Long gone are the days of commuting and running errands in uncomfortable heels or flats that pinch your toes. Athleisure sneakers have taken over the streets—and the runways.
And the uber-stylish, yet comfortable footwear has won over the hearts of thankful walkers everywhere. Whether you prefer the Adidas Stan Smith or are loyal to classic Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars, you probably wear your trusty athleisure sneaks everywhere from the grocery store to the playground with your kids, and even to the airport to catch a flight.
But, you might be wondering, can you also exercise in athleisure sneakers when you forget your usual gym shoes? They are still sneakers, after all. Right?
Here’s what you need to know about your favorite athleisure sneakers and why podiatrists say you might want to keep them on-hand for errands and stick with your usual gym shoe when you work out.
Fitness vs. Athleisure Sneakers
A bit of history: Leather sneakers like Stan Smiths have been around since the 1970s when they were initially a competitive tennis shoe. Their namesake, Stan Smith, reportedly won two Grand Single titles playing in them.
Times changed, however, as sports shoe technology evolved and tennis courts switched from clay to harder surfaces. Brands like Nike added lateral support that allowed athletes to move from side-to-side. Most importantly, trainers became higher in the back to support the heel and ankle.
“Sneakers like Stan Smiths provided just enough extra traction to slide into the shot on clay tennis courts, but not enough on hard surface courts,” says Dr. Suzanne Levine, D.P.M., R.P.T. in New York City. “But, they are problematic to wear for other [fitness] uses, and even while playing tennis. Athletic wear is now much more high tech for many reasons.”
Luckily athleisure sneakers didn’t disappear from history. They’ve been having a major fashion moment for the last decade. But, keep in mind, while they may look stylish, athleisure sneakers don’t have all the bells and whistles of the regular gym shoes and cross trainers you’ll find on sale today.
“You need good arch support for an exercise shoe,” explains Dr. Yolanda Ragland, D.P.M. and founder of Fix Your Feet in New York City. “The Stan Smiths could be a good basketball, tennis, or racquetball shoe, but keep in mind that they don’t give you ankle support. And it’s not a gym shoe, fit for running, hiking, the [stair climber], or step class.”
What to Look for in an Exercise Shoe
Dr. Levine says that the best type of fitness footwear depends on the type of workout you’re planning to do. “Running and weightlifting shoes are on opposite ends of the footwear spectrum,” she says.
“What your foot is doing during your workouts, it is very different based on whatever that exercise is. The shoe must fit the activity, as well as your foot. And, that’s what tailored, high-tech athletic footwear does.
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It supports whatever is happening to the foot and ankle during that specific activity. It must also minimize stress on your knees, hips, spine, head, and basically your whole body.”
Here’s what Dr. Levine says to keep in mind for each type of workout:
- High-impact activities like running: You need more padding and soft, compressible soles to absorb impact. Also, look for heavy arch support and cushioning. That adds more comfort during long distance runs when you need lots of shock absorption. A raised toe facilitates forefoot mobility when pushing forward off your forefoot and toes.
- Basketball: You need increased stability for the ankle. Basketball shoes usually have higher tops. This reduces the chance of lateral ankle sprain.
- Weightlifting: This activity requires the feet to have a strong and stable base. This allows the heels and midfoot to drive into the floor to make the glutes and hamstrings work more efficiently. Look for hard, non-compressible soles, proper fit, good traction, and a raised heel. It allows you to squat deeply by reducing ankle mobility.
Stylish Footwear for the Gym
While your day-to-day athleisure sneakers might offer enough support for your fitness pursuits, Dr. Ragland says that there are plenty of cross trainers today that are both stylish for the street and safe for the gym. They’ll allow you to perform a number of activities like lifting weights, the elliptical, stationary bike, and most fitness classes without issue.
“When shopping for hybrid sneakers, I recommend seeking out shoes with good shock absorption,” she says. “Also look for a shoe with a wide and high toe box, so [that] your toes can spread out and maintain stability.”
Your exercise shoes don’t have to lack in the trendy or colorful department, but be sure to prioritize the appropriate support for your fitness activity of choice. Besides, two pairs of shoes are better than one.
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