Walking shoes, gym shoes, running shoes–you probably already own a large collection of fitness footwear you keep on hand for all your athletic pursuits. Why do you need so many athletic shoes, exactly? And is it really that detrimental if you wear your running shoes to the gym from time to time? We talked to top trainers and shoe experts to find out the dynamic differences between training shoes and other sneakers—and how to find out what shoes are best for your fitness needs.
Meet the Expert
What Are Training Shoes, and Do You Need A Pair?
Training shoes or trainers should be your go-to gym shoes (and go-to shoes for any fitness classes that require sneakers such as Zumba, TRX, HIIT, or Body Pump.) “Training shoes are meant to protect and enhance an athlete or gym-goer's fitness performance,” Nicholas says, “Wearing training shoes, specifically ones that are precisely designed for your activity, delivers added support and improved stability during your training.”
To dig deeper into the science of training shoe design, Nicholas says to think of every exercise as a movement sequence where you are carrying and shifting your weight. Training shoes are designed to allow you to land on your feet evenly and properly. They also absorb the shock of the movement and keep you from getting injured. That’s thanks to the cushioning, design, and durability that these shoes have.
You should use your trainers primarily in the gym. “A general training shoe can be used pretty much for any exercise, especially if you're working out with gym equipment within the walls and comfort of a gym establishment,” Nicholas says.
The only exception is if you’re going to be running or walking a lot of miles each week on the treadmill. If that’s the case, you’ll want to look into running or walking shoes. And try to avoid mixing up your gym trainers with your running or walking shoes that you wear outside.
The Best Training Shoes to Try
When to Buy Walking or Running Shoes
Runners and walkers, listen up: Even if you aren’t doing hundreds of miles a week, you could still benefit from a specialized walking or running shoe. These are specifically designed to keep you injury-free by providing extra cushioning and absorbing the shock of these activities.
"Running shoes are specifically designed to absorb two to three times your body weight," Fawkes says. “This is important, as a surplus of impact can harm your ligaments and joints." Running shoes also have more padding in the heel, as the outer heel takes most of the jolt for people who are rearfoot strikers (the most common foot strike patterns among recreational runners).
"Additionally, since running generates more heat than walking, running shoes tend to feature mesh for comfort and breathability," Fawkes adds.
If you’ve been going out on a lot of mind-clearing walks lately, don’t just rely on your gym trainers. Walking shoes are the way to go. “Walking shoes are fashioned to absorb one to two times your body weight,” Fawkes says. “They're also built to give more room through the ball of the foot. This offers a better range of motion.”
The Best Running and Walking Shoes to Try
How to Choose the Right Athletic Shoes for You
When choosing athletic shoes, think about the types of physical activity you do regularly. Of course, if you go to the gym, run, and walk outside, you may want to invest in all three types of shoes.
Don’t want to get three different pairs of shoes? Fawkes recommends cross-trainers as your best bet. “If you plan to be both inside and outside of the gym a few times a week, choose a cross-training shoe,” he says. “If you're more apt to walk, invest in walking shoes and wear them for extra support even while you're out doing errands.”
And when you go to try on shoes, do it at the end of the day, Fawkes recommends. “Take it from the American Heart Association and get fitted at the end of the day, when your foot is usually at its biggest.” That will help you stay comfortable and injury-free, whatever activities you take on.
Bain also recommends going to a specialized running store. "They can analyze your walking or running style, and recommend a certain type of shoe (stability or neutral for example) to best fit how your feet and ankles move when you walk or run to prevent injury," she says.
de Almeida MO, Saragiotto BT, Yamato TP, Lopes AD. Is the rearfoot pattern the most frequently foot strike pattern among recreational shod distance runners? Phys Ther Sport. 2015;16(1):29-33. doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2014.02.005