Loving Them Too Much
It’s vital that your workout shoes should be your workout shoes and not your running-around-town shoes. You will break down a pair of shoes by simply standing around in them or wearing them to the shops and running errands much faster than when you’re running or exercising.

So buy yourself a pair of casual shoes for running around town, and stow your good workout shoes in the cupboard as soon as you get home from your run or your tennis game. Save them for the right occasion.

Some people also say that they buy the shoes that they think look nice because they know that they’ll wear them when out and about, but they aren’t any good to work out in. Certain brands are not suitable to exercise in because they will hurt the feet, even though you might love the way they look. So keep them to wear with your jeans for just hanging around.

4. Loving Them Too Long
Another big mistake many people make when buying athletic shoes is not replacing them often enough. They should obviously be replaced as soon as when they start looking bad, but unfortunately workout shoes start to break down while they’re still looking good. This is because the support, which is the main reason why you bought the shoe in the first place, is gone, and you’ll start feeling strange aches and pains in your knees, hips, and back as soon as that has happened.

Most experts recommend that runners replace their shoes every 300 to 500 miles. If you don’t run enough to have a mile count, or running’s not your sport, you should replace your athletic shoes at least once a year. If you’re exercising on a casual basis, you can make your shoes last a year, but if you’re training hard every day, six months is pretty much their limit. It can of course be extended if you fit orthotic insoles to boost the support – and this is a cost-effective way to extend their lifespan.

You should also have your shoe size rechecked every year because foot size doesn’t stay the same; our feet tend to grow bigger as we age.
In addition do you need orthotics for any specific gait problems? There are certain foot types and injuries that can be corrected easily with orthotics and they work well for this type of problem.

5. Doing It Yourself
Unless you’ve been playing your sport for a long time and have learned exactly what shoe is right for you, it’s a bad idea to just walk into any old department store or supermarket, look at a few pairs of shoes, and walk out with what you think is best – or looks best – or seems a bargain.

Instead, go to a speciality athletic shoe store to get an expert insight on the right shoe and the best fit. The staff there should do a real fitting, evaluate your foot, discuss your specific athletic activities and what shoes may have worked for you before. They may even take the trouble to watch you walk or run on a treadmill.

They should take three measurements -- not just one -- on the metal plate known as a Brannock device that we’ve all seen in shoe stores. It’s important to know not just length but also the width and the arch length. All three of those numbers together determine what size you should wear. Always remember that each shoe can be cut a little differently -- a ten and a half isn’t the same size in all shoes. So they should start with that number and work from there.

Just a reminder that a good pair of shoes can make or break your training workout, and it’s very easy to go wrong, so these will be five key points that you will be pleased that you observed.