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Buying Tennis Shoes
There are few sports that rival tennis for the speed, agility and endurance required of players- and their equipment. You can have an excellent serve and a great backhand but without the proper footwear you are working from a deficit from the start. A good tennis shoe can handle the constant movement, the back and forth to the net, side-to-side court coverage, running, jumping, lunging and the quick pivots that come in a tennis match.
Tennis shoes are designed with extra lateral support to endure the rigors of the game's frequent lateral movements and quick stops and starts. Finding the right shoe can be difficult given the wide selection available. One should consider the style of tennis that you play, the type of court that you usually use and what your foot type is before you make your final shoe selection.
Many people want to wear their regular running shoes to play tennis, but there are many good reasons that athletes should wear proper tennis shoes. Running shoes are specially designed for the forward motion that comes of running or walking for fitness. They have thick, soft heels that increase the cushioning and lessen the impact that comes with running. However, runners do not turn quickly or make rapid lateral movements so the shoes are not built to support player's feet during a tennis game or practice. Tennis shoes provide stability for side-to-side movement, built of heavier and stiffer materials than other athletic shoes, their flat, durable soles are designed to prevent stumbling or sliding and the toes are reinforced for stop and go action.
How do you know what kind of tennis shoe you need? The type of foot that you have, the way that you walk and stand, has an enormous impact on the way that shoes fit, feel and perform for you. Every foot is different but there are some general 'types' into which most people fall:
So which one are you? A great way to learn about your feet is to check the wear on your shoes. Take a look at a pair of shoes you wear frequently and see which areas have sustained the most wear over time. If your shoes show a lot of wear on the inside of the sole and around the ball of your foot then you have a Pronated foot.
- The Pronated foot is the type most commonly associated with injury. You should be extra careful about the shoes that you select and choose a tennis shoe with lots of support and cushioning.
- If your shoe shows a lot of wear along the outside of the heel then you have a Supinated foot. Players with a Supinated foot tend to wear shoes out faster than other players. In such a case an extra durable sole would be the best choice. If when you look at your shoes it seems that there is even wear all around then you are one of the rare Ideal types.
- Players with Ideal foot types have the flexibility to choose any kind of shoe as long as it is comfortable, and they might want to prioritize their shoe based on the surface on which they play ( e.g., grass, concrete).
So you have figured out what kind of feet you have and what kind of support levels are best, what else should you consider? Playing surface is the next key element for any player. Tennis matches can be held on concrete, grass or clay and each are very different surfaces of play. Clay courts allow a natural 'slide' as the player moves so you can have slightly lighter lateral support, but the fine grains of dirt can be bothersome to feet, so be sure that you have a solid upper of leather or synthetic material. Grass courts give players the most natural cushioning which means that you can forgo some cushioning in preference to more lateral support. Concrete is the most common playing surface and can be the most challenging for player's feet. The hard surface is unforgiving demanding as much cushioning as is comfortable. Lateral support is also key as player's stops and starts are particularly sharp on the firm concrete surface.
The type of foot you have, the surface on which you play are important considerations when selecting your tennis shoe, but another factor is body type. Tennis players who are larger and heavier would want to consider heavier, more stable shoes that provide the extra support you need. On the other hand, smaller players should consider a lightweight shoe that is more manageable over long periods of physical exertion.
The last step to achieving the best fit possible in your tennis shoe is selecting a cushioning sock and lacing up properly. Tennis shoes have developed good lacing systems designed to hold your foot snugly in place and to not loosen or come undone under the strenuous demands of tennis. If you are prone to rolling your ankle you might want to consider a higher cut shoe that can give you more support, particularly when laced up properly.
Surface, Style of Play and Materials
The way that you play tennis can also dictate what tennis shoe is best suited to your needs. If you are a baseline player, one who plays the back line of the court for most of the game, you will need a shoe with extra lateral support. This style of play uses the most side-to-side action and requires the most support for lateral movements and ankle stability. Your tennis shoes will need the highest amount of cushioning and shock absorption to ensure your feet are comfortable during play. This is particularly true if you play the majority of your matches or practices on hard courts.
If instead your method of play features the serve and volley with frequent charges to the net you should invest in a tennis shoe with a toecap that gives extra protection to the front of your foot. This method of play is especially hard on the toe and sole of the shoe, so consider an extra durable sole that will withstand your style of play. Many tennis players drag their toe while serving and on forehand groundstrokes, this is particularly true of right-handed tennis players.
It is crucial that right-handed players have an extra durable sole design in the inside toe area of their right tennis shoe to prevent premature wear. It is important to remember, however, that increased durability often means increased weight in the shoe, so be sure to consider carefully what your requirements are before selecting a tennis shoe.
Knowing what tennis players need, the major companies have created cushioning systems that are lighter, more comfortable and better at removing moisture away from feet. Polyurethane is a dense and durable material used for cushioning and it also increases the stability of the shoe. The drawback to polyurethane is that it is a heavier material and can make shoes more heavy than you like. The newest cushioning material, EVA, offers excellent cushioning but not as much stability or durability as some other materials. All of the newest cushioning materials have incorporated moisture management to wick moisture away from feet leaving them dry and comfortable.
The materials that are used to construct the upper part of the tennis shoe varies and each of the materials has benefits to players.
- Canvas will stay the coolest and breathes the best allowing air to flow in and out of the shoe, but offers very little support, particularly for lateral movements.
- Leather provides the best support and will keep your feet dry in damp conditions, but will be the most expensive.
- Vinyl can provide support similar to leather and resists moisture the best, but can be the least breathable and can cause feet to overheat.
Many tennis shoes combine the best of both worlds by pairing leather or vinyl with a durable mesh that allows air to circulate through the shoe, cooling your feet and allowing moisture to evaporate. By keeping your feet cooler you resist fatigue and you can play better for longer periods of time. Because most of the impact is taken by the sole of the tennis shoe the durability of the upper portion is less important and can be a secondary consideration.
The kind of tennis court on which you play the majority of your practices and matches will also impact the kind of tennis shoe that you need. Tennis shoes for hard, concrete courts usually offer an extremely durable outsole, a leather or vinyl upper for strength and support and are designed for the most stability and support for lateral movement. Continued play on hard court surfaces will wear the tread of the soles which can lead to loss of traction and increased slipping, so be sure to check your soles frequently for wear and be ready to replace your shoes when needed.
Players who conduct most of their play on soft court surfaces such as clay or grass should select tennis shoes that provide good traction. Durability is less of an issue for players who use soft surfaces. It is, however, vital that the tennis shoe has a smooth, flat sole because the knobs and bumps found in other athletic shoes can damage clay and grass court surfaces. Most tennis clubs will not allow players to wear street or running shoes while playing but instead require proper tennis shoes.
When Should You Replace Your Tennis Shoes?
The rule of thumb is that you should replace your tennis shoes after 500 miles of wear. Trying to estimate when you may have managed to travel 500 miles in your tennis shoes would be very difficult, however there are signs of wear that can be seen when shoes are failing. If you notice the tread pattern on the sole has become less distinct especially if there are smooth spots emerging, you risk slipping and possible injury on court.
Depending on the style of play, and surface that they use, some players may not see much change in their tread wear, however after a year of regular play a tennis shoe has lost enough of its lateral support and cushioning to justify replacement. Many players drag the toe of their shoe forward as they serve and handle forehand groundstrokes which causes rapid wear of the tennis shoe. In that case, you will need to replace your shoes more frequently than once a year.
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