All About Tennis Shoes

by Blair Stephens - Date: 2007-05-07 - Word Count: 1391 Share This!

Tennis is a game that requires constant movement: forward and backward, side-to-side, running, jumping, lunging, and quick pivots. A good tennis shoe will help you comfortably endure the rigors of the game's quick stops and starts, short sprints and frequent lateral movements while protecting your feet and helping you to perform at your best. With so many choices, knowing what shoe is best for you can be difficult. Taking into account your playing style, the type of court on which you typically play and your foot type are essential to making the proper shoe selection.

You might ask, why can't I wear my regular running shoes to play tennis? Running shoes on a tennis court are a sprained or broken ankle waiting to happen. Running shoes are built with a thick, soft heel to maximize cushioning for straight-forward, heel-to-toe foot impacts. Runners don't cut sharply sideways, and the running shoe sole, especially the heel, is much too unstable for the sideways movements of tennis. Athletic shoes protect the feet from the stresses of the sport for which they are designed. So, when playing tennis, wear shoes specially made for the sport of tennis. Tennis shoes provide stability for side-to-side movement. They are heavier and stiffer than running shoes, with flat, durable soles and the toes are supported for stop-and-go action.

Surface, Style of Play and Materials
Which kind of tennis court surface you play on for the majority of your practices and matches will dictate the type of tennis shoe you need. Tennis shoes for hard court play typically offer an extremely durable outsole, a leather or synthetic leather upper for strength and are designed to provide good lateral support and stability for tennis-specific movements. Tennis players that play on hard court surfaces should choose tennis shoes that are durable and resistant to wear to stand up to the wear and tear of playing on concrete. Repeated play on hard courts will wear the tread off the soles of tennis shoes and loss of tread leads to loss of traction and increased slipping. The part of the tennis shoe that covers the toes should have extra protection on the outside as well.

Tennis players that play primarily on soft court surfaces (e.g., clay or grass) should select tennis shoes that are comfortable and provide good traction. Durability is less of a concern when players are on soft surfaces. It is also vital that the tennis shoe have a smooth, flat sole because he knobs and bumps found on the soles of running shoes and cross-trainers can damage clay and grass court surfaces. In fact, most clay court facilities do not allow players to wear such shoes, instead requiring tennis shoes.

Advances in tennis footwear technology have created cushioning systems that are lighter, more comfortable, and better at removing moisture than in previous years. These new cushioning materials include EVA which offers lightweight cushioning but not as much stability and durability as other materials. Polyurethane is a much more dense and durable material used for cushioning and it also increases stability but is heavier. These cushioning materials provide additional padding where it is needed and wick away perspiration.

The material used to create the upper part of the tennis shoe can vary and each has benefits. Canvas stays coolest, breathes best, but offers the least support, particularly for lateral movements. Leather provides the most support and will stay drier in damp conditions. Vinyl can provide good support, and it resists external moisture best, but it tends to get hottest and has the least breathe-ability. Many tennis shoes combine leather or vinyl with a durable mesh that allows cooling air to circulate through the shoe keeping your feet cool and allowing moisture to evaporate. Keeping your feet cooler on the court helps reduce fatigue and keeps you playing better longer. Durability is rarely an issue with tennis shoe uppers because the soles usually wear out long before the uppers do.

Your playing style can also dictate the tennis shoe that is best for you. If you are a serve and volley player who frequently charges the net you need a shoe with a toecap that gives extra protection to the front of your foot. This style of play is rough on shoes, particularly the sole and toe area, so finding a shoe with a sole that is durable enough to meet your particular needs is important. Tennis players often drag their toe while executing shots, especially the serve. It is crucial for right-handed players that the inside toe area of their right tennis shoe have extra protection to prevent premature wear. This area of the tennis shoe is particularly vulnerable because most right-handed players drag their right foot when serving, and often when executing forehand ground strokes. Remember that increased durability often means increased shoe weight, so evaluate your requirements carefully.

If you are a baseline player who plays the back line of the court you will need a shoe with extra lateral support to handle the constant sideways motion. Your tennis shoes will need as much cushioning and shock absorption as possible to keep you comfortable. This is especially true if you play most of your tennis on hard courts.

The characteristics of your feet and body will determine what type of tennis shoe is most comfortable and effective for you. Body type is an important consideration in tennis shoe selection. For example, larger and heavier players may prefer heavier shoes that provide extra support while smaller players may prefer a lightweight shoe.

It is critical that your footwear be properly matched to the anatomy of your feet and the surface you're playing on (e.g., grass, clay, concrete). Ill-fitting shoes can lead to blisters, ankle and knee pain and inefficient movement on the court when you play. But when your shoes and feet are in sync, you'll feel good and play your best on the court. As an athlete you must carefully consider what type of feet you have, because that will determine how much cushioning you will need, and what and where you will need lateral support.

There are three basic foot types, Supinated, Pronated and Ideal. How can you tell what foot type you are? Looking at the wear of your shoes can be a great way to figure out your foot type. If your shoes show a lot of wear along the outside of the heel then you have a Supinated foot. These players tend to wear out shoes more quickly than other players, so an extra durable sole would be an advantage. If your shoes show wear on the inside of the sole and around the ball of the foot then you have a Pronated foot. The Pronated foot is the type most often associated with injury and you should be sure that you select a shoe with lots of support and cushioning. And if your shoe shows equal wear on the inside and outside of the shoe then you are the rare Ideal foot type. In that case you can make your selection based more on the kind of tennis that you play ( e.g., grass, baseline, etc.).

To enhance the fit of your tennis shoe you should select a cushioning sock and be sure to lace up properly. A good lacing system will hold your foot snugly in place and won't loosen or require frequent re-tying due to repeated side-to-side movement. If you are prone to ankle rollover you should consider a higher cut shoe to give you more support.

When Should You Replace Your Tennis Shoes?
The standard says that you should replace your tennis shoes after 500 miles of wear. Trying to estimate when you may have managed 500 miles in your tennis shoes would be difficult indeed, however there are signs of wear that can be seen in shoes that are failing. If you notice the tread pattern on the outsole has become less distinct with smooth spots emerging, you risk slipping and possible injury on court. 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. Some players drag the toe of their shoe forward as they serve and this 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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