The Difference Between Walking Shoes, Running Shoes, and Cross Trainers

For the cynical among us, the different types of athletic shoes feel like a trick the shoe companies pull to make more money. After all, how much difference can there really be between sneakers? The answer is, a lot. Luckily, choosing the right shoe for your activity doesn’t require a special degree, just a bit of knowledge. This post walks you through the basics.

What Makes a Good Walking Shoe?

Women's walking shoes, Preferred Foot and Ankle, Gilbert AZ

When you walk for exercise, your heel hits the ground first before rolling gradually to the toe. This means you want a shoe with good shock absorption at the heel, particularly under the ball of the foot. Also, look for a shoe with a rocker bottom or slight rounding at the sole. This helps your weight shift smoothly from heel to toe.

The shoe should also be flexible along the arch area but more rigid at the toe, which allows you to roll forward more easily. Finally, you want a lightweight shoe that makes walking easy.

The benefits of using a walking shoe include:

  • Reduced heel pain
  • Reduced burning and tenderness at the ball of the foot

When trying them on, look for a walking shoe that has good cushioning under the ball of your foot and that supports the arch. If you live in a wet climate, consider a shoe made with waterproof materials.

The Qualities of a Good Running Shoe

Running shoes, Preferred Foot and Ankle, Gilbert AZ

The best running shoes are lightweight, flexible, and have heel control and overall great shock absorption. In addition, the heel is thicker and the sole arched, with intricate treads that help propel forward movement.

If you prefer off-road running, look for trail running shoes. These offer greater stability and support, with more aggressive tread. You get much better traction and support when running over rocks, mud, and other uneven terrain.

The benefits of running shoes include:

  • Prevent shin splints, tendinitis, and stress fractures
  • Reduce heel pain

Some people advocate for minimalist running shoes. These offer little in the way of shock absorption or support. This type of shoe hasn’t been around long enough for there to be conclusive evidence for or against. However, if you’re bothered by shin splints and similar overuse symptoms due to running, we recommend the cushioning of a good pair of running shoes.

When Are Cross Trainers Okay?

Cross training shoes, Preferred Foot and Ankle, Gilbert AZ

When you perform a specific activity three or more times per week, we recommend shoes designed specifically for that activity. However, if your usual routine includes a mishmash of walking, jogging, playing a game of pick-up basketball, hitting the yoga mat, etc., then a good pair of cross trainers is just what the doctor ordered.

Cross trainers combine the running shoe’s flexibility at the forefoot with the court shoe’s lateral control and the walking shoe’s shock absorption. They’re great all-around shoes for the person who likes to do a little bit of everything.

A good cross-trainer has a strong, stable sole that’s thick and durable. Traction supports side-to-side movement, and cushioning throughout the shoe gives you extra stability. A solid upper gives you greater ankle support while a mesh upper helps dissipate heat to keep your feet cool.

Finding the Perfect Size Shoe

No matter how great the shoe is, if it doesn’t fit right, it won’t support your feet. It may even harm them. That’s why getting the right fit is a key component in choosing the right shoe.

Start by going to a shoe store that specializes in athletic shoes. When the staff asks if they can help you, the correct answer is Yes, please. They’re a great resource on which shoes are the best for your favorite activity.

Next, ask to have your foot sized. Yes, even if you’ve had it sized before. Foot size changes throughout your life. But, don’t rely on that number. Although it’s natural to assume a size 10 in one brand is the same as in another, it isn’t. You need to try on every pair of shoes before buying them.

It’s best to shop for shoes either at the end of the day or after your workout. This is when your feet are largest. And, since exercise causes feet to swell, it ensures the shoes will fit properly. Also, wear the same socks you wear during your activity to get the best fit.

Finally, shoes should feel comfortable immediately. Ignore that voice from your childhood telling you you’ll break them in. Stand up, walk around, run around even. There should be a half-inch of space between your longest toe and the edge of the toe box. If the shoe doesn’t feel good, put the pair back on the shelf and try again. Don’t worry, the right shoes are out there.

How to Support Your Foot Type

In addition to the right size, you want a shoe that supports your foot type, i.e. your arches. If you aren’t sure what type arch you have (high, low, or neutral), try getting one foot wet and placing it on a piece of paper. If you see:

  • Little to no curve = low arches or flat feet; you probably have a tendency toward overpronation (i.e. feet roll inward)
  • Narrow connection between heel and foot = high arches; you probably have a tendency toward underpronation (i.e. feet roll outward)
  • Footprint has a distinct curve = neutral arch

If you have low arches or flat feet, you want a shoe with greater motion control, excellent stability, and maximum support. This helps align your legs and feet, reducing that inward roll.

Those who have a high arch need a cushioned shoe with a soft midsole, which gives better shock absorption. And, if you have a neutral arch, look for shoes with moderate stability that combine comfort and support.

Miscellaneous Tips for Athletic Shoes

custom made prescribed orthotics for children, Pediatric Foot and Ankle, Gilbert AZ

The following general advice helps ensure your shoes fit properly and support your feet.

  • Don’t wait for shoes to show signs of wear. Replace athletic shoes them every 3 to 6 months, or 300-500 miles if you walk or jog. If you wait too long, you’ll begin to notice pains in your feet and legs that you didn’t use to get.
  • No matter how much you love them, don’t wear your athletic shoes for everyday activities. They’ll wear out much faster. Instead, get a basic pair of sneakers for shopping, work, etc., and save your specialty shoes for walking, running, or favorite workout.
  • If you’re a woman with larger or wider feet than the norm, try a man’s or boy’s shoe. They tend to be wider, even when they’re the same length as the woman’s model.
  • Look for shoes with a wide toe box if you have bunions or hammer toes.
  • If you have plantar fasciitis, a heel cup helps alleviate pain and support the heel.
  • To treat arch pain, consider an arch support, i.e. orthosis.
  • Use a metatarsal pad to relieve pain in the balls of your toe(s).

If you have foot pain and/or questions about supporting your feet through any activity, call us at 480-497-3946. Or, complete our contact form and we’ll answer your question as quickly as possible.