What’s the Difference Between Running and Walking Shoes?

Buying Guide

Matching your shoe to the type of physical activity you’re doing is essential to keeping your feet on the move.

Last updated: January 8, 2022
5 min read
Do I Need Different Shoes for Running and Walking?

Both running and walking provide an array of health benefits. Running is a great form of aerobic exercise that helps strengthen muscles and bones. It also helps you burn calories, maintain a healthy weight and improve your heart.

Although you move slower when you walk, the activity comes with its own set of health benefits. Walking uses more muscles than you may realize, engaging your legs and core as you move. Even your toe muscles participate in keeping you going. Walking can help alleviate stress and get you a better night’s sleep in addition to improving cardiovascular health and overall fitness.

Whether you walk or you run, you want to do it with the right type of shoe to ensure you have a productive and effective workout, without any muscle strain or pain. The shoe makes the difference — whether that's a running shoe or a walking shoe.

Some Fancy Footwork

Shoes are divided into running or walking because the movement for each activity is different. The same pair of shoes won’t work, long-term, for both activities.

Runners and walkers use a different foot strike as they move. This is because, at one point, runners have both feet off the ground while walkers always have one foot down. Both runners and walkers will land heel-first as they move, but walkers immediately roll forward onto their toes.

Weight distribution is different between the two activities as different amounts of force go down onto your feet. Runners disperse two to three times their body weight across their feet and legs with each step, while walkers top out at only one to two times.

To manage the foot movement of both runners and walkers, the features of each type of footwear are customized. It’s why you have running shoes and walking shoes.

All About Running Shoes

For many runners, getting outside and feeling the ground move past you as you fly down the road is more than a way to exercise. It’s a passion that would feel wrong in the wrong shoe. In fact, it would downright hurt your feet, leg muscles and more to run in a pair of shoes that wasn’t meant for running or wasn't properly cushioned.

To get things right, your running shoe should have at least a few of these characteristics in your footwear:

● A durable and breathable upper part of the shoe, preferably with some mesh

Lightweight construction for quick movements

● A stable heel that holds your foot fits snugly (without being too tight)

● Reflective material if you’re a nighttime runner

● Removable insoles for easy cleaning and replacement if they wear out before first

● Plenty of cushioning and durability for long distances

● Solid traction that works on multiple types of terrain

Style is important too, but it should never be your first priority when looking for a running shoe. Getting a shoe that looks cool but doesn't fit right or have enough cushioning could mean major blisters later.

The other big blister-cause when it comes to finding the right pair of running shoes is the fit. You want to try on your running shoes each time you buy new, even if you know your size. Things can change and different shoes can fit differently. Make sure the shoe is never too tight. You should be able to wiggle your toes at the foot.

The Lowdown on Walking Shoes

Features will overlap between a running shoe and a walking shoe, but not everything is the same. Most walking shoes should fit well and combine a lightweight feel with decent shock absorption. Many walkers go pretty far each time they exercise; you want to care for your feet with each mile.

Stability, flexibility and comfort make up the trifecta of any good walking shoe.

● They should feel balanced and secure, no matter how your foot moves.

● They should allow for a smooth motion when walking, catering to the heel-to-toe movement of a walker.

● They should hold your foot in place without being too tight at either end.

● They should have enough weight to help maintain stability.

To get the best fit out of your walking shoe make sure you measure both feet every time you buy a new shoe. Cater to your larger foot, if there’s a size difference, and never assume your feet are exactly the same size as when you last shopped for a pair of shoes.

To check the fit, make sure you’re wearing the same type of socks you’ll wear while walking. Lace up both shoes all the way and take them for a test run around the shoe store. If you’re at home, walk a lap around your place to make sure they feel right. Trying on shoes with the wrong socks won’t guarantee their fit and could leave you very uncomfortable on that inaugural walk.

Go the Distance at Any Speed

Walking or running to get your daily workout is totally your choice, but knowing the qualities of the right shoe can make each step better. Look out for a comfortable fit, the right cushioning and a shoe that lets your foot breathe — you’ll go the distance with happy feet the whole way.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should You Use Running Shoes for Walking?

Since there are significant differences between how your foot moves between running and walking, it’s better for your feet if the shoe fits your activity. However, what it’s all about really, is comfort. If you’re more comfortable in a running shoe, but you’re a walker, it’s okay to wear it. The reverse may not always be true, however. A walking shoe may not provide enough cushioning and support for the rigors of a runner.

What’s the Best Way to Lace My Running Shoe?

There are actually multiple different ways to lace your shoe. The best for runners and walkers is the loop technique. Also known as the runner’s knot, this lacing style keeps your instep comfortable and provides the snug fit your need whether running or walking on uneven terrain.

When is the Best Time of Day to Buy a Running or Walking Shoe?

Late afternoon is the best time to buy any shoe since your feet swell during the day. Trying on a shoe first thing in the morning could have you back at the store, returning it, the next day because it’s too small by dinner. Most feet stop swelling by about 4 pm, so going later than that will ensure a good fit.

Do I Have to Break in New Running/Walking Shoes?

No. If your shoes fit right, there is never a breaking-in period. You should be good to go on your regular run or walk from the very start. If your shoes don’t start off comfortable, they’re never going to get to that just-right point.

What Other Factors Contribute to Sizing My Shoe Right?

It’s not only length that matters when looking at the right shoe, but also width. Especially for all the movement you do as a runner or a walker, your shoe should fit perfectly all around. Make sure when you’re measuring the length of your foot, to get your size, you’re also looking at width.

Originally published: December 30, 2021

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