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How to choose the right sports trainers

Jess Hart, manager at Which? Local-recommended Sweatshop in Teddington, explains why buying the right pair of sports trainers is about much more than choosing your favourite colour.

Runners exercising in the gym

Cross trainers or running shoes?

If you like gym classes or gentle walks, then cross-training shoes are ideal for these low-impact activities. There’s some support and cushioning. Most have a leather-mesh mix for the upper, so they’re more durable and waterproof, and a non-marking sole for indoor use.

For running, you’ll need specialised running shoes to absorb the shock when your feet hit the ground. They cushion and support feet against high impact exercise. They have more grip than cross-trainers and a light, mesh upper for breathability.

Which? member question

Trainer expert Jess Hart at Sweatshop in Teddington (Photograph: Gemma Day)

Our expert: Jess Hart

Which? Local forum user DHOULD asked: "How frequently should trainers be replaced?"

Jess says: "It can be hard to know when you've reached the 500-mile mark, which is when manufacturers recommend replacing trainers.

"So, look out for telltale signs of wear like loss of bounce or aches and pains in the knees and shinbones."

Got a question about sports shoes? Visit the forum

Get a gait assessment

Specialist sports shop staff are trained to examine the way your feet move when they're on the ground. Your 'gait', the three-dimensional, rotational movement of the foot, determines which shoes are most suitable.

Neutral gait

A small amount of inward rotation is described as a neutral gait. Trainers should provide cushioning.


Too much inward rotation is described as overpronation. Shoes with supportive posts on the inside edges or ‘motion control’ will correct this movement.


Very rarely, feet roll outward, called underpronation or supination. Stability or motion control shoes should be avoided in favour of a neutral trainer with plenty of cushioning.

Video: what happens at a gait assessment?

Tests you can do at home: wear patterns and the wet floor test

A gait assessment at a specialist sports shop is the best way to find out which trainers are right. But, there are also ways of identifying which cross-training or running shoes might be suitable yourself – helpful if you want to buy online.

1. Look at the soles of your sports shoes

Looking at the wear on your current trainers gives a good idea of your gait and whether you’re wearing the right shoes.

Wear on the inside edge of the mid-part of the soles suggests a lack of support. Wear on the outside either means the wearer is an underpronator or has shoes with too much support.

The right pair of shoes results in a mark on the heel, where the foot strikes, and a central wear pattern through the forefoot of the shoe. This means the shoe is doing the right job, regardless of the type of support or cushioning it has.

2. The wet floor test

The wet floor test involves looking at the footprint created on a tiled floor or piece of paper after a bath or shower. While not an exact science, there’s a connection between the shape of the arches in the footprint and gait.

Video: The wet floor test

Do they fit?

Badly-fitting trainers can cause bruised or ingrown toenails and blisters so it’s important to get a good fit.

Women's shoes tend to be narrower than men's and some brands have other gender-specific features, such as cushioning in slightly different places.

There should be space of about a thumbnail, at the end of the shoes for feet to expand when they get hot during exercise. Bear this in mind if you try trainers in the morning, or near the end of the day when feet have warmed up.