Running Shoes vs. Walking Shoes

Different Needs for Different Speeds

A running shoe has different characteristics from a walking shoe. Runners should not run in walking shoes, as most of them are too stiff and don't flex the way runners need them to flex. That means many walking shoes aren't good for fitness walking, either.

Instead, fitness walkers can usually find a running shoe that meets their needs better than most shoes marketed as walking shoes. By knowing what qualities to look for, a walker can analyze both running shoes and walking shoes to find the models that work best.

Running shoes have several functions, and designers work to keep them updated with the newest materials and technology. You have a wide range of choices for different running styles and needs. They vary in the amount of cushioning, from minimalist designs for racing to cushioned shoes for long-distance running.

Running shoe models offer different levels of heel-to-toe drop to serve the needs of toe-strikers, midfoot-strikers, and heel-strikers. Running shoes are also categorized by their stability elements and whether they are motion control shoes constructed to help correct for overpronation. Newer designs provide structure and cushioning with less weight, and with seamless construction to eliminate points of rubbing that can lead to blisters.

Walking shoes, by contrast, have always lagged in technology and have been designed more for comfort than for performance. If you need a comfortable shoe for short walks and strolling at an easy pace, these may do fine.

But fitness walkers need a flexible, lightweight, and flat shoe as they strike with the heel and roll through each step.

Analyze walking shoe designs carefully, as many are stiff and heavy. They fight your natural foot motion and slow you down. Since there are fewer choices in the walking shoe aisle, fitness walkers often shop for running shoes that better meet their needs.

Cushioning

Close up of sporty woman tying shoelace while kneeling outdoor, In background bridge. Fitness outdoors concept.
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What runners need: Runners impact the ground with three times their body weight with each step, while walkers impact with only one and a half times their body weight. Runners need more cushioning in the heel and forefoot than walkers, which is why you see all of the hype about air cushioning systems in their shoes.

What walkers need: Walkers don't need extra forefoot cushioning, and most can do with less heel cushioning. Extra cushioning adds extra weight, so it is a trade-off between a heavier shoe that lessens the trauma to your feet and legs and a lighter shoe in which you may be able to run or walk faster.

What fitness walkers should look for: Opt for a lighter shoe that still provides adequate cushioning, so your feet and legs do not feel beat up from the impact after a long walk. While racing flats and minimalist/barefoot shoes may work for shorter walks, they do not have enough cushioning for regular use or longer walks.

If you plan to walk more than six miles at a time, look into cushioned running shoes, but choose ones that meet the other criteria for good walking shoes. For example, Brooks Glycerin shoes are lightweight but cushioned shoes that work well for walking longer distances, such as a half-marathon.

Heel Height

Heel Height

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What runners need: Running shoes are designed to provide stability for runners by having a built-up heel. Runners strike the ground first with different parts of their foot, depending on the individual. The foot strike can be at the forward part of their heel, the midfoot, or the ball of the foot. There are different theories as to what heel-to-toe drop is appropriate for runners.

What walkers need: Walkers strike with the heel and roll through the step. They have no need for a higher heel.

What fitness walkers should look for: You need running shoes with the least difference in height from the heel through the toe. This is called heel drop, and often you can find it listed on the shoebox in millimeters.

It's deceptive to try to estimate it by looking at the shoe's outer sole. Some may appear to have a higher heel, but the heel of your foot actually sits lower inside the shoe.

Look for shoes with a heel drop of less than 8 millimeters (though 4 millimeters or less is best).

Heel Flare

Heel Flare

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What runners need: Running shoes may have a flared heel to provide extra stability for runners who strike the ground at their midfoot or forefoot. A flared heel is also often seen on trail running shoes.

What walkers need: Walkers strike the ground with their heel, and a flared heel impedes rolling forward through the step.

What fitness walkers should look for: Avoid flared heels. A true fitness walking shoe has an undercut heel rather than a flared or built-up heel.

Flexibility

Flexible Shoe

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What runners need: Many running shoe designs flex most at the arch or midfoot. But some designs flex most at the forefoot. These suit the differing needs for runners who strike at midfoot or with the ball of their foot.

Motion control shoes and stability shoes will be less flexible, as they have construction elements that aim to keep the foot from rotating too much during a step. Runners and walkers who need motion control have to sacrifice some flexibility in their shoes.

What walkers need: Both running shoes and walking shoes need to be flexible.

What fitness walkers should look for: Press down with the toe of the shoe and see where the shoe bends. Fitness walking shoes should flex at the forefoot, as walkers should push off with their toes. A shoe that bends at the arch does not provide the platform they need. A shoe that doesn't bend at all is unacceptable.

Many shoes marketed as walking shoes don't flex at all. They are unsuited for fitness walking.

Where to Find Running Shoes for Walking

Start with lists of shoes of different types that have the traits walkers need in running shoes. Then go to the best running shoe store in your area and get fitted there by the specialists. This helps you avoid the pitfall of selecting shoes based mostly on whether they are labeled for walkers or runners—or just as bad, based on style rather than whether they are right for your feet.

No one shoe is best for every walker or runner. Everyone has their own needs and it is time well spent to have athletic shoes fitted by an expert.

A Word From Verywell

You might discover that the best shoe for your fitness needs is a well-designed walking shoe. Or you may find a running shoe works best. What matters is that it fits well and allows your foot to go through its natural motions to propel you forward.

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