As recently as thirty-five years ago, athletic shoes consisted of just a few shoes that were used for a wide variety of athletic events. There were a few tennis and basketball shoes. There were no shoes marketed specifically as walking shoes. Aerobics or fitness shoes were nonexistent. Running shoes only amounted to a few in number.
However, in today's athletic shoe stores, the number of brands and styles of shoes for all types of sports is staggering. There are shoes made specifically for wrestling, rock climbing and windsurfing in addition to the more common sports such as running, basketball, tennis, racquetball, aerobic dance and walking. In the running shoe market alone, there are nine major shoe manufacturers with each manufacturer having about five to ten running shoe models within their line. Even though the increased selection of shoes increases the possibility of finding just the right shoe for each set of feet, the large selection of models creates a large degree of confusion among the consumer.
It is actually this diversity and complexity within athletic shoes that is their most interesting aspect. Shoes that have different shapes, are made of different materials, and which are put together by different construction methods all will function on the foot differently. The purpose of this article is to explain the major structural differences between the three broadest categories of athletic shoes (i.e. running shoes, court shoes and fitness shoes) so that their functional differences may be better appreciated.
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As all runners know, running begins with a good foundation. And where do we find that foundation? At the ground level where the rubber meets the road.
In other words, your shoes, the pieces of leather and rubber that separate your feet from the hard concrete of the road.
Let's look at the anatomy of a running shoe, and the four sections of the shoe that make it complete.
The uppers of the shoe may be made of leather or, for the lighter shoes, a synthetic which is lighter, washable and breathable (to reduce heat from the foot). Another component of the upper is the tongue of the shoe, which should be padded in order to cushion the top of the foot against lace pressure. At the back of the shoe, the ankle collar should also be padded to prevent rubbing and irritation of the Achilles tendon.
The outersole of the shoe is the treaded layer which is glued to the bottom of the midsole. It resists wear, provides traction, and absorbs shock. This is probably the most important layer for the "street fighter" or road runner. The outer sole usually consists of blown rubber, hard carbon rubber, or a combination. The blown rubber is the lightest, but is not durable as pure carbon. The stud or waffle outersoles are excellent for running on soft surfaces such as grass or dirt as they improve traction and stability. On the flip side, the ripple sole is better designed for running on asphalt or concrete surfaces.
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