Sneaker Picks & Pans from New York Trainers

A s Americans combat the nation’s obesity epidemic, many are turning to personal trainers to help them get fit and stay active.

So when Footwear News wanted to know what products have the greatest impact on the success of a fitness program, we also turned to the pros.

Athletic shoe needs vary throughout training activities, from in-gym workout sessions to logging miles during a run. But there is one common factor that underlies the variety of endurance tests: A training session can’t be successful without the right sneakers featuring the appropriate support technology.

“The more shoes the better. I have a different shoe for anything I’m going to do — trail running, short distance, mid-distance. It really depends on what I’m going to do that day for myself [or my clients],” said Lisa Feldermann, a trainer at Blink Fitness.

Feldermann, along with four other trainers with a variety of specialties and educational backgrounds, were invited to FN’s offices for a roundtable discussion. The topics ranged from technology and client recommendations to the strangest gym footwear and the front-runners for athletic marketing.

Here, the panelists — Jenn Burke, Feldermann, Kali O’Mard, Wendy Rhodes and Ahmed Yilla — sound off on the best choices for dramatic training results.

What do you look for in athletic shoes?

AY: For running, I look for comfort, running stability and also the look, too, in terms of color.

JB: I personally look for a shoe that is specifically designed for the type of activity I will be participating in — running shoes for running, trail shoes for the trails, cycling shoes for Spinning or cycling. I also look for a shoe that offers neutral support and is not too heavy. Look is really the last thing that I consider. If it fits my foot well and feels good in the little trial run I do at the store, I really don’t care what it looks like.

KO: If I’m just walking outside, I like to have cool sneakers, [otherwise] I look for aggressive traction support and heel support.

LF: I look for comfort. As a triathlete and marathon runner, I spend many hours per week working out, and an uncomfortable shoe can be enough to really make me miserable or predispose me to injury.

WR: I’m super into the biomechanics of running. I primarily run races in Mizuno shoes with orthotics in them.

What footwear features and brands do you recommend to your clients?
If it’s for running, I recommend Brooks or Saucony because these brands [specialize] in running sneakers, and in my experience in using them, they tend to have a really great fit. When it comes to crosstraining, I would recommend Nike because, based on my experience, they tend to have a proper supportive fit. Also, Nike has a variety of styles and colors to choose from.

I recommend that a client gets the type of shoe that provides the right support or structure necessary for their particular need. If a client overpronates, they are going to need a shoe with more support than if they have a very neutral foot strike.

KO: I recommend they take a footprint or imprint test and base the shoe [style] off that.

LF: It really depends on the person. I want them to have an appropriate amount of stability and cushion for their size, activity level and structural abnormalities.

WR: It also depends on the distance and the person. I run a video running analysis program [to decide what technology they need].

What features do you believe contribute the most to fitness?
[It depends] on the specific type of sneaker the client needs, whether it’s for running or crosstraining, and also the proper fit that someone needs. For example, with a running sneaker, [the features] may be a stability fit, neutral fit or balance. And, of course, style [contributes] because, hey, who doesn’t want to look good in what they are wearing?

Most people feel overwhelmed by the available choices, especially since the footwear industry launches more technologically sophisticated shoes with new designs and features every year. The footwear features that contribute the most should be based off your foot characteristics. After figuring out your foot characteristics, you have to choose the proper category of motion control, speed, support or cushioning according to your foot type: normal, flat or high arch.

LF: I get a lot of beginner runners who have never run a 5K before, so I send them to get an analysis so they’re in the right fit from the beginning. Orthotics are a big focus.

JB: I wear shoes that fit to my body. I don’t always look for minimal shoes; I need more stability.

WR: Support and shock absorption.

What technology would you not recommend to your clients and how does this play into the fit of the shoe?
Not all brands [are suited for running]. In my opinion, Brooks, Asics, Saucony and Mizuno are the appropriate running shoes. Nike is not a running shoe company. That’s not where the technology is.

The only type of shoe I would never recommend would be the toning shoes. [Clients] see a commercial for Skechers’ toning shoes and they think it will make their butt look nice. But I don’t think you see it as much anymore because people are more wise to [the technology].

I do a squat analysis to see if the client’s arches are falling [and] if they need more structure. I test the muscular balance. I usually won’t put them on the treadmill right away. I want to make sure they have the right muscle structure first.

Are there any benefits to cross-training styles when compared with running brands?
There are special shoes for resisting, [but] it depends on your level. If you’re doing spinning classes, you should invest in bike shoes. Cross-training [styles] have a minimal amount of stability. It really depends on how much time and effort you put into workouts and what type of training [you’re doing].

WR: [No], I have clients wear running shoes for everything. That’s where brands put the most technology and comfort.

What are some of the strangest footwear choices you’ve seen in the gym?
I had a client with a torn ACL who had been running in Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers for years.

AY: A client came in and wanted to get into running, but he had on Puma sneakers. I told them to go to Jack Rabbit so the [store employees] can give them options for what sneakers would be the right fit and we’ll go from there.

Any anecdotes about your best and worst experiences with athletic shoes outside the gym?
I tested the Nike Lunarglide for running and it didn’t feel right for me. I switched over to Saucony and those worked perfectly for my races.

LF: I’ve seen people in a few races try to do the barefoot and minimalist thing and they fail. I ran a 10K on Governors Island and somebody tried to run the race barefoot and also in Vibrams with the open top. Some people do it because they think it’s cool, but it’s not cool to not be able to finish your race. You want to get shoes with more traction.

How closely do you follow new footwear technologies?
KO: I’ll Google top running shoes for the year or top trail shoes, and I like to do my own analysis and get feedback from clients, members and friends.

JB: I definitely do a lot of research and talk to people who are in the [athletic] community. I talk to other trainers to see what they are wearing and how the [technology] works for them.

I [read] a lot of research studies, I need to know exactly what’s going on as far as research is concerned at all times. I am good friends with some of the people at Jack Rabbit and Urban Athletics. I’ll go to the store and see what’s there and I’ll go see what Brooks is making. I’m a research junkie.

How important is pricing when purchasing athletic footwear?
LF: I’ll pay whatever they are asking for the right pair of shoes.

AY: If you are dedicated, you need the right equipment.

What are some topics that you wish your clients knew more about?
WR: It’s important to know how your foot looks when it’s just static. Your foot looks different and [you’ll find what you need].

KO: I’d like to see more educated buyers buying. You may have flat feet or arched feet, and you need the right selection [for workouts].

Have you noticed the fashion trend within athletic shoe offerings?
AY: Nike does [color] well. When you put on your sneakers and everything matches, you feel good. When you go to the gym you are already confident.

JB: Asics is really starting to put the focus on color more and it seems to be more important to clients than structure.

Who has the best athletic marketing campaigns?
Nike hands down has a large amount of [successful] marketing efforts. They have phenomenal athletes doing cool things. They go after every athlete in different sports.

AY: I don’t see as much marketing from Brooks or Mizuno, and I would like to, but Nike overtakes the [marketing space].

Kali O’Mard, 32
Gym: New York Health & Racquet Club
Years as a trainer: 15
Pairs of athletic shoes: 60 (also includes casual sneakers)
Fitness specialty: Certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), Certified special population specialist (CSPS), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified, pro bodybuilder, Muay Thai fighter
Training claim to fame: “I won my [World Natural Bodybuilding Federation] pro card on my first try.”
Athletic hobbies outside the gym: Football, soccer, track, tennis, hockey, rock climbing, horse riding
Biggest athletic accomplishment: “The opportunity to work with a particular world-known artist who graciously passed my name around, allowing me to network and eventually become the celebrity trainer behind the scenes.”
Athlete you most admire: Michael Jordan. “Because of his unrelenting, determined pursuit of excellence, achievement and success.”

Wendy Rhodes, 33
Gym: Equinox
Years as a trainer: 11
Pairs of athletic shoes: One pair by Mizuno
Fitness specialty: Physical therapist, American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified personal trainer, Fitness Training Institute consultant at Equinox
Training claim to fame: “[I train] two athletes competing at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.”
Best music to workout to: Pitbull and Rihanna
Athletic hobbies outside the gym: “I run most New York Road Runner races and the NYC Marathon.”
Biggest athletic accomplishment: Running the NYC Marathon twice
Athlete you most admire: Kara Goucher. “She and I are of similar age and had a baby around the same time. She seems very down-to-earth and speaks openly in her blogs about balancing family with career and the ups and downs of running.”

Jenn Burke, 30
Gym: Crunch
Years as a trainer: 8
Pairs of athletic shoes: 6
Fitness specialty: Endurance athletes and corrective exercise training
Training claim to fame: “I was selected to work in the high-performance training center at the Beijing Olympics.”
Best music to workout to: “Dave Matthews for running and Nicki Minaj for resistance training.”
Athletic hobbies outside the gym: Marathons, triathlons, obstacle courses
Biggest athletic accomplishment: “Qualified for the Boston Marathon by running my very first marathon in 3:35.”
Athlete you most admire: Dara Torres. “I believe she is an inspiration to all women that you can achieve anything you put your mind to, no matter what your age.”

Lisa Feldermann, 29
Gym: Blink Fitness
Years as a trainer: 10.5
Pairs of athletic shoes: Three pairs of running shoes, three training shoes, three pairs of workout shoes
Fitness specialty: Sports Medicine, Weight Loss, Trail Running
Training claim to fame: “Getting life changing results for my clients. One who sticks out was a woman in her 40s who, over the course of three months, transformed her entire life. She lost 20 pounds and decreased her cholesterol so much that she could get off the medications she was on and be eligible to donate her kidney to her sick sister.”
Best music to workout to: Classic rock and country. “I love to sing along when I’m on my long runs.”
Athletic hobbies outside the gym: Trail running and triathlons
Biggest athletic accomplishment: “I took third place in my group in the Miami South Beach Olympic Distance Triathlon. It was a small group, but, hey, a win’s a win.”
Athlete you most admire: Dean Karnazes. “Dean is ‘The Man’ when it comes to running. He inspires me. Every time I think a marathon is [too] far, I remember that for Dean, it’s just a little jog in the park and someday I’ll be running ultras too.”

Ahmed Yilla, 31
Gym: New York Sports Club
Years as a trainer: 5
Pairs of athletic shoes: 45, including streetwear and casual. “I’m a sneakerhead.”
Fitness specialty: Certified with National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM-CPT) and Performance Enhancement Specialist (NASM-PES).
Training claim to fame: “I have been accredited as one of the Top 100 Trainers in the Town Sports International Corp., a company of over 1,500 trainers in over 150 NYSC locations.”
Best music to workout to: Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Athletic hobbies outside the gym: “Distance running, such as 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and marathons. Also, I’m a fencer.”
Biggest athletic accomplishment: “Being a member of the U.S. Men’s Fencing National Team and representing the U.S. in the Men’s Sabre World Junior Championships, where I placed in the top 16.”
Athlete you most admire: “I admire all athletes in any sport who train hard and give it their all to reach a goal.”

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