Looking for the best walking shoe for your feet? Before you default to a particular brand or style that looks cool, Trent Brookshier, DPM, podiatric surgeon in San Diego, California, has a three-step test to make sure your footwear is supportive and healthy.
“I created a simple, three-part check to ensure your shoes keep your feet and posture healthy and pain-free,” says Dr. Brookshier. “It’s called the Bend-Twist-Squeeze, and it can help you avoid common injuries.”
First, try on the shoe and make sure it fits appropriately—this test is pointless if it’s not the right fit for your foot! Dr. Brookshier emphasizes that it should have good arch support (no flat shoes like Converse AllStars!) and lots of cushion if you’re walking longer distances (hello, hot girl walks).
And, though he discourages defaulting to a particular brand because of its cool-factor, he does note that there are a few shoe companies that consistently create models that pass his test: Brooks, New Balance, Asics, Hoka, and Gravity Defy. But again, “It comes down to your body, your feet, and your gait,” he says. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the right walking shoes.”
With that in mind, each shoe, regardless of style, cushion, arch size, etc., should meet these three criteria, he says.
This manipulation, or flex, of the sole of the shoe is meant to assess how stable the sole will be as you stride forward. Bend the sole of the shoe upward, pushing up on the forefoot area. It should not be too flexible, and it should only bend at the toes, Dr. Brookshier says: “You do not want it to bend at the arch in the center of the shoe.” If you’ve got some flex in the forefoot and it doesn’t fold in on itself at the arch, you’ve passed the first step of the test.
Next up, is the “towel” portion of the test. Dr. Brookshier says, in technical terms, that this is the “torsional rigidity test.” Twist the shoe as though you’re trying to wring out a towel—the toes and heel in opposite directions—but make sure it doesn’t wring out like a towel. It’s okay to have a little bit of a twist, but it shouldn’t completely spiral in on itself.
To ensure there’s adequate support in the back of the shoe, squeeze the heel cup with a pinching grip. We’re looking for a firm heel that keeps your foot from sliding out the back of the shoe. You shouldn’t feel it move inwards much as you pinch, no matter whether your fingers are at the bottom or top of the heel.
Of note: If you do this test and the shoe passes, but you still have pain in your feet, see a podiatrist, says Dr. Brookshier. They’ll be able to help you zero in on what you might need to find relief.
Also: A word about arch support
When it comes to arch support, this is a point of personalization depending on your anatomy. “Every patient is different,” says Dr. Brookshier. “If you tend to pronate, you may need more arch support to make sure you don’t overpronate (this means your foot is rolling inward when you walk).” Some people naturally have higher arches—pes cavus is the technical term, he says—and others have flatter feet, so finding the right shoe for your specific foot is crucial.