Differences Between Mens and Womens Running Shoes

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It’s a fact that men’s feet and women’s feet are structured differently.

Men tend to have larger, wider feet with a flatter arch, a wider heel, and shorter toes. Women often have narrower feet with higher arches and a slimmer heel.

This makes it necessary for men and women to have different running shoes. Each caters to the specific foot structure to provide support and cushioning.

But while there are specific differences between men’s and women’s running shoes, they are nearly identical in many ways.

In this article, we’ll look at both types of shoes and their features, and we’ll cover why it’s important to make sure you’re wearing the right ones.

Men’s vs Women’s Running Shoes: What’s the Difference?

There are some noticeable differences between men’s and women’s running shoes, and you’ll be able to notice a few immediately. Others can be felt wearing the shoe.

Here are the main differences.

Size

Men’s shoes are larger than women’s shoes. Men have naturally bigger feet than women, so shoe sizing is different. Size is the most noticeable difference when comparing men’s and women’s shoes.

This refers to length, width, and volume. Men’s shoes tend to be longer, wider, and have more space inside the shoe.

Shape

Men’s running shoes are wider throughout, while women’s running shoes are usually narrower in the midfoot and heel. The easiest way to picture this is that men’s shoes are more rectangular, while women’s shoes have a slight triangular shape.

Shoe shape often differs by brand, but this is the most noticeable difference between men’s and women’s shoe shapes.

Cushioning

By rough estimate, men weigh about 15% more than women. To support their extra weight, men’s running shoes are made with denser, tougher, and more durable cushioning that can bounce back.

Ladies’ shoes often have lighter cushioning and thinner layers, as well as a softer midsole foam.

Women’s body weight is also more to the front of the body, so they tend to place more pressure on the forefoot. Their shoes should have a little more cushion in the forefoot.

Weight

The bigger the shoe, the more material it contains. And the more material in the shoe, the heavier the shoe will be. Men’s shoes also tend to contain more cushioning as the average man is heavier than the average lady.

So it makes sense that men’s shoes are heavier than women’s shoes. The type of shoe does make a difference—for example, a men’s racing shoe might be lighter than a woman’s motion control shoe—but generally, men’s shoes are heavier.

Are Unisex Running Shoes Really Good for Men and Women?

You’ll often find unisex shoes for niche models with a low production run. Think unique racing shoes, trail shoes with built-in metal cleats, and sometimes cross-country and track spikes.

These types of shoes would be too expensive for a company to make in both men’s and women’s shoes. They know these won’t be high-demand shoes so it’s not worth the cost to create two models.

For men, this usually isn’t a big deal. They are often built on a men’s last and size. While women can adjust for length by sizing down, they most likely only come in a single width, which means many women may find them too wide and sloppy to run in.

Can Women Wear Men’s Running Shoes?

Yes, women can wear men’s running shoes, but it’s not always advised due to the differences in size and shape between men’s and women’s feet.

When Should Women Consider Wearing Men’s Running Shoes?

Women should think about switching from ladies’ to men’s shoes under certain circumstances. These include:

Large and Wide Feet

Some ladies have larger or wider feet than average. If this sounds like you, a men’s shoe may fit you better. Too-tight shoes can lead to chafing, cause you to change your gait, or leave you feeling cramped and miserable.

The naturally longer, wider fit can reduce chafing that women’s shoes might create. Your feet might feel less cramped in a pair of men’s shoes, allowing you to run freely and without changing your form to try and alleviate pain.

Preference for a Wider Fit

Some women prefer a wide fit on their feet. Women’s shoes might feel too tight, especially in the midfoot and heel. If your feet need more space, a man’s shoe might work better for your feet.

It can sometimes be difficult to find women’s shoes in a wide enough fit to feel good on your feet. In this case, men’s shoes may be a good option.

Limited Availability

Ladies with bigger feet might struggle to find shoes in their size! This is more common for tall women, so in this case, opting for men’s shoes might be your only choice.

If they fit well, you’ll have more options to choose from in men’s shoes than women’s shoes. This is most common if you wear a women’s size 11 or larger.

Style Preferences

Women’s shoes and men’s shoes often come in quite different colorways. Shoes designed for women often come in a more muted, pastel color scheme or bright pinks and more “feminine” shades.

Men’s shoes usually come in muted colors, including blacks and whites, but also in more “masculine” colors like orange, bright blue, and green. Women who prefer these colors might opt for men’s shoes over women’s.

How to Convert Women’s Shoe Sizes to Men’s

If you’re a man considering wearing a woman’s shoe or a woman considering wearing a man’s shoe, getting the right fit is key for comfort and support. There’s a simple way to convert one size to the other.

  • Men → women: Add 1.5
  • Women → men: Subtract 1.5

For example, if you’re a man with a shoe size of 8, the women’s equivalent would be 9.5. Conversely, if you’re a woman with a size 8 shoe, the men’s shoe equivalent would be a 6.5.

Are There Women-Specific Running Shoes?

Although you see “Mens” and “Womens” categories quite clearly on most running shoe brands’ websites, running shoes are often designed on molds of men’s feet. These have just been made smaller to provide shoes for women, without considering the changes between men’s and women’s feet.

Recently, some brands have embraced women’s vs men’s running shoes and taken steps to design and manufacture shoes designed specifically for women.

Altra

Altra is one of the few companies to design shoes on male and female lasts. They’ve been doing it since they began, and it’s set them apart in terms of women-specific shoes.

Each one of their shoes is built on an appropriate last for a specific gender. The differences are subtle to the untrained eye, but in terms of fit, comfort, and performance, it makes a big difference.

ASICS

ASICS doesn’t have a women-specific shoe, but they do have a unique piece of technology in their shoes called 3D Space Construction. This is a honeycombed foam designed specifically to absorb shock.

The women’s shoes feature a honeycomb in the forefoot and heel, and the men’s features a less prominent honeycomb in the forefoot, as women tend to place more stress on the forefoot.

Puma

Puma might not be your first choice for a running shoe, considering they’ve only been back in the running shoe industry since 2021. But they’ve placed a lot of emphasis on creating shoes for female runners, and their main women-specific shoe is the RUN XX Nitro.

It features slightly firmer midsole density, a more snug heel, arch, and instep, and a rocker heel for a faster, less strenuous transition. There’s also something called RUNGUIDE, similar to Brooks’ GuideRails.

According to a study, 81 percent of women who wear Puma running shoes preferred the Run XX Nitro over Puma’s motion control shoe.

Adidas

The Ultraboost 22 has been scientifically designed for a woman’s foot. Adidas used over a million foot scans and real-world insight from an all-women team to design a woman-friendly shoe.

It has a lower instep, a narrower heel, and an S-curve in the heel to comfortably lock the Achilles in place. There’s also a little extra support in the medial side of the shoe and 4 percent more energy return in the forefoot compared to the 21!

Under Armour

The UA Flow Synchronicity is a new model, designed to synchronize with the natural movement of a women’s foot and feel sleek and light. The brand uses 3D scans and specialized lab tests to design the shoe around a women’s foot.

It features a contoured heel, an anatomically-molded arch, a smaller instep, and a shallower toe box. You’ll find a one-piece midsole made of Flow foam, which is a good mix of durable and responsive.

What Are The Benefits Of Women-Specific Running Shoes?

Wearing women-specific shoes isn’t just about being different or feminist. There are practical benefits to it, and the innovations in women’s shoes are necessary to understand the women’s foot and how their needs differ from men’s.

Women are not just smaller versions of men! Their feet are different and it’s natural that they therefore need differently-designed shoes.

Much of the shoe-related research has been performed on men, but here are the benefits we do know of choosing women-specific running shoes.

Better Fit

Thanks to the unique structure of women’s feet, they won’t always be comfortable or perform well in men’s shoes. Choosing a pair of women’s shoes can provide a better fit in length, width, volume, heel, and in the arch.

Greater Comfort

Aside from the comfort that comes from your shoes fitting properly in all areas, women’s shoes often have softer, plusher materials and more cloud-like cushioning. These features add to the comfort of the shoes, whether you’re running or wearing your running shoes while standing for a few hours.

Improved Performance

A better fit, higher level of comfort, and lighter weight can help you to perform better when wearing them. When your shoes fit you properly, you become more streamlined, and there’s also much less chance of chafing.

Without painful rubbing, you can push yourself further and run with your normal gait. And with a lighter weight, you might be able to gain a little more speed than you would in a pair of men’s shoes.

Reduced Risk Of Injury

Being properly supported under the arch and in the heel helps to keep your feet in a neutral position, maintaining your gait and preventing excess pronation that could cause injury.

The right fit, appropriate cushioning, and gender-specific design can also help to reduce your chances of injuries like plantar fasciitis, metatarsalgia, tendonitis, shin splints, and a number of others.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.