Choosing and Using Athletic Equipment

A wide variety of exercise equipment is available for home use, but how do you determine which equipment is best for your needs? Experts say to choose equipment that you are familiar with and comfortable using and to make sure that you will use it regularly before making your purchase. In other words, you have to try it before you buy it. Let's begin with the basics. The most important athletic equipment you can own is appropriate shoes.

There are many different types of shoes for various athletic activities—running shoes differ from walking shoes, which differ from basketball shoes. Cross-training shoes can be used for more than one activity, such as running and walking. First you need to decide which activity you will most often perform and then shop for an appropriate shoe. Wearing the proper shoe for a particular activity can prevent blisters or injuries such as shin splints and stress fractures (see page 63). When trying on shoes, wear the kind of socks you will be wearing when you exercise to ensure the proper fit. A stable shoe is one that prevents excessive movement of your foot inside the shoe. The insole should be cushioned, and the sole should provide traction while retaining flexibility. Athletic shoes usually have a midsole, which absorbs shock when the foot strikes the ground during walking or running.

The midsole is the layer that will wear out first on any athletic shoe. That is why fitness experts recommend replacing your athletic shoe every 350 to 500 miles of use. If you are heavy, buy new shoes closer to the 350-mile mark. If you walk 15 miles per week, you will have to replace your shoes in 6 to 8 months. Your shoes may not look worn and you may be reluctant to replace your shoes so often, but the price of a good shoe is a small investment when it comes to injury prevention.

Your athletic socks are also important. Appropriate socks can reduce the likelihood of blisters, toenail injuries, infections, and bone problems. The right socks can also enhance performance. Cotton socks effectively absorb perspiration from your feet, but if you perspire excessively or exercise in the rain, your cotton socks may reach the saturation point. If that happens, your socks will stretch and lose their shape, and your feet will begin to slide around inside your shoes, leading to friction blisters and skin irritation. Socks made of acrylic or other synthetic materials may perform better under "wet" conditions. Try wearing different types of socks when you exercise to determine which type of sock works best for each type of activity.

When considering the many different types of exercise machines you can purchase for home use, choose carefully. Remember that exercise equipment does not have to be expensive to be effective; you can use a length of rope to skip rope, and walking requires little more than sturdy shoes. If you are interested in purchasing strength-training machines or equipment that delivers an aerobic workout, here is a short equipment guide:

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