Training shoes vs running shoes: what’s the difference?


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When you head out for your next workout, make sure you grab the right pair of shoes.

Although you might think that all athletic shoes are created more or less the same, there are some major differences between running shoes and training shoes. Knowing the difference can be an asset for better workouts and performance.

This article explains the differences between training shoes and running shoes, how to select the right shoe, and whether you can use them interchangeably.

There is a big difference between running shoes and training shoes.

As the name suggests, running shoes are designed for running. You can use them both outdoors and on treadmills.

They are made for forward motion, from heel to toe. In addition, they reduce lateral or side-to-side movements.

They tend to have a higher heel-to-toe drop, which is the difference in heel-to-toe height. This provides additional cushioning and shock absorption, which helps absorb the impact of your body weight as you run to protect your joints and ligaments (1, 2, 3).

Typically, they’re made from mesh, which allows for better heat dissipation and breathability during long sweaty runs (1, 2).

On the other hand, or should we say foot, training shoes are meant for multidirectional and lateral movements. They typically have a low heel-to-toe drop and a smaller cushion, allowing for a greater range of motion during movements like squats (4).

They also tend to have a wider toe box. This extra space supports lateral movements and allows your feet to make quick changes in direction.

Use training shoes for fitness activities like weight lifting, high-intensity fitness classes, outdoor boot camps, agility training, and any other activity that requires you to move through multiple directions, like tennis.


Running shoes are designed for heel-to-toe forward movement and have extra cushioning to absorb shock. Training shoes are designed for multi-directional movement and typically have a smaller cushion and lower heel height.

Each person needs different running shoes based on their anatomy, stride, goals, experience, and preferences. Your best option is to seek out a local running shoe store that can provide expert, personal advice (5, 6).

That said, here are some things to look for in a running shoe (1, 7, 8, 9):

  • Heel cushioning. This is defined as the thickness and firmness of the material under the midsole. It reduces impact shock on your heels. The amount of cushioning you need largely depends on personal preference and comfort.
  • Heel to toe drop. This measurement typically ranges from zero (0 mm) to low (1–4 mm) to medium (5–8 mm) to high (8+ mm). The right height depends on your kick, past or current injuries, stride, cadence, distance, comfort, and running terrain.
  • Support for your foot type. Some shoes are suitable for flat, wide, arched, narrow or neutral feet. If you’re not sure what your foot type is, talk to an expert who can help you figure it out.
  • Good fit. Buying shoes that are too small can damage your nails and cause blisters. Ideally, there should be a half-inch (1.3 cm) space between your toes and the edge of the shoe. Buy shoes at the end of the day when your foot is the biggest.
  • Lightweight. Running shoes should be lightweight to reduce the extra weight with each stride.
  • General comfort. Due to differences in anatomy and personal preference, you may prefer certain features over others. Choose shoes that make you feel comfortable rather than fashionable ones.

In the end, you will only know which type of shoe is best for you by trial and error. Asking a running shoe expert at your local running shoe store for help can help speed up the process (ten).

As a general rule, try to replace your running shoes after 300 to 500 miles (483 to 805 km).


There are many important considerations when buying a running shoe, such as cushioning, heel and toe drop, and terrain, as well as your foot type and personal preference.

A good training shoe should allow you to move freely while providing support and comfort. While you can buy shoes designed for specific activities and sports, cross trainers are designed for those who participate in a variety of activities.

Here are some things to look out for when buying training shoes (1):

  • Heel support. A good training shoe provides extra support in the heels. This usually comes in the form of a plastic overlay near the heel, although all companies offer different designs.
  • Flexibility. A flexible shoe allows you to move easily in multiple directions.
  • Bend at the toes. Training shoes should allow for a bend at the toes. This allows your foot to push through the forefoot or the base of your toes.
  • Wider forefoot. Training shoes should be wider in the forefoot to support lateral movement.
  • Cushioned. Buy shoes that provide some cushioning but aren’t too bulky. Excessive cushioning could cause you to land incorrectly during multidirectional movements, which could lead to knee or ankle injury.
  • Lower heel to toe drop. A high heel-to-toe drop can increase the risk of ankle sprain during lateral movements.
  • Traction. To allow safe and quick movements, choose training shoes with adequate traction on the sole. Ideally, you should feel the shoes grip the ground when you try to slide your feet over a surface.
  • Material. Which material to choose largely depends on your personal preferences. Workout shoes typically feature a combination of mesh, plastic, and leather or synthetic materials.

In some cases, consider buying shoes for a specific sport or activity. For example, basketball shoes feature high tops to provide ankle support, while weightlifting shoes may have a high heel-to-toe height to support some lifts (11, 12, 13).

As with running shoes, it’s best to speak to an expert for personalized recommendations. Always choose comfortable shoes that allow you to exercise safely and effectively.


Elliptical trainer shoes are best if you intend to use them for multiple activities, while sport-specific shoes can provide additional support and improve performance. Most training shoes allow rapid movement in all directions.

If walking is your preferred mode of exercise, you’ll want to put on running shoes.

This is because walking involves a heel-to-toe motion similar to running and requires adequate shock absorption (14, 15).

Even when it comes to everyday running errands, it is better to use running shoes for extra support.


It is better to wear running shoes than training shoes when walking or doing other daily activities.

There are several reasons why it’s best to buy a separate pair of running shoes and training shoes.

First, wearing the right shoes can reduce the risk of injury to the feet, ankles, knees, hips and back (1, 7).

For example, workout shoes don’t offer much support and cushioning, so they’re not ideal for absorbing your weight when you go for a run.

Conversely, the extra cushioning and heel height of running shoes limits range of motion during weightlifting and increases the risk of ankle injury during lateral movements (13, 16, 17).

Also, your performance can suffer if you don’t wear the right shoes. Running shoes are lightweight, allowing for faster running. As a result, they also limit the multidirectional movements needed for many other sports and activities (18).

Finally, wearing the same shoes for all types of activities increases overall wear. This would mean that you would have to replace your shoes sooner.

Although it’s probably more expensive to buy more than one pair of shoes, you reduce your risk of injury and could increase your performance. We think it pays off in the end.


If possible, buy a separate pair of running and training shoes. This reduces your risk of injury and can improve your performance.

If you’re looking for ideas, here are some of our favorite running and training shoes.

Running shoes

Brooks Glycerin 17

The Brooks Glycerin 17 is a great option if you’re looking for extra cushioning and support. They come in a range of colors and widths.

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19

The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19 is perfect for those with wider feet or bunions. It provides excellent arch support and cushioning.

New Balance Fresh Foam 860v11

The New Balance Fresh Foam 860v11 is ideal for anyone looking for a lightweight running shoe with extra support.

Running shoes

Reebok Nano X1

The Reebok Nano X is considered one of the best all-around athletic shoes thanks to its breathable fabric, Floatride Energy Foam cushioning, foam collar for ankle support, and versatile rubber outsole.

Adidas Power Lift

The Adidas Power Lift 4 is the perfect shoe for strength training and heavy lifting. It’s designed to keep your body in the correct position during heavy lifts like deadlifts and squats.

New Balance 996v4 Tennis Shoe

The New Balance 996v4 tennis shoe features a FuelCell midsole for maximum energy and propulsion, helping you move quickly and comfortably.

There is a big difference between running shoes and training shoes.

Running shoes are designed for heel-to-toe movement and cushioned to absorb shock. On the other hand, training shoes are wider around your toes and allow for more lateral movement.

Wearing the right pair of shoes can reduce your risk of injury, improve your performance and increase your comfort.

Next time you’re lacing, make sure it’s with the right pair of shoes.

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