The 4Fs of Proper Footwear

Function, Form, Fit, and Feel

John Faith

John is an avid active lifestyle enthusiast who among his accomplishments has completed several Ironmans and now simply enjoys being active!

Back in 1979, I was working for the Department of the Navy, and had the opportunity to travel to San Diego, where I spent most of that summer.  I can’t say I remember much about the work, other than it was mind-numbing, but experiencing the southern California lifestyle for the first time was eye opening (check out the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club website: www.ombac.org, and, specifically, the OMBAC Over the Line Tournament).  I’d begun running only a couple years before the trip, and was still very new to the running lifestyle.

I’d settled down in my seat, when not long after my seat mate arrived.  We began the typical verbal “airline tango” trying to get a sense of whether it was going to be a trip where we engaged with each other, or drifted quietly into our own spaces.

We quickly discovered we were both runners – common ground! – and swapped the standard lies all runners share: injuries, PR’s, favorite venues.  All of a sudden, in the middle of a thought, I burst out laughing.

She asked why, and I said, “If anyone had told me not too long ago I’d be having a conversation with a complete stranger and used the words ‘nipples, crotches, and Vaseline’ in the same sentence, I’d have said they were crazy.”  “Yeah, we runners – we’re different!” was her smiling reply.

True enough, but we *are,* in fact, all different.  Runners are a different breed, no doubt, but so too are walkers… and bowlers, and skeet shooters, and… the list goes on.  One thing we *all* need, however, is proper footwear.  “Proper,” in the Metro Run & Walk context, means appropriate from four perspectives: the “4F’s” that we use at MRW to fit you (and as a draftee from the Vietnam era, ‘4F’ has a whole different connotation for me!): Function, Form, Fit, and Feel.

Function

What will you be using your shoes for?  (I know, never use a preposition to end a sentence with!)  The shoes we sell at MRW are mainly used for running and/or walking, but we also carry a selection of cross trainers and support sandals and casual footwear in addition to our running/walking shoes.

If you think about it, running/walking shoes are designed for forward movement activities, such as running and walking.  That said, virtually any activities done in the front/back “vertical plane” can be done in a running shoe: running, walking, Stairmaster, elliptical, NordicTrac, squats, lunges, weightlifting, etc.  We constantly admonish our customers NOT to use the footwear we sell for any type of activities involving vigorous lateral movement, e.g., basketball, racquetball, high-energy aerobic dance, and tennis, as the shoes we sell have limited lateral stability, and you run the risk of a turned ankle or damage to the shoe.

Form

Do you over- or under-pronate, and to what degree?  Very generally, over-pronation is when your ankles tend to roll inward and your arch collapses during the walking/running motion.  Under-pronation, or supination, is the opposite – your ankles tend to roll outward as you walk or run.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronation_of_the_foot

When you come into the store to be fitted, one of the things we typically do is the “gait assessment,” where we carefully watch you walk and jog, and perhaps squat to determine your degree of pronation.  This helps us determine the amount of built-in stability we feel you need in your new shoes.

You’ll hear us talk about “neutral” shoes, “stability” shoes, and “motion control” shoes.  Generally, neutral shoes are appropriate for the neutral foot – the foot that doesn’t over- or under-pronate to a significant degree.  If you over-pronate, we’ll recommend a light or full stability shoe for moderate over-pronation, or a motion-control shoe for severe over-pronation.  Stability and motion control shoes have an inset on the medial, or inside, of the shoe under the arch to help resist the flattening of an over pronating foot as it goes through the “gait cycle.”  See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j4YRHf6Iyo

Fit

When is the last time you had your foot measured?  How old are you?  Why does that matter?  As we age, our feet may elongate and widen.  Dr. Steven Pribut, a podiatrist at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., estimates that some people over the age of 40 can gain half a shoe size every 10 years.   The following tips are from the National Institute of Aging Foot Care page http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/foot-care

Make Sure The Shoes Fit

Wearing comfortable shoes that fit well can prevent many foot problems. Here are some tips for making sure your shoes fit:

  • Shoe size may change as you age, so always have your feet measured before buying shoes. The best time to measure your feet is at the end of the day when your feet are largest.
  • Most of us have one foot that is larger than the other. Make sure your shoes fit your larger foot.
  • Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably into the widest part of the shoe.
  • Don’t buy shoes that feel too tight and hope they will stretch.
  • The upper part of the shoes should be made of a soft, flexible material.
  • Soles should give solid footing and not slip. Thick soles cushion your feet when walking on hard surfaces.
  • Low-heeled shoes are more comfortable, safer, and less damaging than high-heeled shoes.

So how well does the shoe fit your foot?  Once we determine the degree of stability and your measurements, we’ll bring out shoe we feel meets your needs for Function, Form, and Fit.  You’ll put on the shoe, and we’ll carefully check how your foot fits into the shoe, looking specifically at length and width, and ensuring the shape of the shoe matches the shape of your foot.  Once all this is done, and we’ve considered Function, Form, and Fit, we turn the process over to you.  We can tell from a technical perspective whether or not the shoe fits, but, obviously, we have no clue what it feels like on your foot!

Feel

How do the shoes feel?  I joke with my customers that this may be the most difficult part of the process, and in many ways, I’m NOT joking.  There are differences, some very subtle, some not so, in the way the different shoes are constructed, e.g., their materials, the positioning of the “overlays” (the non-mesh parts of the shoe that lend structure to the shoe), their cushioning technology.  All of these contribute to how the shoe feels to you.

Again, some simple tips from the National Institute of Aging Foot Care page:   http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/foot-care

  • Don’t buy shoes without trying them on first. Shoe sizes can vary depending on the kind, make, and style. For example, the size you wear for sneakers may not be the same size you need for dress shoes.
  • Walk in the shoes to make sure they feel right. The heel of the shoe should not slide up and down when you walk.
  • Choose a shoe that is shaped like your foot. Styles with high heels or pointed toes can hurt your feet.
  • Stand up when trying on shoes to make sure there is about 1/2 inch between your toe and the end of the shoe.

This part of the process can be daunting.  We get you so focused on your feet that choosing between a couple of different shoes can become overwhelming.  If I’ve waited on you and see you vacillating, I’ll ask a very simple question, “As you’re walking or running around the store or outside on the sidewalk comparing shoes, which one do you notice least on your feet?” To me, the best description of how a shoe feels is, “It feels as if I’m barefoot.”  The next best is, “It feels like I’m in my bedroom slippers.”  That least noticeable pair is generally the best one for you.

Finally, many customers come to me saying “My doctor (or my friend, or my spouse) says I need a pair of (fill in the name of a shoe brand here) shoes.  They said it’s the best shoe.”  Consider that no two people’s feet are the same, and, in reality, no two person’s feet are really the same.  What’s good for your doctor, friend, or spouse may not be (and probably isn’t) appropriate for you.  The real indicator of what’s best for you is your own sense of what feels best on your feet!

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