When to Kick Your Old Kicks

One particularly gratifying aspect of writing this blog is sharing humiliating stories about myself. Here’s one more to add to the list.

My high school had a club called the Chiefettes. (Our high school mascot was the Chiefs.) The Chiefettes squad was a kickline, like the Rockettes, only, you know, not as good. The Chiefettes performed at football and basketball games, and most of the girls on it were dancers or naturally flexible.

I am, without a doubt, the least flexible person I know. Always have been. And as any of my cringing former boyfriends could confirm, I am not a dancer. (My husband actually pretends to dislike dancing, just to avoid being seen on the dance floor with me.)

None of this stopped me from trying out for the Chiefettes in tenth grade.

On audition day, groups of hopeful girls were called into the gym to perform the dance routine we’d learned. I still couldn’t kick very high, despite weeks of practice. I knew making the team was a long shot, so I put everything I had into those kicks, trying to force my uncooperative legs higher and higher as the audition went on.

At the very end of the routine, as my left leg flew into the air for the final kick, I suddenly felt my right foot slide out from under me. I landed flat on my ass, right on time with the final beat of the song.

After the laughter subsided, the coach and team captains inspected the soles of my shoes. They were worn smooth as satin. (Perhaps figuring I’d suffered enough, the Chiefettes did let me join the JV squad.)

You’d think after that humbling experience, I’d be a little more proactive about replacing my shoes. But in fact, I’ve been wearing the same pair of tennis shoes for at least eight months. The treads look okay, and I’m not slipping and falling on my ass, so the shoes must be fine, right?

Wrong.

Nowadays, especially in well-made shoes, the outer sole and tread can hold up fairly well. By the time you see wear on the bottom of the shoe, the midsole is already shot. The midsole–the layer between your foot and the outer sole–is what stabilizes and cushions your foot, protecting your joints from undue stress and injury. It’s the most important part of the shoe–yes, even more important than the snazzy upper.

Unfortunately, evaluating the condition of the midsole is tougher than just eyeballing the outer sole. I can’t say I know a lot about midsole lifespans, so as usual I did some poking around online. Here are some signs of a worn-out midsole:

  • Your shoes don’t feel as springy as they used to. It can be hard to judge this loss of cushioning unless you have a new pair to compare them to.
  • Your lower back, legs, or feet feel more tired after playing. Again, because this change happens gradually, you may not notice it.
  • You can fold the shoe. My shoe has a rigid shank built into the arch of the outer sole, rendering it pretty unbendable regardless of the condition of the midsole. The toe of my old shoe does bend up more than in a new shoe, though.
  • Your shoes are leaning. Put your shoes on a flat surface and look at them from behind. If the midsole is still in good shape, your shoes should stand straight. Here’s a look at my eight-month-old shoes:

See how the left shoe leans? (And see how the right one appears to be fine? Obviously, I’ve worn them the same number of hours, so when you’re examining your own shoes, be sure to check both.)

(I just got in trouble for putting my “disgusting” shoes on the table.)

Clearly, my shoes are toast, not to mention disgusting, and should have been replaced a long time ago. That brings us to our next question: How often should we be replacing our shoes?

  • The rule of thumb, according to both the USTA and the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, is to replace tennis shoes every 45-60 playing hours.
  • The number of hours your own shoes will last will be affected by your weight, your style of play, and the court surface. A 200-pound player is going to compress the midsole more than a 120-pound player. A singles player will be running more than a doubles player. And your shoe will take more of a pounding on a hard court than on grass or clay.
  • If you play every day, or almost every day, alternating between two pairs of shoes will give you more playing hours out of each pair. This is because the midsole will have more time to decompress and recover its shape between playing days.

So what does all this mean for me? I’m on the lighter end of the scale, playing exclusively doubles. That would put me toward the upper limit of the shoe lifespan, 60 hours. But I play on hard courts, so I’ll deduct five hours.

I play, on average, six hours a week. Fifty-five divided by six brings me to about nine weeks. I’d need a new pair of shoes about every two months.

That’s a lot of tennis shoes.

In the interest of saving some money, I’ll try alternating between two pairs. If that extends the life of each pair from two months to three, I’ll be buying four pairs a year instead of six.

Four pairs a year. That’s still quite a bit more than I’m currently buying, which is at most two. But I want to keep playing this sport for a long time. If buying more shoes helps protect my joints–and keeps me from falling on my ass!–it’ll be money well spent.

How often do you replace your tennis shoes? And what’s your favorite brand? I see an awful lot of Asics on the courts these days…

12 thoughts on “When to Kick Your Old Kicks

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  1. Ah, the Chiefettes. Haven’t heard that name in a long time. Ouch. So painful to remember these embarrassing days.

    When I saw the photo of your shoes…my first thought was: IS THAT HER TABLE? GROSS!

    I’m glad to see someone else gave you a hard time, too! Tell him I agree. Gang up on Deb.

    60 hours can go by so quickly. I am OK on my tennis shoes, but I know I keep my jogging shoes for way too long.

    From what I recall in having written about shoes in my life as a fitness editor, the mid-sole also breaks down faster in very hot temperatures (don’t leave them in the car!). And if you buy older model shoes, the mid-soles may not be as brand spanking new right out of the box. If they sat on a warehouse shelf for a year, they might have some degradation without even being worn. Scary, huh? I tend to buy models that are a year or two old because they cause less. But then I have to be really attentive to how my joints feel and sometimes replace them early. I probably should just spring for the newer models (pun intended).

    Can you do a post on the ultra-sexy (not!) topic of insoles? The ones that come in sneakers are awful! I’ve been experimenting with different brands and not satisfied yet.

  2. Sure, everybody pile on Deb. I always planned to clean the table afterwards. It was the perfect spot for the photo.

    I did read something about heat–and damp conditions–accelerating midsole breakdown. I never leave any tennis equipment in the car. I figure the heat can’t be good for the tennis racquet, either, right?

    That’s such great info about the risk of buying older model shoes that have been sitting on the shelf! That hadn’t occurred to me, but it makes total sense. I hope everybody reads your comment!

    I don’t know much (or anything, really) about insoles. I’d have to research that topic. (Or you could research it and write it and give it to me and I could pass it off as my own work.) What’s wrong with sneaker insoles?

  3. I replace my shoes every 6 months or so. I am a fan of Asics Gel Resolution. I find them very comfortable and supportive, although I do think the newer model (7) has a narrower toe box.

    1. So twice a year. Sounds much more reasonable to me! Maybe doubles players can keep their shoes past the 60-hour mark without problems.

      I was in the ASICS Gel Speed but I haven’t been happy with the last two pairs. I may try the Resolution. How did ASICS manage to so completely dominate the market?

  4. Hi All. Well, at the risk of sounding cliché, I wear (drumroll please…) ASICS, too. Gel resolution 7, same as Eileen. I’ve never tried on any of the other ASICS, but these fit me better than other brands BECAUSE of the narrower width. Thanks so much, Deb, for your research and information on how often to replace the shoes. I have been getting by with just once-A-year replacement, But now I will at least think about doing it every six months, or buying two pair at once for the year and alternating them. Thanks Elena and Eileen for your information, too.

    1. I think I’m going to be switching to the Resolution as well. Like you, I do like the narrower toe box, which the Gel Speed has as well. I used to wear Nikes and I didn’t have a good sense of stability in them. Just too wide for my foot. I’m sure they make narrower shoes, but I was happy when I found the Asics. At least, I was until my last two pairs. Hoping the Resolution will restore my faith in the brand.

  5. I love your post, not just taking me back to my embarrassing high school days, but imagining you in your own. While you may be inflexible (never noticed it), you seem to have way over-compensated in your volleys… as in bent way too much to the angles of the courts. Just stop it!!!

    But on the topic of shoes, I have noticed my feet feeling tired recently. I’ll put those babies on the table and dare anyone in the house to complain! (And I’ll notice what leans or not.)

    Thank you Deb, as always for your helpful, fun, and funny blogs!

  6. I have a question about the soles of tennis shoes. All of my tennis shoes have a herringbone pattern on the bottom because I play in Florida each winter, almost entirely on Clay/hartru courts. I am told that this pattern is best and safest for Clay though I am not clear on why that is.

    But my main question is would it be “best and safest“ to wear tennis shoes with a Different sole for playing on asphalt? (For 9 months of the year I play primarily on asphalt.)

    Thoughts? Information? THX!

    1. Excellent question that I knew nothing about, so I did a quick online search. Here’s a good answer from holabird sports: https://www.holabirdsports.com/blogs/news/the-importance-of-a-good-sole. Essentially, the herringbone on clay court shoes provides the right amount of grip for sliding. You can wear them on hard courts, but their thinner rubber soles don’t provide as much cushioning as hard court shoes. Obviously they won’t have as much traction either, since the clay shoe is made for sliding. Do you find yourself slipping at all when you play on the hard court in your clay court shoes?

      Clay court shoes also won’t last as long on the hard surface. Maybe this aspect doesn’t matter since we’re all going to be replacing our shoes more frequently anyway!

      Holabird’s recommendation, if you want only one shoe for both surfaces, is an all-court shoe. I guess that’s somewhere in between.

      Now we just have to find out if ASICS makes all-court shoes!!!!

  7. Very helpful post. I will now need to reach deep into my soul (or is it sole?) and change my behavior. Maybe that is why my body feels achy…

  8. Deb, thanks for sharing the information on the difference in shoes intended for clay courts versus asphalt. I had looked on the web but I hadn’t found as clear or complete of an explanation as the one from Holabird. I just bought brand new ASICS for clay. But I really should get set with a separate pair for asphalt.

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