Walking Shoes vs. Running Shoes – A Walker’s Dilemma – Why It Makes a Difference

Jan 8th, 2008 by keelyh | 1 Comment So Far

While everyone agrees that a comfortable pair of shoes is absolutely essential for the success of any walking routine; there is much less consensus as to which type of athletic shoe best fits that description. As is often the case, in foot care and in other aspects of life, the answer to this question can vary because of the specific needs of individual people and their feet. It is only natural that your arch type, whether or not you suffer from a foot condition such as bunions or hammertoes, and the health of your muscles and joints will be deciding factors in selecting the best shoe for you to walk in comfort.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages to different types of athletic shoes as well as some general guidelines for ensuring that your feet stay healthy and pain free during your walking routine.

The Advantages of Walking in a Walking Shoe

The proper fitness walking technique involves impacting the ground with your heel rolling through the step and pushing off for the next step with your toes. The majority of fitness walkers are most comfortable in an athletic walking shoe because the sole is flexible and durable enough to facilitate proper walking technique. If the sole of your shoe is too stiff to accommodate a rolling stride not only will your foot slap uncomfortably against the pavement; but the shoe’s sole will deteriorate because it is not designed for the extra pressure exerted by bending the midfoot. Most walking shoes also have a bendable toe box and either a flat or rocker outsole design so as not to interfere with proper walking technique.

The Advantages to Walking in a Running Shoe

The mechanics of the motion of a foot engaged in proper running technique are very different from those of a foot that is using proper walking technique. Runners lift their knees when they run (sprinters have to lift their knees the highest for maximum propulsion). A runner’s foot hits the ground from a higher altitude than a walker’s foot and impacts with more force. As a result most running shoes are made with more cushioning and shock absorption than walking shoes to prevent stress injuries such as turf toe, heel spurs, and plantar fasciitis.

In terms of the footbed running shoe designs tend to emphasize padding rather than support making them good for walkers with high arches, but not as healthy for walkers with fallen arches or flat feet. (If you have low arches and greatly prefer walking in running shoes you can buy arch support insoles or other orthotics to compensate.) To prevent sprains and strains running shoes tend to have stiffer sidewalls and vamps giving them better motion control than many walking shoes (although women’s motion control walking shoes and men’s motion control walking shoes are available). For this reason running shoes may be a good choice for very over-weight walkers and those who have problems with pronation.

The Disadvantages of Walking in a Walking Shoe

Walking shoes often have less shock absorption than running shoes. If you are very over-weight or have arthritis of the foot you might consider wearing either a running shoe or an extra-cushioned walking shoe.

The Disadvantages of Walking in a Running Shoe

If you are speed walking the extra cushioning in a running shoe may interfere with proper walking stride increasing the risk of tripping. Running shoes also tend to have less arch support than walking shoes making them poor choices for walkers with fallen arches or flat feet.

General Tips for Walking in Comfort

1. Wear a walking shoe that feels comfortable.

This might seem obvious, but many people will wear a new shoe that is not quite comfortable assuming that it will be comfortable after the initial breaking-in period. The idea that your feet will get used to a new shoe over time is a myth. A shoe should be comfortable from the moment you try it on. If it feels too tight, particularly around the toe box, return or exchange it.

2. Wear wool or other moisture wicking socks.

Never wear cotton socks when you are engaged in an activity during which your feet are likely to sweat. Cotton can only absorb a limited amount of moisture. Your socks will become wet, particularly around the heel and toes, and you are more likely to suffer a blister from the combination of damp skin and friction.

3. Most fitness walkers should replace their walking shoes every 6 months.

After 6 months even if your shoes still feel comfortable, the support in their soles has begun to degrade making the walk harder on your joints and arches.

4. Particularly for long walks, be sure to warm up and stretch to prevent shin pain.

It may not be as strenuous as climbing a mountain or running a marathon, but walking is exercise. Prepare your body for the coming exertion and you will feel energized rather than sore.

These walking tips are by no means exhaustive. Have other good walking tips to share that we didn’t mention? Post them in the comments.

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One Comment on “Walking Shoes vs. Running Shoes – A Walker’s Dilemma – Why It Makes a Difference”


  1. Walking Route Planner said:

    I don’t get why more people don’t take up walking; cheers for the brill post.