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?
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…