Walking vs. Running Shoes: Podiatrists Explain

YYou’ve probably heard at some point that you shouldn’t wear the same shoes for walking and running. And according to podiatrists, it’s true! But what should you really look for in each type of sneaker to make sure you’re buying a smart, healthy pair?

“There is no universal answer,” says Trent Brookshire, DPM, a podiatric surgeon in San Diego, California. “As with all aspects of medicine, the treatment plan should be tailored to each patient based on their unique needs.”

Your body and foot type, for example, can make a big difference in what type of kick will work best for you, says Dr. Brookshire. An example is flat feet versus high arches. “Those who are more flat-footed, or who have more pronation ([when the] feet fall or roll in) will probably need more support,” he said. Podiatrists also consider body mass. “A person who weighs 200 pounds will need a more stable, sturdy shoe than someone who weighs 100 pounds,” he adds.

What’s more, your choice depends on exactly how you plan to use the shoes. “If you’re a short-distance runner or sprinter, you may want a minimalist shoe that’s lightweight. For someone doing long distances, support and cushioning will be more important,” says Dr. Brookshire.

That said, there are a few general characteristics that distinguish good walking shoes from good running shoes. Keep these in mind to choose the right pair for each activity.

Choosing Walking vs. Running Shoes

For walking, you want a shoe that is more rigid and flattering (low heel to lower toe). It should be more flexible for running, and more contoured (more heel to toe drop).

“Walking shoes are less flexible and bulky than an optimal running shoe, but at the same time more supportive and stable than a casual sneaker,” says Nelia Lobkova, DPM, a podiatrist in New York City. “Typically running shoes have a heel-to-toe drop of 10-13 millimeters compared to a smaller heel-to-toe drop for walking shoes. This is because the mechanics of walking do not require the heel to be as high at contact point in walking as compared to running.”

To prevent common walking injuries like plantar fasciitis, Dr. Lobkova says, “There needs to be adequate rigidity in the sole and cushioning in the midfoot to prevent impact on the ankle.” Have you noticed the thick soles of the Hoka Clifton compared to the virtually non-existent soles of a Nike Free? Classic example of structure versus flexibility.

Podiatrists recommend looking for walking shoes with a firm heel counter – the back part of the heel around the Achilles insertion. “A firm heel counter minimizes abnormal stretching of the plantar fascia and reduces pain and inflammation in the heel and arch,” says Dr. Lobkova. When you’re running, however, a super hard back can dig into your ankles and cause blisters.

For walking: bend-twist-squeeze test

Dr. Brookshire shares a test he developed to determine if a shoe is supportive enough for walking: the “Bend-Twist-Squeeze Test.”

  1. Try the shoe on and make sure it fits properly – it should have good arch support (and plenty of cushion if you’re walking long distances).
  2. Bend the sole upwards; It “shouldn’t be too flexible and should only bend towards the toes.”
  3. Twist the toes and ankles in opposite directions; You won’t be able to get it out like a towel.
  4. Squeeze the heel cup to make sure there is enough support.

Doctors’ favorite shoes

Dr. Brookshire never recommends buying shoes singly (no pun intended) for the brand. Still, he says some of his safest bets across the board are models from Brooks, New Balance, Asics, Hoka and Gravity Defy.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lobkova prefers these options:

  • Her favorite running shoe is the New Balance Fresh Foam 800v12 ($105).
  • The Hoka One One Bondi SR ($175) has great cushioning for concrete city streets, especially distance walking, with a 6mm drop.
  • The ON Cloudventure ($150) is a roomy, supportive shoe for everyday walking, with a 6 millimeter drop.
  • The New Balance Made in USA 990v5 ($185) offers good cushioning and an Ortholite insole for light arch support with a 6-millimeter drop.
  • If you want a more style-forward walking shoe, the Vejer Deccan ($185) and V-10 ($150–$195) make Dr. Lobkova’s approved list. “These models have a heel offset and midsole stability,” he says
  • The KLAW 528 ($82) is always in his closet, as he’s also a consultant who helps with their technical design “to create the best shoe for walking.”

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