Choosing athletic footwear

This information contains advice about choosing the correct athletic footwear to reduce pain, and making sure your footwear has enough room for your insoles.  

A lot of research has been done to design athletic footwear that:

  • reduces the impact of the ground on your feet
  • helps your feet to work properly

Using athletic footwear for everyday walking helps most of our patients with foot problems.

There is a wide range of trainers available for many different activities. We usually recommend athletic footwear. This improves your forward movement rather than, for example, the movement in many directions used for aerobics or squash.

Athletic footwear has different features, which can tailor the shoes to your individual foot type. For example, if you have flat feet, you can choose shoes that control pronation (the natural side-to-side movement of your feet as you walk or run). However, choosing the right type of shoes can be complicated. We recommend shoes that suit most people and tailor them with orthoses (special insoles), if necessary.

If you are not sure which shoes you need, you can go to a specialist athletic footwear shop. This is especially important if you plan to run in the shoes.

Is athletic footwear suitable for me?

Athletic footwear is suitable for most people, unless:

  • your balance is very poor
  • your feet turn in and cause you to trip when you walk

Features to look for in athletic footwear

Length and fit 

The foot stretches about 5mm between standing and walking. You should leave a thumb’s width between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. This helps your foot to work properly. Damage caused by short shoes is common and it might not be possible to reverse this.

Laces and mid-foot support

Ideally, your shoes should contain 6 or more eyelets (small round holes for threading laces). You can then adjust the shoe to fit your foot properly with the laces. This helps to give enough support around the middle of your foot. The material at the sides of the shoe should be stronger (reinforced) to stop the upper moving too much.

Stable midsole

It should be difficult to bend the shoe in the middle of the arch. The shoe should only bend from the ball of the foot forward.

Padding at the inside of the heel

This is important to hold the foot back in the shoe and make room for the toes.

Forefoot rocker

Athletic footwear has a rocker, which helps the toes to push forward as you walk. This is one of the main advantages of athletic footwear compared with other types of shoes.

Sole that is wider than the ball of your foot

Many shoes have a narrow sole that your foot overlaps. Good trainers are usually wider at the bottom.

Breathable upper

The strength of the shoe comes from all the supporting strips of material. This means that most of the upper should be a breathable mesh (although this may not be waterproof). Some materials, such as Gore-Tex, are waterproof and breathable. 

More information and support

Versus Arthritis is a UK charity providing information and support for people living with arthritis. You can read their information about foot and ankle pain

The Royal College of Podiatry have information for patients about different types of foot conditions.


Resource number: 4728/VER2
Date published: September 2022
Review date: September 2025

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the community foot health (podiatry) team.

Phone: 020 3049 7900, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Email: [email protected]

We aim to respond to emails within 2 working days. 

For emergencies outside of these hours, go to your nearest emergency department (A&E).

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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