Exercise Shoes Guide: Barefoot Shoes vs. Toning Shoes vs. Running Shoes or Activity Specific Shoes

Wearing the right exercise shoes can help you burn more fat and calories, improve performance, tone up faster, and prevent painful injuries.

Wearing the wrong can ruin your exercise technique which in turn slows down progress and increases your risk of injury.  This quick guide will help you choose between barefoot shoes, toning shoes, running shoes or no shoes.  You can also check out tips for finding perfect fitting shoes and improving the life of your shoes too.

Is The Barefoot Shoes Trend Right for You?

Who is this trend for: This trend is for runners and fitness enthusiasts who like to train outdoors without shoes and for those who feel that too much support weakens the feet and contributes to injuries.
Why you might want to try it: According to experts barefoot shoes decrease impact by causing you to land on the whole foot instead of the heel. They can shorten your stride which has been found to prevent shin splints. They also allow the feet to work the way they were designed which strengthens the feet and can prevent running injuries .  

What are your options:  Vibram FiveFingers which make you look like you have monkey feet, are the original barefoot shoe but now all the big name brands have barefoot shoes including Nike, Adidas, New Balance and Merrell Barefoot Shoes. Other great brands are Vivo, Newton and Inov-8 Trail Running Shoe  (pic above) which are the minimalist shoes I've been hiking and walking in since 2006 and love them. 

How to get started: If you're transitioning from a more supportive shoe be sure to make the switch to barefoot shoes gradual. This way you allow your foot muscles to build strength slowly. Your foot muscles are just like all the other muscles in your body and they need time to adjust. The rest of your body may also need time to adjust since wearing barefoot shoes will completely change your posture when you run or train.
When to skip this trend: Barefoot shoes may not be a good fit for people with serious foot problems, knee and hip injuries. They do not correct muscles imbalances and could result in additional imbalances and inflammation. When in doubt consult a physical therapist or corrective exercise expert for advice. 

Do Toning Shoes Really Work? is a question I've been asked a lot!

Who is this trend for: Toning shoes are for people who want to improve their posture as well as strengthen the entire posterior chain from the calves all the way to the glutes, core and upper back.
Why you might want to try it: Even though there is no scientific proof to back up the claims that toning shoe companies make, researcher found that wearing toning shoes motivates some people to be more active so if you're a couch potato and wearing a toning shoe will get you moving then go ahead and buy a pair. 

What are your options: Toning shoes come in all shapes and styles but the best ones in this category are Reebok Easytone.  Other options in this category include Sketchers and Merrell which are both more bulky and not as stylish looking as the Reeboks. There is also FitFlop which offers toning boots, sandals, and clogs.

When to skip this trend: These exercise shoes are very pricey so if your only reason for buying them is to help you "tone up" faster then skip them. "Toning shoes appear to promise a quick-and-easy fitness solution, which we realize people are always looking for, unfortunately, these shoes do not deliver the fitness or muscle-toning benefits they claim. says ACE chief science officer Cedric X. Bryant, PhD.
How to get started: The best way to get started with these exercise shoes is to try on as many brands as you can find because some brands are heavier and less stable than others it's important to find one that feels good and does not cause you to lose your balance.

Should You Stick with Running Shoes or Other Athletic Shoes?

Running shoes are a great option for anybody looking to burn serious fat and calories, tone up, improve performance and prevent injuries.  You can find running shoes with various types of support and cushioning so they are more versatile than other types of exercise shoes and can be used for all types of workouts.  If you're only going to buy 1 pair of shoes for workouts consider your primary activities. 

Your preferred style of workouts should determine the type of shoes you need. If you're a group fitness or fitness dvd lover, or enjoy step aerobics, kickboxing, and other high impact workouts, you need a shoe that's going to support high impact activity and accommodate a lot of lateral movement. Look for an aerobics shoe with great forefoot cushioning, good shock absorption and stability.

If you're a strength training and cardio equipment lover, who occasionally tries other activities like walking, or court sports, you need a good crosstrainer that is lightweight, durable, and offers moderate cushioning and stability.

If you're an athletic girl who likes running, jumping, boot camp, crossfit, athletic training, or working with a trainer, you need a cushiony running shoe that supports explosive plyometric movements, heavy pounding, and stop-start activity.

If you enjoy walking, hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities a hybrid walking shoe with excellent roll through and ankle support is your best option.

More Workout Shoe Tips

Get A Stride Assessment for A Perfect Fit
With so many exercise shoes available it's difficult to find one that feels just right but you can narrow it down to a couple if you have your foot strike analyzed. Go to a specialty running store where you can have it done for free. You will be asked to walk or run barefoot on a treadmill for a few minutes while your feet are videotaped.

The sales person will then play back the video and you will see exactly what your foot is doing every time you strike the ground. You will also be measured for your correct size, width, and to see how flexible your feet are. This all determines how much motion control and cushioning you need. **The shoes in specialty stores do tend to be more expensive but you don't have to buy them there.

Replace Insoles in Your Workout Shoes
Ever taken the insole out of a new pair of exercise shoes? It's a nicely covered piece of cardboard that offers no support or cushioning. Most people think that insoles are just another way for sales people to boost their sales commissions but in reality they do extend the life of your shoe and they offer extra support if you have high arches.

There are many types but most fall into two categories 1. soft arch supports and 2. orthotic type insoles (non-prescribed). If you have foot issues go with the orthotic type. If you just need extra support go with softer ones.

Wear Good Workout Socks to Boost Results
If you're goal is basic fitness stick with cotton blends. For high sweat activities like running, crossfit, boot camps and high impact aerobics stick with cool max or acrylic socks. Some folks can't justify the cost of specialty socks with some pairs starting at $12 but wearing the wrong workout socks for hard workouts can cause blisters, friction burns, athletes foot, and stinky feet.

Wearing the right socks can prevent annoying foot issues plus the extra padding keeps your feet from getting fatigued which means better performance and better results from your workouts.

Replace Workout Shoes Based on Wear Patterns
The best way to extend the life of your exercise shoes is to rotate through several pairs. If you use your exercise shoes 4-5 days a week and rotate between 2 or 3 pair of shoes you can expect to replace shoes every 7 months. If you use the same pair daily you need to replace them every 4-5 months depending on how rough you are on your shoes.

Remember that tread is often not the best indicator of how worn your shoes are. You also need to consider the mileage and hours you put on them. Crosstrainers and aerobics shoes should be replaced every 100 hours, running shoes every 400-500 miles, and walking shoes every 500 miles.