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Selecting appropriate footwear is an integral part of exercising properly. It can mean continuing to participate in a favored activity without injury. It can also enhance the enjoyment of trying something new. Unfortunately, many fitness enthusiasts have stopped exercising because their shoe choice has become problematic via discomfort or injury.

“Shoes go by category of feet,” says Becky Joyce of Snyderman’s Shoes in Naples. “When you come in the door, we will figure out what category of foot you have, and then we will take you to the perfect type of shoe.”

Some exercise shoes, usually called cross-trainers, are multi-sport appropriate. But the proper shoes for running won’t work well on an indoor or outdoor basketball court. Playing pickleball is best while wearing heavier court shoes with maximum stability but while maintaining comfort. A lightweight running shoe could result in major problems if worn while planning tennis.

Generally, workout shoes keep feet supported for multi-directional movements and protected during high-impact activities. Features to look for depend on the type of exercise. 

“We always condone using a shoe for exactly how it is supposed to be used,” says Joyce. “We will never sell a court shoe to a runner or a runner a court shoe.”

“Normally, when most people come in they’re having trouble with their feet,” says Grady Smith of Peltz Shoes in Fort Myers. “Are you pronating or do you have a high arch? Are you flat-footed? That’s what we take into account. Most people who come in know what brand they’re looking for. We get them into the right type.”

Much has changed since 1885 when men’s lightweight leather shoes with bottom spikes—the first exercise footwear—were used for cross-country running in England. Rubber soles paved the way for brands such as Converse (1908) and Keds (1917). A sibling rivalry between German brothers Adi and Rudolf Dassler was the impetus for the latter to form Puma in 1948 and the former to start Adidas a year later in the siblings’ hometown of Herzogenaurach.

Fast-forward and most well-known brands, Asics to Nike, are now worn for fitness and fashion. But those brands have serious challengers, including two newer companies and an always-updating icon. 

Converse, the largest-selling athletic shoe brand in history, introduced Chuck Taylor All-Star signature “Chucks” models in 1917 as basketball shoes. Black and white hightops and low-tops still reign as active daily footwear. But fashion and branded models abound—flower prints and stripes to a Grateful Dead theme. Chucks are favored by powerlifters and skateboarders; the shoes have flat bottoms.

Taylor, a semipro basketball player, was a jovial salesman who improved the brand and knew how to market the rubber and canvas style with metal eyelets. Converse has been owned by Nike since 2003. 

With converts and endorsements from deceased rebel-icon actor James Dean to “Big Bang Theory” icon Leonard Hofstadter, more than one billion pairs of Converse have sold. 

With similar meteoric success, Allbirds started in 2016 with a Kickstarter program. The brand has catapulted to a vastly popular multimillion-dollar presence and a recent public offering. 

Founder Tim Brown, an elite-level New Zealand soccer player, made leather shoes for his friends. While appreciative of his early success, Brown learned his custom creations weren’t sufficiently comfortable. He acquired a grant from the wool industry and became business partners with Joey Zwillinger, an engineer and renewables expert. Allbirds was born and named after New Zealand’s unique status: a country with few land mammals.

Comfortable and made with sustainable materials, Allbirds were originally geared to casual wear. The minimalist brand is now available for men and women as daily sneakers, running shoes, fashionable slip-ons and low and high tops. Some fanciers claim they’re the only shoes they can wear without socks.

Caspar Coppetti, Olivier Bernhard and David Allemann, friends in Switzerland, decided in 2010 to make a better running shoe. The result is On. The company’s motto: “Soft landings followed by explosive take-offs.” In other words, “running on clouds.”

Today, On running shoes, named after early testers who said, “Wow, that feels different. It’s like being switched on,” are available in more than 55 countries and more than 6,500 retail stores. On shoes are now offered in styles specific to trail and ultra-distance running and for outdoor court sports.

In 2020, On announced shoes made from castor beans. The style is available only via subscription. When a replacement pair is needed, the worn pair can be mailed in for a new pair. The process is repeatable, which is also a welcomed component of exercise.  

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