Training Shoes vs. Running Shoes: What’s the Difference?

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As you head out the door to your next workout, make sure to grab the right pair of shoes.

Though you may think that all athletic shoes are created more or less the same, there are major differences between running shoes and training shoes. Knowing the difference can be a shoo-in 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’s 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’re made for forward-going, heel-to-toe movements. Plus, they reduce lateral, or side-to-side, movement.

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

Typically, they’re made from mesh, allowing for greater heat release and breathability during long, sweaty runs (1, 2).

On the other hand, or should we say foot, training shoes are intended for multidirectional and lateral movements. They typically have a low heel-toe drop and 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 room supports lateral movements and allows your feet to make quick directional changes.

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


Running shoes are designed for forward-going, heel-to-toe movements and have extra cushioning for shock absorption. Training shoes are designed for multidirectional movements and usually have a smaller cushion and lower heel height.

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

That said, here are a few 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 usually ranges from zero (0 mm) to low (1–4 mm) to mid (5–8 mm) to high (8+ mm). The right height depends on your foot strike, previous or current injuries, stride, cadence, distance, comfort, and running terrain.
  • Support for your foot type. Some shoes are tailored to flat, wide feet, high arched, narrow, or neutral feet. If you’re unsure of your foot type, speak with an expert who can help you find out.
  • Proper fit. Buying shoes that are too small can damage your toenails and cause blisters. Ideally, there should be a half-inch (1.3-cm) gap between your toes and the shoe’s edge. Shop for shoes at the end of the day when your foot is the largest.
  • Lightweight. Running shoes should be light to reduce extra weight with each stride.
  • Overall comfort. Due to differences in anatomy and personal preferences, you may prefer certain features over others. Choose shoes that feel comfortable to you, rather than what’s trendy.

Ultimately, you’ll only know which type of shoe works best for you through trial and error. Asking a running shoe expert at your local running shoe store for assistance can help speed the process (10).

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


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

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 various 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 is usually in the form of a plastic covering near the heel, though all companies offer different designs.
  • Flexibility. A flexible shoe allows you to easily move in multiple directions.
  • Bend at the toes. Training shoes should allow a bend at the toes. This enables your foot to push off through the forefoot, or the base of your toes.
  • Wider forefoot. Training shoes should be wider at the forefoot to support lateral movements.
  • Cushioning. Purchase shoes that provide some cushioning but aren’t too bulky. Excessive cushioning could cause you to land improperly during multidirectional movements, potentially resulting in a knee or ankle injury.
  • Lower heel-toe drop. A high heel-toe drop may increase the risk of an ankle sprain during lateral movements.
  • Traction. To allow for safe and quick movements, choose training shoes with adequate traction on the sole. Ideally, you should feel the shoes gripping the ground when trying to slide your feet across a surface.
  • Material. Which material to choose should largely depend on personal preference. Training 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 can have an elevated heel-toe drop to support certain lifts (11, 12, 13).

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


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

If walking is your preferred mode of exercise, you’ll want to lace up with running shoes.

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

Even when it comes to running day-to-day errands, you’re better off using running shoes for extra support.


It’s best to wear running shoes rather than training shoes when walking or doing other day-to-day activities.

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

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

For example, training shoes don’t provide 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 in running shoes limit the range of motion during weightlifting and increase the risk of an ankle injury during lateral movements (13, 16, 17).

Furthermore, your performance may suffer if you’re wearing the wrong shoes. Running shoes are lightweight, allowing for quicker running. As a result, they also limit multidirectional movements that are needed for many other sports and activities (18).

Finally, wearing the same shoes for all types of activity increases overall wear and tear. This would mean you’d have to replace your shoes sooner.

Though it’s likely more costly to purchase more than one pair of shoes, you reduce your risk of injury and could increase your performance. We think that pays off in the end.


If possible, buy a separate pair of running and training shoes. This lowers your risk of injury and may 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.

Training shoes

Reebok Nano X1

The Reebok Nano X is considered one of the best well-rounded gym 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 weight training and heavy lifting. It’s designed to keep your body in proper positioning 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, allowing you to move quickly and comfortably.

There’s a big difference between running shoes and training shoes.

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

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

Next time you lace up, be sure it’s with the right pair of shoes.