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Spring 2011 Sneaker Guide: The Best Shoes for Every Workout

Find the best shoes for every workout, including walking, hiking, cycling, tennis, and cross-training sneakers.

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David Lawrence
David Lawrence
David Lawrence
David Lawrence
Ryka Transition
David Lawrence
David Lawrence
David Lawrence
David Lawrence
David Lawrence
David Lawrence
David Lawrence
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The Best Walking Shoes: Ecco Biom Walk

For strollers and power striders—solid arch support, extra forefoot flex

Designed with a high-performance foam midsole and a rounded heel to encourage the natural motion of barefoot walking, these "nice and light" sneakers "feel like they were made for your feet" and are "the perfect weight for walking." Because the shoes feature an extra-breathable mesh upper, your feet "never get hot or sweaty," so you "can wear them for hours and hours." ($175, eccousa.com)

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The Best Walking Shoes Runner-Up: Asics Gel-Tech Walker Neo 2

"The cushioning feels wonderful!" in this standout walking shoe, striders gush, thanks to gel pockets in the heel and forefoot. "No-slip" memory foam in the heel and an asymmetrical lacing system deliver the "perfect fit"; there is even strategically placed flexibility fabric in the big toe's bunion zone. The shock-absorbing foam midsole helps "keep knees and ankles from getting fatigued," and the guidance system nudges you to stride straighter. ($100, asicsamerica.com for stores)

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The Best Hiking Shoes: Ecco Boulder GTX

For day-trippers who hit park paths or rolling hills

These "sleek, sporty," waterproof shoes "feel secure on both rocky and slippery slopes," testers say, with rugged rubber outsoles and "excellent traction." The shoe's cozy lining "maintains great breathability," so you won't get a case of hotfoot. The lightweight foam midsole "provides good stability" and "cushioning that's just right": It's "supportive without being rigid" and "solid enough to feel like a hiking shoe, without the weight." ($140, eccousa.com)

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The Best Hiking Shoes Runner-Up: Keen Alamosa

Stay "stable and sure-footed on the most uneven trails" with help from the multidirectional lugs on the bottoms of these waterproof, leather-and-mesh hikers. "No rubbing, slipping, blisters, or irritation," testers say. The dual-density foam midsole offers "just the right amount of bounce-back without being too stiff or soft," and the rubber toe guard may tempt you to "kick rocks just for the heck of it." ($100, keenfootwear.com)

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The Best Cross-Training Shoes: Ryka Transition

Extra side-to-side support for gym-class devotees

These "lightweight and breathable" trainers "keep feet from getting soaked with sweat during boot camp," our class-happy testers say. The low-profile shoes provide solid lateral stability through the heel and midfoot, and their compression-foam midsole supplies "excellent cushioning for plyometrics." The diamond-shaped treads help feet "stick to the floor," plus the mostly mesh upper "wraps around your foot" for a snug fit. ($70, ryka.com)

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The Best Cross-Training Shoes Runner-Up: Nike Free TR Fit

Working out in this trainer is "like wearing slippers to the gym." "It's shocking that such a lightweight shoe can soak up so much impact," testers marvel. Multidirectional flex grooves on the tread let your feet move more naturally from side to side and front to back, and the airy mesh upper is constructed from one piece of fabric, helping create "unreal flexibility." Rubber pods on the heel and forefoot improve traction on studio floors, too. ($85, nike.com)

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The Best Tennis Shoes: Adidas Barricade Adilibria

Low-profile, court-hugging styles to raise your game

Flip these "cushy" tennies and you'll find wavy flex grooves on the tread that are designed to grip the court during multidirectional movements, making it "very comfortable to move side to side." Testers appreciated the added stability under the forefoot, which "prevented feet from rolling over during quick changes of direction and stops," as well as the rubber toe guard, which "helps stop shoes from wearing out due to post-serve toe drag." ($125, shopadidas.com)

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The Best Tennis Shoes Runner-Up: K-Swiss Bigshot

These shoes have "excellent lateral support, which helps with pushing off for bursts of speed," testers say. Plus the treads deliver great traction, so you "don't slip while doing fast movements" during your match. The sneaks are designed with a special plate in the midfoot that is meant to propel you forward and encourage you to play on the balls of your feet. Another nice touch: "divots in the laces to help keep your shoes tied tight." ($120, kswiss.com)

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The Best Cycling Shoes: Specialized Spirita Touring

For bikers or Spinners who want the pedaling boost of clip-in shoes

"Excellent for Spinning," this pair of women's-specific shoes provides "an efficient shoe-to-pedal connection" while you ride. Its stiff, injection-molded plate "holds your foot steady" as you stroke, allowing "better ankle alignment." And when it's time to dismount and towel off, the sturdy rubberized outsole is "great for off-the-bike stability." Plus "the mesh venting in the synthetic upper keeps your feet happy," while the three-strap Velcro closure helps "hug the shoe to your foot." ($90, specialized.com)

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The Best Cycling Shoes Runner-Up: Shimano SH-WM50

Testers agree: These off-road cycling shoes "look good, feel good, and perform great." The soles are "stiff enough for great power transfer," and rubber treads mean "comfortable walking off the bike." The breathable synthetic leather upper is "not too heavy," and the strap enclosure system "makes it easy to adjust your fit when you're sweaty from Spinning so hard." ($99, bike.shimano.com for stores)

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How to Choose the Perfect Athletic Shoe for You

Knowledgeable sales clerks in short supply? Save this checklist from Brian Pederson, a sneaker pro at Dick's Sporting Goods in Tigard, Oregon, to achieve shoe love.

1. Zero in on the right aisle
For walking sneakers, look for a rounded heel. "They usually have a more beveled heel than running shoes to help with the heel-to-toe push-off of walking," Pederson says. However, if you do a combination of walking and jogging, you're better off with running-specific sneakers, he says.

For running shoes, check the color of the foam on the side. Generally, the more gray-tinted foam there is near the arch of a sneaker, the more motion support the shoe offers, Pederson says. "If you have flat feet or need more control, pick shoes with more gray color blocking." If you have high arches and need extra cushioning, pick gray-free ones.

For trail runners, steer clear of white shoes. Trail sneakers mostly come in gray and dark colors and have knobbier treads than their on-road cousins. "If you jog on any ground looser than easy paths, you should think about upgrading to the traction of a trail-running shoe," Pederson says.

For cross-trainers, inspect the treads. Unlike the waffle-pattern outsoles on running shoes, many trainers have a bull's-eye-like spot under the ball of the foot that helps with pivoting and certain tread patterns that grip the floor better for side-to-side motion. Running shoes work fine on cardio machines, but if most of your gym time is spent in classes, opt for cross-trainers.

2. Hit the sizing sweet spot
In walking or running shoes, your toes should be a thumb's width away from the tip of the sneaker.

Cross-trainers should fit more snugly, with your toes as close to the tip as possible without feeling scrunched.

3. Go for a joy ride
Take your top three choices for a lap around the store and test whether the arch support is such that no noticeable rubbing occurs. Then try these mini drills to determine a winner.

For running shoes, do a squat test: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your arms by your sides, and lower into a squat, keeping your knees behind your toes. If your feet turn in as you squat, you could use a shoe with more stability, Pederson says. Check for a style that has a larger gray color block and repeat the test.

For cross-trainers, squat, lunge, and cut from side to side to see if you overpronate or feel unstable.

4. Choose comfort over cute
"Athletic shoes should be comfortable the instant you put them on," Pederson says. "The shoe doesn't adjust to feel better over time; your body does," he adds. Plus, a wrong fit can cause problems or more pain in the long run. Got that, Cinderella?

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2011.

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