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. For that very reason, many walking shoes aren't good for fitness walking, either.

Meanwhile, 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 aim to provide structure and cushioning with far 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.

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

You have to analyze walking shoe designs carefully to find these features, as many are stiff and heavy. They fight your natural foot motion and slow you down. It comes down to having fewer choices when you shop in the walking shoe aisle, so fitness walkers often find running shoes that better meet their needs.



Sole of Running Shoes
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Runners need more cushioning: Runners impact the ground with three times their body weight with each step, while walkers impact with only 1.5 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.

Walkers need less cushioning: 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 walkers should look for: Fitness walkers should look for a lighter shoe that still provides adequate cushioning so their feet and legs do not feel beat up from the impact after a long walk. While racing flats and extremely light 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 6 miles at a time, you should look into cushioned running shoes, but choose ones that meet the other criteria for good walking shoes. For example, the Brooks Glycerin shoes are lightweight but cushioned shoes that work well for walkers who will be walking longer distances such as a half-marathon.


Heel Height

Heel Height
Heel Height. Wendy Bumgardner ©

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.

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

What walkers should look for: Walkers should look for 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 in millimeters (mm).

Look for shoes with a heel drop of less than 8 mm, with 4 mm or less being preferred.

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.


Heel Flare

Heel Flare
Heel Flare. Wendy Bumgardner ©

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 should look for: Fitness walking shoes should not have a flared heel. Walkers strike the ground with their heel, and a flared heel impedes rolling forward through the step. A true fitness walking shoe would have an undercut heel rather than a flared heel or a built-up heel.



Flexible Shoe
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Both running shoes and walking shoes need to be flexible. Press down with the toe of the shoe and see where the shoe bends. 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.

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.

Unfortunately, many shoes marketed as walking shoes do not flex at all. They are unsuited for fitness walking.

Motion control shoes and stability shoes will be less flexible, as they have medial posts and other 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.


Where Can You Find Good Running Shoes for Walking?

Shopping for Athletic Shoes
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You can start with top picks 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.

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

Being fitted by an expert, can help you steer clear of many of the pitfalls of selecting shoes based mostly on whether they are labeled for walkers or runners. Or, just as bad, selecting shoes based mostly on style rather than whether they are right for your feet.

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 that is best. What matters is that it fits well and allows your foot to go through its natural motions to propel you forwards.

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