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Are running shoes good for walking? What is the difference between the two activities anyway?
“Both running and walking are forward motions,” says NYC-based podiatrist Dr. Jackie Sutera. “For both activities you need cushion and shock absorption in the shoes.”
A primary distinction between running and walking is that running tends to be higher impact with a more aggressive foot strike, says USA Track & Field-certified running and conditioning coach Yusuf Jeffers.
Do I need separate shoes for running and walking?
“Walking versus running have different gaits. Therefore wear patterns will form on your sneakers at very different rates. So it’s really best not to use the same pair of shoes for the two different activities,” according to Dr. Sutera.
“In my opinion, having two separate pairs — one dedicated to running and one to walking — is a better idea,” she says.
Coach Jeffers reminds us that specialization is key to performance. “A shoe designed for running a marathon looks very different from a pair of spikes used to sprint 100m,” he said.
“In walking, your foot is more less always in contact with the ground,” Coach Jeffers emphasizes. “We use a heel to toe foot strike, which means lower impact forces and slightly less need for stability.”
What makes a good running shoe?
If you’re picking out a pair of running shoes, coach Jeffers says that you should pay attention to a few key specializations.
Most models (and manufacturers) will start by categorizing your specific footstrike type. Be sure to identify which group you fall into.
Neutral shoes are designed for those of us whose foot hits the ground relatively evenly at all points. Coach Jeffers prefers Nike’s running shoe offerings for this type of foot.
Stability running shoes are designed specifically to compensate for either overpronation – when your foot tends to land and roll to the outside edge – or underpronation – when your foot lands or rolls to the inside edge. Asics offerings are particularly strong for stability, according to Coach Jeffers.
Distance and Surface
Once you’ve identified your footstrike, it’s also important to consider the type of running you’ll be doing. Long-distance running means that padding your feet with adequate cushioning for a long haul should probably be top of mind in your list of considerations. Trail running will require a shoe that features heavy outsoles and lugs designed for better traction on unpredictable, unpaved paths.
No matter what type of running you are doing, cushion will be king. As your foot hits the ground, it is under constant assault. The action tends to be particularly harsh on the ball of your foot. Making sure you pad appropriately is crucial to comfort. Whichever model of cushioned running shoes you choose, make sure it is leveraging the latest and greatest in absorption systems and cushioning, like the gels in the soles of this writer’s trusted Asics Gel Kayanos. Any athletic shoe manufacturer — from footwear legends like Adidas or New Balance to newer entries like Hoka One One — should have a variety of specialized options for you to choose from.
Selecting a running shoe that is lightweight and won’t drag your foot down for the tempo you want to achieve is key. Specialist materials like carbon fiber are probably overkill for most of us – unless you happen to be sprinting the 100M dash. Focus on finding a shoe that provides the proper level of cushioning without weighing you down.
What makes a good walking shoe?
For walkers, it’s crucial to make sure you are selecting walking shoes that are purpose built. “Beware of fashion sneakers,” Dr. Sutera warns. “They are okay for casual walking, errands, commuting and daily use, but they should not be used for exercise. If you are going out for a walk as a workout or exercise, you should wear workout sneakers that are appropriate for that.”
As coach Jeffers highlighted, running shoes tend to be lightweight to help you keep the tempo up. Since walking is a slower activity, it’s best to provide your foot with a bit more stability. A heavier shoe will provide more support better aligned to the slow, consistent pace of most walkers.
At a walking pace, your foot does not come nearly as high off the ground. As a result, the best walking shoes for either men or women do not require nearly the same level of cushioning to help mitigate the impact of footstrike. Dr. Sutera recommends to look for styles where the back of the shoe is thicker than the front to support heel-to-toe drop.
“Some of this boils down to preference,” she says, “but I would avoid shoes that are too thin, light, or flat. Minimalist shoes do not get my approval.”
High arches can be particularly problematic for walkers, Dr. Sutera reminds us. With a cavus foot type — higher than average arch height — body weight tends to be more heavily distributed to either the heel or the ball of the foot. And the consistent heel-to-toe movement of walking makes flexibility and support in your aches even more crucial. A shoe with greater arch support will keep your foot comfortable and help you avoid the pain of plantar fasciitis as you head down the road.
Many running shoes are built with an exaggerated flared heel. This feature is largely unnecessary for a walker. Dr. Sutera, who consults for Vionic’s Innovation Lab, recommends that brand’s styles. “The three zone technology that is embedded into all of Vionic’s shoes provides a deep seated heel cup, contoured supportive arches and loads of cushioning.”
How often should I replace either type of shoe?
“There is advice all over the map on this,” laments Dr. Sutera. “My best advice is to keep track of your miles but also always do a visual check on the soles and shoes overall.”
Coach Jeffers agrees that frequency of replacement really depends on the materials of each shoe and the activity you are using them for, but generally thinks you should swap for a new pair of running or walking shoes every 500 miles or so.
“When they show even the slightest signs of wear, before they have holes or are uneven and lopsided – that is the time to replace them,” says Dr. Sutera.
And don’t just replace them, get rid of them!
“Too often I see people making the mistake to take these worn out shoes and downgrade them for use in the garden, garage, or — worst of all — walking. Even during activities that seem like footwear matters less, you should wear shoes that are in good shape or you are at risk of injury.”
So, are running shoes good for walking?
So, were the three Musketeers right? Can one pair of shoes function for both running and walking?
While the technology in running shoes is great, you need to pay close attention that the features you are selecting are optimized for walking.
Buy two pairs.
Asics Gel-Kayano 28 Running Shoes
Best for Stability
- Available Size Range: 6-16
- Also available in Wide and X-Wide
- Available in 16 colors
Running shoes and ankle support don’t normally go hand in hand according to Dr. Dan Geller, but the Asics Gel-Kayano are the exception. This comfortable running shoe has been the gold standard of support in the category for decades and is a trusted go-to for runners — including this author — around the world. The sturdy platform and supportive upper that firmly hold your foot in place have been upgraded in recent years with the addition of the FF Blast midsole in the Asics Gel-Kayano 28. One long-time Asics wearer notes, “I’ve been wearing Asics since the early ’90s when I ran in college. In my opinion, this may be their best shoe yet. Fit and stability are similar to previous Asics Kayanos, but the cushioning feels better.”
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 Running Shoes
Best Neutral Shoe
- Available Size Range:7.5-15
- Available in 8 Colors
If you’re looking for a comfortable shoe for a variety of occasions–from the boardroom to brunch–our tried-and-true standard is the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38. Named after the trusted winged steed of Greek mythology, this style is our trusted workhorse as well–and not just because of its classic good looks. Cool, breathable uppers, a slightly wider fit, and plenty of underfoot cushion all make this shoe as comfortable as it is fashionable. And if you, like Pegasus, decide you want to take flight, it still delivers the performance a comfortable running shoe at its core.
Asics Trabuco Max Running Shoes
Best Trail Walking Shoe
- Available Size: 8-14
- Available Colors: Black/Electric Red, Black/Shocking Orange, Black/Digital Aqua
When it comes to running footwear, you can’t go wrong with Asics and the Trabuco Max — one of the prolific Japanese maker’s outstanding entries into the trail running category — is no exception. Neutral shoe with a ton of support, the Guidesole technology reduces ankle flexion and provides an ultra shock-absorbent landing zone, making these a great option to log long trail miles at any pace or gait. “This shoe is very comfortable. My first day I went on an 8.5 mile walk and the shoes felt great,” says ons reviewer.
On Cloud 5 Running Shoes
Best for Style
- Available Sizes: 7-14
- Available in 7 Colors
While it was developed as their flagship running shoe, the On Cloud is one of our favorite hybrid running/lifestyle shoes. The style’s molded heel provides stability that is complimented by a memory foam insole that delivers comfort and support. But the real coup d’etat, as the French speaking Swiss shoemakers would say, is the slip-on style and superior outer cushioning. Those features have made these sneakers a staple of sidewalks all over the country — and has reviewers buying multiple pairs.
Adidas Solarglide ST 4 Running Shoes
Best for Plantar Fasciitis
- Available Sizes: 6.5-13
- Available in 3 Colors
Adidas’ Boost midsole is undoubtedly one of the most cushioned, energy-returning midsoles on the market, making its running shoes some of the best around. The problem for runners suffering from plantar fasciitis is that the Boost is inherently unstable. Enter the Adidas Solarglide ST 4: a stable running shoe that features a Boost midsole. To increase stability, there’s firm, supportive plastic along the arch of the shoe and a stable frame that supports your foot through the gait. The achilles split soft back makes these one of best running shoes for plantar fasciitis and heel spurs.
Meet the Experts
- Dr. Jackie Sutera is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) and Vionic Innovation Lab member.
- Dr. Patrick McEneaney is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) and the owner and CEO of Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists.
- Dr. Brad Schaeffer is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) and owner of Sole Podiatry N.Y.C.
- Yusuf Jeffers is a former Division I Track & Field and basketball athlete with more than 14 years experience as a running and conditioning coach. He is certified by USA Track & Field and coached his high school team to state and national-level championships. He is a Head Coach Trainer at Tone House and Coach for Mile High Run Club, co-managing their training programs for half and full marathons. He is based in New York City.
Meet the Author
Peter Tittiger is a freelance journalist and content consultant. He is also an avid runner and a slave to his feet. A firm believer in “No Days Off,” he regularly logs at least five runs a week and cross-trains in the pool or on a bike. He has trained for and run in nearly a hundred races, including the New York City Marathon, and near annual completion of the full, 5-borough, NYRR half-marathon circuit.
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