Examining your Walking Habits
Before we get into finding the perfect shoe for you, let’s spend a few minutes on thinking out the particular needs you have.
I know there are many articles out there on Supination, Underpronation, Bunions, Overpronation, Metarasalgia and a host of other medical afflictions. I’ve linked to our posts on those, but if we get hung up on the minutiae of those specifics we can often miss the broader, yet no less important factors.
Let’s take the approach of working out the broader use needs first. Then, with that information in mind you can really focus in on choosing between the various picks I have for you under you specific foot problem.
Just one thing, if you have foot pain or any unusual looking things happening with your feet, before you spend any money on shoes, go an consult with a paediatrician who can explain the cause exactly and give you specific advise.
No one likes a visit to the doctor but we are talking about our feet here not some embarrassing disease or issue with our private parts. I mean feet are about the least embarrassing part of our body so get out and have them looked at if you have any issue at all. You have no excuse.
The Differences in Foot Action between Walking and Running
When you walk the back part of your heel strikes the ground first, with your arch and ball of your foot -the padded bit behind your toes- still off the ground.
As your body moves forward, the foot leading the way angles down until your foot is flat as if you are standing momentarily.
But your foot is on a roll so as you move forward more, your foot rotates onto the ball of your foot and toes to propel you forward and walk.
When you run, the foot action is a little different because you strike the ground on your heel, but differently to walking.
Runners tend to land on the more forward part of the heel and with significantly more force than walking. This causes a jarring of the leg bone structure and momentary, but highly repetitive, high pressure on your heel.
The Different Requirements for Casual Walking & Fitness Walking
All walking is not the same. If you are walking for gentle exercise or just walking around town, then you will likely walk not much more than a maximum of 3 miles per hour.
If you are fitness walking then you will be walking at 4 miles an hour up, depending on the speed you push yourself to. Fitness walkers, have a foot action that is tending towards the same as a runner, though with less impact force, and therefore lightly cushioned running shoes will be just a suitable as more cushioned walking shoes.
For casual exercise walking the impact forces are significantly less meaning you can have a shoe that is lighter with less cushioning needed to counter impact forces that affect runners.
A word about Cushioning, Walkers & Runners
You will often come across cushioning as a descriptor for shoes that produce a certain tilt to the foot necessary to counter an abnormal gait. However it is also used as a description for the amount of comfort provided to a shoe and particularly the vast amount of content you will find online talking about running shoes.
My point here is that runners and walkers have different needs from a shoe, and different types of walkers have different needs within the 'walkers' group.
You should therefore be cautious about points made about cushioning by shoe manufacturers and websites discussing running shoes and then thinking the same points will apply similarly to walkers. For most walkers this is just not true.
So unless the context is referring to cushioning aimed at providing a correction for a particular gait or foot problem then you should get your advice for walking shoes from a walking shoe specific webpage.
Regular walkers who do not suffer from marked overpronation or underpronation, also called supination, will want to be looking for the comfort benefits that come with cushioning intended to increase shoe comfort rather than foot aspect correction.
Be aware of what type of cushioning is being discussed as you can otherwise be quite easily confused.
The Different Requirements for Walking on Hard Surfaces, Softer Surfaces and Trail
Here again we see differences, this time arising from the surface being walked on.
Hard surfaces will mean harsher forces on our feet as the surface has no ‘give’. If you are walking on interior concrete, tiled or wood floors, then you may need enhanced grip on the shoe sole if the surface may be slippery.
Softer surfaces such as grass, will be more forgiving and therefore do not need so much cushioning.
If we are walking the trail or in forests and rugged ground then the sole needs to be able to grip and provide protection from the unevenness. It will also be thicker, more rigid and sturdier to protect against sharp objects underfoot.
How do you DO your Walking?
This may seem a pretty stupid question – but it really isn’t so let me explain.
First of all you will need to have more than one pair of shoes unless you only do one type of walking. Typically, you will likely be doing at least two or three types of walking.
For everyday wear, such as for the office or at work which may be formal shoes, less formal wear or work boots you will typically not be walking long distances at any one time but will be either standing or sitting with short periods of walking to and fro. Obviously you will be walking to transport to and from work and maybe locally to grab a bite to eat at lunchime.
Then there is the time we have off work. I was going to say leisure time but doing the weekly shopping is hardly leisure for me at least. During these times we may be walking for longer periods, shopping and out and about. We may be walking in hot, cold, wet or dry weather but mostly on hard surfaces, unless we are at home in which case we should be wearing slippers anyway.
The third situation is where we consciously walk for exercise. Now you may walk the same route every time, which is pretty uninteresting though. In which case you will be walking on the same surfaces. If you walk different routes, along the paths in the park some days and through the woods on others, then the surfaces you walk on will be different.
Focussing Down on What Use you Need the Shoe For
There is a whole lot talked on this subject and most of what I have read is so overcomplicated and full of difficult to understand terms. I aim to change all that right now with this easy to understand guide.
You should by now know whether you are looking for. Do you need:
- a business like walking shoe needed for more formal office environments
- a walking shoe for everyday wear and shopping around town
- a walking shoe for casual exercise on park paths or concrete
- a walking hybrid shoe tending more towards a running shoe for more extreme fitness walking or
- a special purpose walking shoe needed to deal with a particular situation such as a work boot or for hiking over rugged terrain
So shoes are shoes but they have different characteristics. Let’s cover the basic terminology covering our feet and walking shoe design that you need to know and science behind that where applicable.
Basic Foot Terminology
- The Toes – Toes are pretty important. They help us balance by assisting in adjusting posture, they give agility and are in contact with the ground about 75% of our waking life. Our stabilisers.
- The Ball – The ball of our feet is the padded area on the inside of your foot just behind the toes and in front of the arch. It helps distribute your weight and spreads pressure as well as absorbing impact forces. If you have pain in the ball of your feet then see you pediatrician to find out what it is, what to do about it, what you can do without aggravating it and what specific shoe features you might need. A pressure distributor and dampener.
- The Arch – The arch of the foot is on the bottom between the ball and the heel. It is like a sprung bridge that distributes pressure across the foot as it flattens slightly giving the foot additional flex and cushioning. It also helps as a springboard to propel you in whatever direction you want to move. It is a shock absorber for feet as well as a springboard.
- The Heel – The heel is the padded part on the bottom of your foot at the back. This is the part of the foot that takes the biggest hammering as it is the first part of the foot that hits the ground when we walk and run. It basically provides dampening and cushioning to impact forces this protecting our ankles, knees, hips and other bones from rapid shock. It’s a cushioner and dampener.
- The Instep – A not much talked about part of the foot but absolutely essential. The instep is the major supporting structure for the 26 bones, 33 joints and a bunch of muscles, ligaments and tendons. A veritable engineering marvel you have in your feet.
Isn’t nature just amazing?
Basic Shoe Terminology
- Toe Box – The part of the shoe at the front forming the space where the toes sit.
- Toe Wrap – On some shoes there is material which runs around the front of the shoe from each side. Often this can be formed as an integral part of the shoe.
- Toe Spring – the front edge of the shoe often sits above the main sole that rests on the ground. This upward curve of the shoe body into the front toe area is called the toe spring. It is often pronounced on running shoes.
- Flex Point – the part of the shoe where there may be a thinning in thickness of the upstand to the floor of the shoe which is designed to encourage the shoe to flex at this point.
- Sole – this is the treaded bottom of the shoe which provides traction and is sometimes anti-slip or has deeper treads for trail shoes. The thickness of the sole as well as materials it is made from will determine flexibility of the shoe generally.
- Midsole – The section of shoe between the sole and the footbed on which your foot sits. This section is where better quality walking shoes will have material added for cushioning or spring or to provide shock absorption hidden within the shoe.
- Footbed – Often a shaped piece of the shoe which sits on top of the footbed onto which shoe insoles are affixed.
- Insoles – material added to the inside surface at the bottom of the shoe which alter the angle at which the foot sits. If the body of the shoe is not specifically shaped then shoe inserts can provide the shape needed by people whose feet tilt to the outside or inside to correct the gait.
- Heel – this important part of the shoe is typically provided with extra padding and height, especially in running shoes, to form a height difference between the front of the foot and heel which is called the drop.
- Flared Heel – A flared heel is where the heel section of the shoe is widened to provide additional stability for runners. Walking shoes may also have flares but much less pronounced and very often none at all.
- Drop – the distance in height between where the heel sits and where the ball of the foot sits when inside the shoe.
- Heel Counter – the back part of the heel, often thickened to provide additional rigidity to enable the shoe to keep shape and to protect the Achilles. Of particular interest to parents when their kids refuse to put their shoes on properly and bust the backs of their shoes. Before our PC society, no doubt, the cause of many a thick ear.
- Heel Collar – The cushioned top edge of the heel to help avoid blisters on the heel part and often notched to allow the Achilles tendon space with an Achilles notch.
- Tongue – The insert to the shoe under the open part beneath the laces providing protection to the foot instep.
- Uppers – The material across the top of the shoe above the sole. Nowadays often in open weave materials to allow the foot to breath and make it more lightweight as well as more comfortable and flexible compared to the more rigid materials used in times gone past.
- Sockliner – the foam or other material lining the back part of the shoe from just behind the middle of the foot, around the heel and back the other side.
- Last – the template for the shoe in three dimensions by which I mean that the last may be flat or may be made in a slight curve to aid support. The three dimensional last is used to model the shoe and typically nowadays are made using CAD and three dimensional modelling.
- Rollbar – a strengthened reinforcement provided to the middle of the heel to resist roll to the inside or outside of the foot. It keeps the foot more stable and assists users with mild overpronation as well as underpronation and equally suited to normal foot types. Basically this provides what is commonly referred to as motion control.
- Midsole Stability Devices – EVA is a cell structured foam of various rigidities used for the cushioning and comfort between the sole and footbed into which gel, air or other components to enhance cushioning are inserted. Often a shoe may have more rigid inserts added under the foot arch area to restrict twisting and deformation in order to increase arch support. These are the midsole stability devices.
- Medial Post – Similar to midsole devices that strengthen and provide rigidity to the foot arch, medial posts are similarly more rigid pieces of material but inserted in midsole toward inside edge of the foot. The additional rigidity helps to stop the foot pronating quite so much and help over-pronators. Typically they are visible by color and run from the heel area to near the where the ball of your foot would sit. Shoes with these are labelled motion control
Walking Shoe Types
Motion Control Shoes
These are usually built with a straight last with strengtheners such as medial posts which help support the inside of the foot to reduce overpronation by providing support to reduce the amount your foot rolls to the inside as you step. They are typically made using a curved last.
Motion Control Shoes are:
- More Rigid, so less flexible than normal shoes
- Heavier because of the weight of the strengthening devices used
- Use a wider or flared sole to increase rotational stability
- Have a rigid medial post
Motion Control Shoes are most suited to:
- Significantly overweight walkers
- People with moderate to severe overpronation
- People with flat feet or low arches
Stability shoes may have midsole stability devices and may have some form of medial post support as well but both of these supporting structures will be much less pronounced than in the Motion Control shoe. Stability shoes have additional midsole cushioning for comfort and are flexible compared to Motion Control Shoes. Built on a slightly curved last to provide arch support.
Stability Shoes are:
- Balanced between cushioning and support
- More flexible medial posts and rollbars to prevent overcompensation
- Additional midsole cushioning to the arch to provide support
Stability Shoes are most suited to:
- Fast walkers and runners with medium arches
- Fast walkers and runners who are mild to moderate pronators
- Walkers who walk long distances at one time and therefore better support (but not those with a lot of overpronation)
Cushioned shoes are built to provide extra cushioning and improved shock absorption. They are much more flexible with little to no medial post support and any rollbar or midsole stability devices will be typically less rigid.
Cushioned Shoes are:
- More flexible generally than Motion Control or Stability Shoes
- Softer and cushioned midsoles to provide a ‘walking on air’ type feeling
- Less medial support
Cushioned shoes are most suited to:
- People who have high arches (depending on the shape of the cushioning)
- People who walk for exercise at a moderate pace for comfort (Unless cushioning is specially for under-pronators)
- People walking or standing for a long period of time