You may not give it much thought, but over the past decade, the “technology” behind shoes has developed exponentially. The shoes athletes used to wear as recently as the ‘90s are now considered dated–not necessarily in looks, but in design.
The athletic shoes of the past don’t offer anywhere near the same support and protection as the athletic shoes of today. Today, many hours go into the design of an athletic shoe to ensure that it is both comfortable and safe.
In order for an athletic shoe to hit the market, it has to offer a certain level of protection and cushion to keep athletes and their joints moving for longer by helping to soften the harsh shock caused by running and jumping. However, while all athletic shoes need to meet certain standards, there are many different types of athletic shoes that you might be choosing from.
Here’s a look at some of the most popular types of athletic shoes, and an overview of how they’re designed.
Going for a run? Don’t even think about leaving without a good pair of running shoes on your feet! Running shoes are designed with an extra layer (or three) of cushion and support to help keep the joints of joggers and runners protected from the repeated shock of hitting the ground at full speed.
Running shoes also come in a variety of different sizes, styles, and colors. A thousands brands make their own running shoes, but the best choices come down to shock absorption, not looks.
Maybe running isn’t your thing, but walking may be. Walking shoes don’t need to absorb as much shock as running shoes do. Instead, the design of a walking shoe is focused on keeping your feet comfortable even after a long day on the side walk.
A walking shoe will also be specially design to help protect your feet and ankles against the blisters that can result from rubbing and pinching. Walking shoes are made to fit correctly in order to support your arches and provide cushion for your legs all day long.
You better not be hitting the court without a pair of basketball shoes on your feet. Similar to running shoes, basketball shoes need to offer a certain level of shock absorption to keep your joints protected from the running and jumping you’ll be doing while competing.
Basketball shoes also need specially designed soles for the court. This will keep them from slipping around on the otherwise slick flooring of a basketball court. It’s important that you wear proper athletic shoes on the court, not just for your joints, but also because most street shoes will mark up gym floors.
Often called “cross trainers”, training shoes are pretty much the go-to multi-function shoes athletes wear when they aren’t doing anything in particular. They’ll likely be your favorite pair if you head out to the gym regularly, or if you do exercises like weightlifting or aerobics that don’t have their own special shoes.
Training shoes are versatile. They offer a good amount of shock absorption making them suitable for some cardio training and treadmill workouts, but they also are comfortable enough to stay on your feet all day long, even as you leave the gym and go about your day.
They are pretty much the t-shirt of athletic footwear, and if you buy a pair, you’ll quickly find yourself in the habit of wearing them pretty much everywhere you go.
The spiked soles of football shoes limit them to the field, but they do their job very well. Football shoes are designed to give players the traction they need when running across grassy fields (that are often slick). The spikes dig into the turf to help them achieve a good speed without slipping up.
The shoe itself is also made to provide shock absorption for all of their running. However, since the ground is somewhat soft (compared to the pavement runners typically find themselves on), football shoes do not need as much shock absorption as some other athletic shoes. The ground itself helps to absorb some of the shock because it has some ‘give’ to it.
The cleats on a football shoe are longer than those on a baseball shoe to help with cuts and turns. When comparing a football cleat to another type of cleat (like those used in soccer or baseball), you’ll find that the leather is thicker. This is to help protect your feet when they’re stepped on by other players.
Football cleats come in three heights: high tops, mid cuts, and low cuts. Mobile positions will prefer high cuts (like offensive and defensive line players) while the mid cut is usually preferred by quarterbacks, running backs, and linebackers. Low cuts are made for positions that require speed (like safeties, wide receivers, and cornerbacks).
Similar to football shoes, baseball cleats have spiked soles to help players get a grip on the surface beneath them. They also offer protection and shock absorption to keep players comfortable and safe.
Typically, baseball cleats have a low-ankle design and are lace-ups with a short (or no) tongue.
Unlike football cleats, baseball cleats have a toe cleat in the front. This toe cleat helps dig into the dirt and allows baseball players to accelerate quickly. Because of the design of baseball cleats, they are not meant to come into contact with other players (which makes them unsuitable for soccer and football).
While different than both football and baseball cleats, you can wear soccer cleats in either of the above sports thanks to their versatile design.
If you’re playing soccer, you cannot wear a cleat that has a toe cleat (like a baseball or lacrosse shoe, for instance) because it simply isn’t safe. Because your shoe may come into contact with another player, a toe cleat will make it extremely dangerous.
Soccer cleats are lighter than both football and baseball cleats because soccer players will be constantly running, more so than players in the aforementioned sports will be. Additionally, soccer cleats always come in a low-cut design. And, the actual cleats are shorter than those found on baseball and football cleats because they are designed for agility and running.
Tennis shoes are designed for use on the court, but over the years, “sneakers” have become the go-to for everyday wear as well thanks to their comfort and simple style. However, if you’re planning on actually playing tennis, you’ll want to be certain that your tennis shoes are made for competition and not fashion.
Deciphering between “everyday” tennis shoes and actual athletic tennis shoes is pretty simple, just look at the design itself (and/or check the description). Athletic tennis shoes are usually mesh to allow your feet to breath while playing, and the design will be more focused on performance than showing off your kicks.
No climbing mountains without the right foot protection on! Hiking shoes are ideal for any sort of trail walking or climbing you intend to do. In addition to providing some shock absorption for your feet and joints, they also come in very comfortable designs that will keep you comfortable even for the toughest trails.
Hiking shoes typically are also designed to be waterproof, or at least water resistant. This will help keep your feet comfortable and dry even if you find yourself stepping into a puddle (or through a stream) while out and about. However, not all hiking shoes meet this criteria so read the description.
Some hiking shoes are made for warm-weather hikes. They are mesh and will let the air (and everything else) right through to your feet. That’s something to consider when choosing a pair.
Got plans to go to the pool? While you can easily go barefoot, many swimmers prefer to grab a pair of swimming shoes or “water socks” to protect their toes while they splash around.
Swimming shoes serve different purposes for different athletes. Rough-bottomed pools usually call for swimming shoes to help prevent you from scraping your feet. But, water shoes have a use that stretches out of the pool too.
In fact, most water shoes today are made for wet, rocky environments of all kinds. You might even take a pair with you if you’re going to be hiking in or around streams and waterfalls.
Before an athlete can head into the ring, they need to have the right protection from head to toe. Boxing shoes are made to keep boxers agile and up on their feet without slowing them down. They are usually flexible, lightweight, and come up past the ankle to help offer protection for kicking and take-downs.
Boxing shoes are almost always lace-ups and they range from low-profile to high up the calf depending on the style you’re looking at.
Looking to go dancing? You aren’t ready to show off your moves just yet. Dancers, like all other performers, need the right protection on their feet to ensure they can do their very best every time they step onto the stage.
Dance shoes come in a variety of options, and the design changes based on the style of a dance a person is participating in. For instance, ballet slippers obviously differ entirely from what a tap dancer wears.
However, in between these two, you can find dance shoes that are made for more general applications, like ballroom dancing. Dance shoes have different designs for both men and women, with men’s usually resembling typical dress shoes and women’s being usually having a very low-profile heel with a simple yet formal design.
Women can also find flat dance shoes without a heel, which are usually called “dance sneakers” instead.
There’s no wrong answer, it just depends on the dancer’s style and their own personal preference.
You probably know more now than you ever intended to about athletic shoes, but learning about the differences in design will help you with choosing the right athletic shoes for your sport or activity. By now, you know that the aren’t all the same. In fact, each type of athletic shoe is really quite different.
If you happen to be just looking for a reliable and protective shoe to get you in-and-out of the gym every week, training shoes are probably going to be your best bet. Otherwise, reference the guide above to help you decide which type of shoe is best for the activity you intend to pursue.