Cross Training Shoes vs Running Shoes – Which Do I Need?

If you’re just getting into running (or perhaps working out in general), you might be wondering what type of shoes will be best for you. The options are endless! Should you get cross training shoes? Running shoes? Both?

Not to worry. In this short article, we’ll explain the differences between cross trainers and running shoes, and describe when each type of shoe should be used. Then, you can take that information and purchase the best shoe (or shoes!) for you!

cross trainers vs running shoes

Differences Between Running Shoes and Cross Training Shoes

For the TL;DR crowd: the main differences between running shoes and cross training shoes are heel drop and sole flexibility. Even though they look similar, each shoe is designed to do something substantially different. 

The full answer requires a little more detail and explanation:

What are running shoes?

Designed for heel-to-toe movement, running shoes normally have a higher heel drop, giving them added cushioning and support in the heel and midfoot. Because running is a high impact activity—you are hitting the ground with three times your bodyweight—running shoes are built to be shock absorbent.

In addition, running shoes tend to be very light, because nobody wants to be lifting extra weight, even if just an ounce, over and over again while running. Those extra ounces very quickly add up to extra pounds, and over the course of a run, where you might take 7,000 or 8,000 steps or more, extra weight translates to fatigue. Running shoes also have smooth tread because traction really isn’t an issue for runners; they almost always are moving straight ahead.

Running shoes are made with a greater amount of mesh than cross-trainers, because the heat generated from running is greater than from a gym workout, and you want to make sure that your feet stay cool and dry during your run.

Proper fit is incredibly important with running shoes. Since shoes are specifically designed for various stride patterns, width of foot, and more, you’ll want to make sure that a running shoe fits your foot before pounding the pavement for hundreds of miles. This is especially important if you’re a long distance runner like I am. Have an expert at your local running store help you find the right fit. There’s no sense in investing in a pair of shoes if you aren’t sure whether they’re right for you.

What are cross training shoes?

Designed for multi-directional movement and a wider range of motion, cross-training shoes have a flatter sole than running shoes, which makes them more flexible. 

Cross training shoes are meant to be a decent all-purpose fitness shoe for use in a number of activities, from basketball to Zumba to lifting weights. 

Whereas running shoes are designed to absorb shock on your heels, cross training shoes have more cushioning in the forefoot, protecting you when you land on your toes. They are firmer, making them better for weight training, and making exercises like squats easier.

Compared to running shoes, the soles of cross trainers are wider and tend to expand beyond the width of the upper part of the shoe. This extra support is needed for increased lateral movement such as the sharp cuts that you’d make on a basketball court. 

Finally, cross trainers are made of different material that is usually stronger than that used for running shoes, which makes cross training shoes more able to withstand the tough workouts that often come with cross training.

People running on a treadmill

FAQs About Running Shoes and Cross Training Shoes

All right. Now that we’ve discussed the differences between cross training shoes and running shoes, you might still be wondering when to use which. When (if ever) is it acceptable to mix and match? We’ll answer those questions below.

To make a long story short, the answer is “never,” really. If you want to have the best gear for the specific activity at hand, use running shoes for running and cross trainers for the gym. Even activities mentioned above, such as basketball, have their own specifically-designed footwear you could consider, if you don’t mind having a closetful of shoes. Activity-specific shoes greatly reduce discomfort, lowered performance, and injuries.

As Dr. Samuel Malloy noted, “Wearing the wrong type of shoes can lead to injuries, especially if you have any other foot problems, such as being flat-footed. It’s important that your foot is supported in the right way for the exercise you do.”

In other words, even if you’re thinking of being stingy and just buying one pair of shoes even though you both run and cross train, don’t do it. The money that you could spend on medical expenses will far outweigh any cost you’d have for an extra pair of shoes.

Can you use running shoes for cross training?

Theoretically, yes, you can use running shoes for cross training, but it might be at risk to yourself. For example, your running shoes will compress when you lift weights, which could make you unstable. Obviously, you don’t want to find yourself in that position.

Similarly, running shoes are designed for heel-to-toe movement, not lateral movement. So if you’re in a gym class where you’re expected to move side-to-side frequently (and quickly!), you might find your running shoes to be a little sluggish.

Finally, if you use your running shoes for cross training, they will wear out faster, and you won’t get the full use of 500 miles of running.

Can you use cross trainers for runners?

Again, the answer is a theoretical yes. But this theory requires you to keep the runs short and infrequent. First, they are heavier, so cross trainers come with unnecessary weight during your run. Second, they don’t have the cushioning you need, so you may end up injuring yourself. As your miles start adding up, it’s time to invest in running shoes.

If you use cross trainers for runners, you are most susceptible to foot, knee, and back injuries because you don’t have enough support. And this includes running on a treadmill!

If I run and do cross training, should I own two different types of shoes?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes, which is probably not what you want to hear, especially if you’re on a tight budget. My mom always used to say that it’s important to use items how they were intended. Then people won’t get hurt.

That advice rings true here. If you want to be a fast runner, you’ll need a pair of good running shoes. If you want to be a boss at cross training, you’ll need heavier shoes designed for side-to-side movement that you won’t find in a running shoe.

So, while your budget might not thank you, your body will. You’ll be using the proper tools for each respective activity. And if it’s your birthday soon, or if you’ve had family and friends ask how they can support you, consider asking for whatever type of shoes that you’re missing. You may not even have to buy them yourself!

The Wired Runner