By: Mary-Pat Baldauf
“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” ― Marilyn Monroe
I’ve never really been a shoe girl. Give me a few comfortable pairs in basic nude, black or navy, and I was good to go. Until a couple of years ago, my “athletic” shoes were limited to a pair of white Keds, which became a pair of Sauconys once I experienced a heel spur. But now that I’ve embraced exercise, I can’t get enough running shoes, so much so that a friend told me that I should check into “Athletic Shoes Anonymous.”
When I started strength training two years ago, I had one pair of Saucony running shoes, purchased at a discount store because I liked the pink and black accents. They were comfortable shoes and perfect for those “shop ‘til you drop” Saturdays. Once it looked like I was going to be a regular, my trainer suggested I try a pair of the then-new “barefoot” or minimalist shoes for training.
I don’t explain it as well as my trainer, but wearing minimalist shoes provides me with a much more stable “base.” The reduced heel cushioning and sole thickness, along with a minimal offset in height between the forefoot and heel allows me to have more responsiveness through my foot when grounded. This responsiveness helps to keep my knees in proper position on lifts, the back and hips to be more aligned, and in turn allows me to be more efficient with major moves such as squats, deadlifts, lunges and other compound movements.
When it was time to choose new athletic shoes, I started shopping and I never stopped. I should probably be embarrassed to admit that I now have six pairs of athletic shoes, each with their own personality, style and purpose:
- First came my Nike Free Trainers, my first entrée into the minimalist shoe category. Light grey with an orange bottom and turquoise accents, these are probably my tamest pair of shoes. They are perfect for strength training and the elliptical, and are probably my best “squat shoes.” But if I’m going to be on the treadmill, I usually pick another pair.
- Next came my Reebok RealFlex Trainers, solid neon pink. These shoes make me smile, and pick me up on those mornings that I’d rather stay in bed. The bottom resembles a rubber keyboard, and they are good for everything. These are probably my favorite shoes.
- Soon after experiencing the Reebok RealFlex, I also purchased a pair of their running shoes. The attraction was purely physical; they are dark grey with a neon lime bottom and neon pink accents. Although the same size as my other Reeboks, the toe box seems to be just a smidge roomier. I often wear these during “that time of the month” or when my feet feel a little swollen.
- On a trip to the Reebok outlet in Myrtle Beach, I purchased a neon yellow and pink RealFlex Optimal Running Shoe. I had to go up a size in these, likely due to a difference in the shoe material, and these don’t fit perfectly. They are perfect elliptical shoes, though, so I wear them most often on cardio days.
- That same weekend, I found a great pair of black and purple Nike Flex Trainers at Ross. The price was right, so I figured they would be a nice addition to my closet. I added a fab pair of black and silver shoelaces for the win, and I love them. These shoes have yet to develop a personality; I can’t yet tell you when they perform the best. That leads me to believe they are probably a good all-around shoe for any gym activity, whether it be strength training or cardio.
- My latest purchase and the ones I swear will put an end to my athletic shoe addiction? A pair of Asics Noosa running shoes. Actually designed for triathletes, this shoe gives me just a little more stability for the days when I spend an hour on the treadmill. My trainer says they’re also fine for training, though they aren’t my favorites for that purpose. And as nonchalant as I sound, I like them most for their vivid coloring: various shades of neon with glow-in-the-dark heels and toes. Yep, they are hot!
My penchant for athletic shoes has earned me a special nickname at the gym: the Imelda Marcos* of Doctors Wellness Center. But whether you love workout shoes like me or prefer to stick to a single pair, the most important thing is to find the right shoe for you. The color and style are nice extras, but there’s more to it than that. Before you go shopping for your athletic shoes, check out “10 Tips for Choosing Athletic Shoes” from WebMD. Of the ten tips, the one that resonates most with me is to go by what shoe fits, not the size. Sizes vary by brand, sometimes even styles within the same brand, so you always need to try them on. My regular shoe size is six, but my athletic shoes range from size 6.5 to 7.5.
*For those of you under the age of 40, Imelda Marcos is the former First Lady of the Philippines. When she and her dictator husband were driven out of the country in 1986, she left behind at least 1200 pair of shoes. She was rumored to have over 3000 pair of shoes in her palace closet.