There was a day when there was only one type of shoe for all types of physical activities. Then, athletic shoe manufacturers began to design shoes that would fit the demands of – and in many cases improve an individual’s performance in – specific activities. Different activities were analyzed to determine the amount of impact placed on the feet and legs and the areas on the feet where most of the impact occurs.

Then, shoe manufacturers designed shoes to lessen the impact these activities placed on those parts of the body. This was good news considering these shoes helped prevent many injuries. The bad news, however, is that the cost of buying a whole fleet of shoes for differing activities can be enormous, not to mention the space they take in the closet.

Shoe manufacturers recognized these problems and began designing cross-training shoes that can be used for various activities and still offer protection from the stress these activities place on your body.

Cross-training shoes are good for the light- to moderate-level exerciser. For example, if you run two to three miles twice a week, do aerobic dance three times a week, and occasionally play tennis or racquetball, these shoes might be for you. If, however, you’re a more serious athlete (for example, you run 10 to 12 miles a week or play basketball, tennis, or racquetball on a regular basis), you should stick with shoes that are designed for these specific activities to avoid injury.

When you shop for a cross-training shoe, be aware that many come with “extras.” These extras make more of a fashion statement than provide comfort. Many cross-training shoes have unnecessary overlapping leather, plastic, and rubber extras which look nice, but can irritate some areas of the foot.

When you shop, look for a shoe with the least extras. Of course, look for a comfortable fit and make sure there is adequate support and cushioning in the heel and forefoot. Also, make sure the shoe offers stability and flexibility.

Questions you might ask yourself while you try on the shoe:

* Fit. Is it comfortable? Can I feel anything inside the shoe rubbing or causing pressure in a given part of my foot? (If you do, take the shoe off and see if you can feel it with your hand.)

Does my heel stay in the shoe when I walk – or does it come up or out? (Heels that are too big or wide can cause blisters from the foot coming in and out during exercise. Look for a shoe with a narrower heel.) Do my toes have enough room to breathe – are my toes pushed up against the front end? (If your toes push against the front end of the shoe, you need a larger size.)

* Support. Hold the shoe with both hands and see whether you can twist it as if you were wringing out a rag. A stable, well-supported cross-training shoe should not be easy to twist sideways. It should, however, be flexible in the area where your toes will bend during normal activity. Also check to see how much cushioning there is under the heel. Heels take a major impact of exercise, so you want to offer them cushioned support.

Taking the time to find the right shoe may be the best move you’ll make in your cross-training routine.