If you’ve been a runner for any length of time, chances are high that you’ve heard talk of rotating running shoes.
For new runners, you might wonder what it means, or why it’s necessary. Even experienced runners often neglect to rotate their shoes, thinking it’s a waste of time or not worth buying an extra pair of shoes.
So in this article, we’ll cover if it’s important to rotate running shoes.
We’ve asked around, done our research, and put together a guide covering everything you should know about regularly swapping your shoes.
What Does It Mean to Rotate Your Running Shoes?
Rotating your running shoes just means wearing a different pair from the last time you ran. You won’t wear the same pair twice in a row!
There’s a logical reason behind this. The concept is that you don’t wear your shoes out too quickly, but ultimately, it’s to give each pair of shoes time to dry from rain or sweat and for the cushioning to bounce back after being used.
Rotation can be a fairly personal thing. You’ll wear different shoes on different days for different reasons. But while we highly recommend that every runner rotate their shoes, it’s up to you exactly how you do it.
Here’s a quick example:
- Monday, Recovery Run: A well-cushioned shoe of your liking
- Tuesday, Speedwork: A lighter-less-cushioned shoe to up the pace
- Wednesday, Distance Run: A max-cushioned shoe or the same shoe as Monday
- Thursday, Cross-Training: Cross-trainers!
How Many Pairs of Shoes Do You Need?
It depends, but two is the minimum. Rotating between two pairs allows each one at least one day to settle and dry properly. But you can actually rotate between as many pairs as you like, as long as they suit your goals and your feet.
But we can break it down a little based on how often you run and the surface you run on:
- 1 to 2 times a week: One pair is fine, as long as there are a few days between each run and you aren’t using the shoes for other activities.
- 3 to 4 days a week: Two pairs are best, so each can have an adequate break between runs.
- More often: As many more as you want!
- Trail and road: Make sure you have at least one pair of each. Two pairs of each if you’re doing the same kind of run on consecutive days.
Do They Need to Be the Same Shoes?
No, you don’t need to rotate with the same pair of shoes, although you can if you want to.
If you’ve found a pair that’s comfortable and supportive enough for your feet, and you’re happy with it, there’s nothing wrong with buying another pair the same. You can get one in a different color if you want!
But you can also choose different pairs of shoes if you wish to. However, it’s important to note that all the pairs of shoes you rotate should be similar.
You may choose a more cushioned pair for better support and protection on long runs or a lighter pair with less cushion for speedwork. But your heel-to-toe drop and support features should be similar.
For example, it’s not a good idea to wear a shoe with a 12 mm drop today, and one with a 4 mm drop tomorrow. If you wear a stability shoe, you also need to make sure that your feet are properly supported in all the shoes you choose.
We recommend changing these vastly only if you’re constantly getting injured in your current pair of shoes. You may need to consider buying a shoe with more support, or more cushioning.
For example, if you’re suffering from pain in the ball of the foot after running, we suggest considering shoes that work well for metatarsalgia. If you’re constantly twisting your ankles, we recommend reevaluating your gait and perhaps considering a different type of shoe, like a support or motion control shoe.
Benefits of Rotating Running Shoes
If you try rotating your running shoes, you can enjoy a range of benefits. Rotating your running shoes:
May Reduce Injuries
The more you run in your shoes, the less they protect your feet. This is because our body weight is supported entirely by our shoes, and when you run, you add impact force to the mix. This means the cushioning in your shoes will flatten as time goes due to the force placed upon it during every run.
The flatter the cushion, the less it protects our feet from impact vibration. As it flattens, your foot may also sit slightly differently in the shoe, placing extra strain on certain parts of the foot that wasn’t there before.
Rotating running shoes can give the cushion time to “bounce back.” This means that when you wear the shoes again, the padding will be more likely to protect your feet.
Note that rotating shoes won’t solve all your injury woes. There’s still a chance of stopping wrong off the curb, overdoing your training, or if you get the wrong type of support—or none at all—from your shoes.
But rotating shoes will help reduce the number of injuries from worn-out shoes, which are more common than you might think!
Can Help Reduce the Chance of Foot Conditions
Just as rotating your shoes can help to reduce the risk of injury, it can also help to lower your chance of developing chronic foot conditions. When an injury becomes repetitive, it can turn into a condition.
For example, a twisted ankle can become chronic tendonitis if it’s not handled properly. Ball of foot pain can turn into Morton’s neuroma with overuse, and so on. Rotating your shoes can help to prevent the injury that may lead to these conditions, as it helps your feet to stay better protected.
It might not seem like this is something to consider now, but it’s an excellent idea to start taking steps to prevent the development of foot conditions early on in your running life.
It Can Make Your Shoes Last Longer
Typically, when the cushioning falls flat in your shoes, you know it’s time to replace them! By rotating your shoes, you give the cushioning time to bounce back after it’s been flattened by your feet.
Not giving the cushioning enough time to bounce back before you run on it again means it doesn’t retain its bounce for very long. But just a few days between wears, and you’ll notice that your shoes are lasting longer and longer. This can also help save you money in the long run!
It Helps You to Find Your Favorites
Rotating shoes gives you the perfect opportunity to try out new shoes and figure out which ones you love!
Everyone has their preferences when it comes to shoes, and you may find that you really favor one over another, or that you don’t run as well in a certain pair, or you always run great in one particular pair.
This is the most fun way to test out shoes! Considering rotating your running shoes is something you should be doing, you can take it as a chance to experiment a bit. Remember, though—the shoes you choose shouldn’t be vastly different in support and drop.
Is There Any Downside to Rotating Shoes?
There are no noticeable or proven downsides to rotating shoes. However, if the two—or more—pairs of shoes you’re using are too vastly different, this is when problems may arise.
Rotating running shoes is only dangerous when it’s not done right. Consider what kind of shoes you’re rotating, which shoes work best for which kind of run, and you should be okay.
Factors to Consider When Buying New Shoes
So, what should you be looking for if you want to start rotating your running shoes but need a new pair? Here are the factors you need to consider.
Your Foot Structure & Gait
If it’s very worn on the inner side—both in the ball of the foot and the heel—but not on the outside, then it’s highly likely you’re an overpronator. You probably have a neutral foot if it’s evenly worn, so your options are a little more open.
Another thing to consider here is your injury history. If you twist your ankles often, you may need a shoe with more stability. You may need a higher-drop shoe if you struggle with calf muscle or Achilles tendonitis.
The key is to find a pair of shoes that support your foot in the places it needs support and provides you with what your foot needs to stop developing the same injuries!
The Distances You Run
If you do a lot of short, fast runs, you don’t want max-cushioned shoes because they’ll weigh you down. If run longer distances, you don’t want minimalist shoes because they won’t offer enough protection throughout your run.
Considering what distances you’re likely running in the shoes is also a good way to determine which features work best for you.
Also, take into consideration your training program here. You can choose different pairs of shoes for your long runs—more heavily cushioned—your tempo runs—mid-cushion level—and your speedwork—minimalist.
Remember to stick to the same heel-to-toe drop every time, so you don’t accidentally injure yourself!
The Surfaces You Run On
If you spend half your training running on the road and the other half on the track or trail, you should definitely have separate shoes for each of those surfaces.
You’ll find that you perform better if you wear shoes specifically made for that purpose. For example, a road shoe is much smoother than a trail shoe, which features aggressive lugs and sticky rubber to provide a better grip on rough ground.
If you use road running shoes for both kinds of running, you’re not going to get the grip you need on the trail, and you’ll be an accident waiting to happen.
If you use trail shoes for both, you may have too much grip on the road and trip yourself up, not to mention wearing your trail shoes out faster, so they’re less effective on the trail terrain.
Your budget is a factor because you want to make sure you’re buying the best shoe you can for the money.
It’s a good idea to set a budget before shopping and see what kind of shoes fall into that budget.
Should I Rotate My Running Shoes If I Only Run On a Treadmill?
The same principles apply! Although your shoes may not get as much wear and tear on the outsoles, they will still wear down. More importantly, the cushioning under your feet will still flatten, regardless of where you’re running.
So no matter where you run, it’s a good idea to rotate your running shoes to reduce the chance of injury and make your shoes last longer.