Walking Shoe Guide: Are Your Shoes Flexible Enough?

Twist Them and Bend Them or Toss Them

Shoe Flexing in Forefoot
Shoe Flexing in Forefoot. Westend61/Getty Images

Walking is a natural rolling motion from heel to toe, with your foot bending at the ball on each step. If your walking shoes are not flexible enough, your ankle and shin muscles end up fighting your shoes. You can end up with tired and sore feet and shins, as well as setting yourself up for an injury.

Many shoes marketed as walking shoes are not flexible at all. They are built for comfort and stability and not for brisk fitness walking.

Most running shoes are flexible, but may not bend in the right place for a walking step vs. a running step. Comfort shoes may have the same pitfalls and be either too stiff or too unstructured.

How to Tell if a Shoe Has the Right Flexibility for Fitness Walking

  • Twist them: Grab the shoe with both hands and twist in opposite directions. It should twist a little. If you can twist it completely into a spiral, the shoe is too flexible for longer distance walking.
  • Bend them: Try to bend the shoe in half, pushing the heel towards the toe. The shoe should bend at the ball of the foot. Some running shoes bend in the middle of the arch, which is not the right place for walkers. If you can bend it completely in half very easily, it is a shoe you should wear only for shorter workouts of an hour or less.
  • Poke them: Place the shoe on a level surface. Poke the toe down. The heel should rise up off the surface. This natural curvature will help you roll through the step.

    Is There Such a Thing as a Too-Flexible Shoe?

    The recent trend towards minimalist shoes and barefoot walking shoes can take flexibility too far. If you walk for more than 30 minutes at a time, you may need more support than an ultra-flexible minimalist shoe can provide. Too little support can also lead to injury such as plantar fasciitis.

    This is especially true for older walkers whose feet are losing their natural flexibility and cushioning and need a shoe that will protect them a little better.

    Other Things to Look For in a Fitness Walking Shoe

    • Low Heel: Walking shoes should not have a high heel, it should be no more than an inch higher than the sole under the ball of the foot. Some shoe companies have begun to list the heel drop measurement. Standard running shoes had heel drops in the range of 10-14 mm. Look for a lower number, from zero to 10 mm. But also be careful that you are not buying shoes that are too minimalist in support and cushioning.
    • No Flare: Some shoes have a flared heel to give running stability. Avoid this for walking shoes, as walkers strike with the heel and ideally, the heel would be undercut (shaved off at the end) rather than flared. Less of a heel will help you roll through a step.

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