How Many Pairs of Fitness Shoes Do You Really Need?

Truly useful get-fit tips from our senior fitness editor
September 1, 2011

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Recently, I stood and surveyed my impressive pile of workout shoes. I have running shoes, walking shoes, court shoes (my old gym had a racquetball court), cross-trainers, cycling shoes; you get the picture. I’ve long wondered—and I know I’m not the only one, as several friends have voiced this same question—how many pairs of fitness shoes one truly needs.

I decided to pose the question to none less than Michael J. King, DPM, president of the American Podiatric Medical Association and a practicing podiatrist in Fall River, Mass. He didn’t hesitate.

“While it would be great if you could afford a different, activity-specific shoe for every sport you do, that’s a hard thing to recommend in today’s economy,” King points out. “And really, you don’t need to.” Basically, he told me, you can get away with having just two kinds of shoes for most sports and activities: a pair of running shoes and a pair of court shoes.

“Running shoes are light, soft, and more supportive and shock-absorbing than walking shoes,” he explains. “They work great for the gym, the treadmill, the elliptical trainer, walking…” In other words, pretty much anything that doesn’t take place on a court.

As an avid walker, I found this hard to wrap my head around. Running shoes are just as good for walking as walking shoes? Yep, King says. “In over 30 years in practice, I’ve found that people tend to do best in running shoes for most activities, including walking.”

Who am I to argue with 30 years of experience? Besides, I’ve long lamented the nerdy whiteness of most walking shoes, and being given license to ditch them for way-cooler-looking running shoes is a fit fashion revelation for me.

The one thing running shoes can’t (or shouldn’t) tackle, though, is court sports. Things like tennis, basketball, and racquetball involve lots of side-to-side motion. So, King says, “you need more stability in the base and a firmer sole for all of the directional moves.” In other words, you need a court shoe.

There’s one more reason to pare down: the environment. We earthlings use far more resources than our planet can handle, so anything we can do to cut back on the “must-haves” is a move in the right direction.

Question answered. Now, time to get out there and play!

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