Training Shoes vs. Athletic Sneakers: How to Tell the Difference

Training vs Athletic Shoes

Getty/Design by Cristina Cianci

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

Nike Free TR8
Nike Free TR8 $100
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Reebok Nano X
Reebok Nano X $130
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Adidas Supernova
Adidas Supernova $100
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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. They also have more padding in the heel, as the outer heel takes most of the jolt when running. Additionally, since running generates more heat than walking, running shoes tend to feature mesh for comfort and breathability.” 


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

Adidas Ultraboost
Adidas Ultraboost $180
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Asics Gel-Nimbus
Asics Gel-Nimbus Running Shoe $150
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New Balance 847v4
New Balance 847v4 $135
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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. 

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