So you’ve headed to your local Athlete’s Foot or shoe store and are asked the question: are you looking for walking shoes or running shoes?
Well, that’s hard to say, you think to yourself. I do a lot of walking – walk to work, walk the kids to school, walk to uni, go walking with friends for coffee on the weekend – but I’ve also recently joined the gym and would like to start running – or at least have the option to. So, what’s the difference between walking and running shoes? And what should you go with?
Today, our podiatrists here in Melbourne’s Point Cook have shared the key differences between walking and running shoes that you need to know when choosing which pair to buy next.
Before we dive into the differences, it’s important to understand why shoes are split into the category of ‘walking’ or ‘running’. Think about the force that you put into the ground and your feet when you run – they don’t refer to running as pounding the pavement for nothing. You absorb approximately three times your body weight when your feet hit the ground, which can happen in different places (heel, midfoot, forefoot), in different ways, and engaging different muscles and foot biomechanics. For a part of your running gait, both feet will be off the ground, and overall your feet will make contact with the ground for a shorter time. Running also causes your feet to sweat more. These are just a few of the differences – but even these alone have important implications on the design of the shoes, and is why they must be designed differently, each best fitted to their purpose and help you stay safe, comfortable and decrease your likelihood of injury.
Getting into the specifics, walking shoes tend to be heavier compared to running shoes. That’s because they use heavier materials to help stabilise the foot and support the arch during every step, as the foot spends more time in contact with the ground and needs that support. On the other hand, running shoes need to be lighter to help the runner keep going without their feet tiring, given the greater amount of time their feet spend in the air and without ground contact.
With the impact forces in running, running shoes tend to have more cushioning to help protect the feet and legs, softening the blow with every stride. This cushioning tends to apply to the entire shoe, not just the heel, as some runners strike the ground at their forefoot or midfoot. Walking shoes have cushioning, but often not to the same degree, and with great emphasis on the heel as this is where walkers first make contact with the ground at every step. Where running shoes use lighter materials, extra cushioning can add back some of this weight.
Both walking and running shoes need some flexibility – but the emphasis should be in different areas. As you roll through the foot and push off the ground with the toes during walking, the emphasis on flexibility should be at the forefoot in walking shoes. Running shoes tend to have more flexibility at the arch or midfoot.
Your body is working hard during running, and your feet get hotter faster compared to walking. Hence, promoting air flow is important in running shoes. This is why you’ll see that many running shoes have mesh outers. With walking shoes, more emphasis is placed on durability and support than breathability.
Arch support, stability and control
These three features are important for both walking and running, yet differ based on not only the activity (with walking seeing your feet spend more time on the ground and hence influenced by the shoe in its entirety), but also on the type of shoe you select. You’ll see that both walking and running shoes come in ‘pronation control’ and ‘neutral’ options, and that ‘pronation control’ – meaning how much arch support you have – is further broken down into what level of support you’d like, from mild to heavy control.
This is where your shoe fitting expert – or your podiatrist – should come in to give you the best advice on what type of support and control will be of most benefit to you in your chosen activity, given your foot type and your unique foot characteristics. This is standard practice during our biomechanical appointments with our podiatrists, and you can ask for us to evaluate this at any of your appointments with us.
Generally speaking, yes, you can. This is because running shoes don’t tend to hinder your ability to walk – but on the other hand, walking shoes may make it more difficult and uncomfortable for you to run due to the location of their flexibility, increased weight, decreased cushioning and less breathability. Hence, we don’t recommend wearing walking shoes for running.
Good walking or running shoes are a considerable investment these days, and you want to get it right. If you need help choosing the best shoes for your feet, come in and see our knowledgeable podiatrists. Book your appointment with us by calling us on 1300-FX-FEET or book your appointment online here.