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Running Shoes Vs Tennis Shoes – What’s The Difference?

Leading an active lifestyle means dabbling in a number of activities. And we all know that each individual activity has a list of must-have gear. For runners, shoes are at the top of that list, and runners are notoriously passionate and partisan about what they put on their feet. That passion can get expensive.

So when it comes time to dabble in another sport – say, tennis – runners might want to believe that their go-to running shoes can also be perfectly fine tennis shoes. Spend your money on the racket instead, right?

Likewise, if you’re a regular tennis player and you’re about to train for your first 5k, you might be tempted to think that the shoes that get you through three sets on the court can certainly get you through three miles.

The question is: Is this true?

Investing in good quality running shoes can be the most expensive part of being a runner. But many of us have a pair of tennis shoes lying around the house already, and it can be tempting to just start running in those.

But is it a good idea?

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between the two types of shoes.

The Main Differences

At a quick glance, running shoes and tennis shoes have many similarities, as least on the outside. But beneath the surface, there are some big differences that you can noticeably feel.

Running Shoes

Running shoes are often more focused on cushioning than tennis shoes are. They have a padded midfoot and heel, designed to absorb the impact when your foot hits the ground.

While stability running shoes are more supportive than other shoes, there’s usually very little lateral stability in running shoes.

Why? Because running shoes are really meant to move you in just one direction: forward. Not just forward, but forward at a reasonably constant speed. There’s little to no sideways movement. In order to save those all-important grams, running shoe manufacturers don’t include technology to stabilize your feet laterally. It’s just not needed.

Tennis Shoes

Tennis shoes are different. They are less cushioned, first of all. This allows for far greater stability when changing directions and speeds. And tennis is a start-and-stop, back-and-forth game where quick movements can make or break each point.

To that end, tennis shoes are much more focused on stability, and in particular, lateral stability. Tennis shoes are made to prevent ankle-turning as much as possible. This stability is far more important to a tennis player than saving weight, so they’re somewhat heavier than running shoes and have built-in support for sideways movements.

Support and Stability

Generally, traditional running shoes don’t have an excessive amount of support in them.

Extra support is important for runners who pronate – that is, whose feet roll inwards as they walk or run. These kinds of runners often do better with a stability shoe, which has extra stability measures built in to counteract foot rolling.

Those who don’t need the extra support can get away with neutral running shoes, which still support the heel-to-toe movement of running.

When playing tennis, general support isn’t enough. A tennis player needs side-to-side support (also known as lateral support), as the mechanism of moving around a tennis court requires plenty of quick sideways movements.

Tennis shoes are designed specifically with extra side-to-side support to prevent players from injuring themselves on the court.

Cushioning

Virtually all running shoes have some degree of cushioning in them. Cushioning is important in running shoes, as there’s a significant amount of force on your feet each time they hit the ground.

A thick, shock-absorbing layer of cushion in running shoes can help to dampen impact and reduce pressure on the joints. This can help prevent running injuries occurring on the foot strike. It also significantly delays the onset of fatigue.

No matter what your running goals are, a cushioned shoe is essential. The degree of cushioning depends on you and your preferences.

Barefoot running shoes are also a thing, though. These are significantly less cushioned than regular running shoes, but the majority of runners prefer something with a bit of cushion to dampen the force on their feet and joints.

Tennis shoes usually offer quite a bit less cushion than running shoes. They’re designed more specifically for sideways movement, and there’s less emphasis on underfoot padding and more on lateral protection.

Weight

Whether you’re running a marathon, training, sprinting, or zigzagging around the tennis court, the weight of your shoes matters.

Running shoes tend to be lighter. Speed matters more in a running race than on the tennis court. On the court, being light on your feet and able to shift directions quickly is key.

That’s not to say that tennis shoes are bricks! Of course not – they’re still fairly light in comparison to, for example, basketball shoes or skating shoes.

Along with being lighter, running shoes are quite flexible to allow for a natural bend of the foot as one transitions from heel to toe. They’re likely to be a little more comfortable than tennis shoes, thanks to this flexibility. If you’re wearing the right running shoes for you, you could spend all day in them comfortably.

Tennis shoes are usually slightly heavier and sturdier. Because they’re made to be supportive of the sides of the feet, they’re stiffer and less flexible than running shoes. You do get those shoes with less weight behind them, but they’ll also offer less support.

Sole and Durability

Running shoes are noticeably less durable than tennis shoes. Runners tend to buy new shoes when the cushioning flattens, or the shoes’ responsiveness begins to get less. This usually starts to happen after about 300 miles, which for some runners could only be a matter of a few weeks.

Tennis shoes usually last a little longer. Players will often replace them when the outsole wears smooth and doesn’t offer grip on the court anymore.

Heel-to-Toe Drop

In running shoes, there’s often a noticeable difference in the height of the toes and of the heel. The heel is often higher, creating a slight downward slope in the shoe that gives you a little bit of a forward lean.

This difference is called the heel-to-toe drop. For example, if the toe is 20mm high, and the heel is 30mm, the difference (heel-to-toe drop) will be 10mm.

This is important, as it affects the way the foot lands. Shoes with a high drop (10mm to 12mm) encourage heel striking. Medium to low drop shoes (zero to 8mm) help runners who are mid- or forefoot strikers.

Tennis shoes have a low to zero drop. This provides slightly more stability on all movements, forward and side-to-side.

Flexibility

Running Shoes

Flexibility is an important quality in a running shoe. If your shoe doesn’t flex enough, your foot is restricted from its natural range of motion. That could lead to injury, as your foot won’t have enough room to move freely.

If the sole is too stiff, you’re likely to suffer from pain under your foot, which can lead to a variety of foot conditions (such as plantar fasciitis, metatarsalgia, or heel spurs).

They do vary in their flexibility, but generally a shoe that flexes in the forefoot is necessary for comfort and performance.

Tennis Shoes

Tennis shoes move in more ways than a running shoe, so it’s essential for them to be flexible (although they need to be supportive too).

A stiffer shoe is recommended for players who are less flexible and need the extra stability. Players less prone to injury can get away with a more flexible shoe. As they say, the more flexible you are, the more flexible shoes you can play with.

Color and Design

How often do you see a tennis player with brightly colored shoes? Tennis shoes are traditionally lighter in color, mostly shades of white and grey. Some newer models incorporate a bit of color, but it’s usually on a white or grey base.

Running shoes can come in neutral colors too, but they do tend to be more colorful and funky.

FAQ

Why Are Tennis Shoes Designed Differently Than Running Shoes?

Tennis and running are vastly different sports, each with quite a different way of moving. In tennis, you do a lot of side-to-side movement, and have to make quick, sharp moves on your feet. In running, your motion is mostly in one direction (forward), with very little sideways movement.

Shoe shapes, designs, and technology vary between tennis shoes vs running shoes for this reason.

Tennis shoes are usually designed to offer plenty of side support and stability. They also often have less cushioning and a low or even zero drop, which helps with stability.

Running shoes are more cushioned, have a higher drop (which gives a slight forward lean that helps push you forward), and often have less support.

In the case of stability shoes, the support will be there, but not often in a lateral capacity; that is, the shoe may offer sturdiness and stability to keep the foot from moving in the shoe, but it won’t offer support to protect the foot from side-to-side movements.

Can I Wear Running Shoes For Tennis?

In a pinch, you can certainly wear a decent pair of running shoes for a last-minute tennis invite. Much like running, though, getting serious about the sport warrants investing in a proper pair of tennis shoes; don’t play in running shoes too often.

If you’d prefer to invest in a pair of shoes you can both run and play tennis in instead of buying two pairs of shoes, choose a pair of running shoes with zero drop or at least a smaller drop, slightly less cushioning, and more stability features.

Can I Wear Tennis Shoes For Running?

This depends on how much cushioning you need to feel comfortable when running. If your feet can deal with less cushioning, then you may be able to wear tennis shoes for running shorter distances.

However, many runners may feel that the cushion is too little and the lateral stability creates a stiffness that doesn’t allow their foot to move naturally and comfortably.

Why Is It Important To Wear The Right Kind Of Shoes?

Each shoe is designed for a specific type of movement. Their purpose is to protect the foot against injury caused by that specific movement.

If you’re wearing the wrong shoe, your foot isn’t protected and supported in its movement. That means your chance of injury is higher.

Is There A Mileage Limit For Tennis And Running Shoes?

Running shoes should be discarded when the cushioning flattens and the runner’s foot is no longer supported and protected by it. That’s usually between 400 and 600 miles.

Tennis shoes need to be changed when the outsole wears down. This is usually between 45 and 60 hours on a hard court. Grass and clay are easier on your shoes.

Obviously, it also depends on how often you run or play. If you run 10 miles 4 times a week, you can expect a pair of running shoes to last between 10 and 12 weeks.

That may not sound like much, but some will last quite a lot longer due to their high quality. Again, it depends very much on you, your feet, and how hard you are on your shoes.

Playing tennis once a week for an hour will mean your tennis shoes should last you almost a year before needing to replace them.

Ultimately, keep an eye on your shoes and look for signs of wear and tear. Pay attention to how they feel on your feet and if the feeling has changed. If your feet are starting to get sore more often, that could be a sign that your cushioning has worn out.

Final Thoughts

In the end, what shoes you choose to wear when running or playing tennis is up to you. Remember, though – your feet need to be protected from injury! Here’s how to choose the right shoe for you if you’ve decided between running shoes and tennis shoes.

How To Pick The Best Tennis Shoe For You

When shopping for a great tennis shoe, consider these factors:

Durability vs. Lightweight

You’ll need to choose if you want a more durable shoe or a more lightweight shoe. This will depend largely on how flexible you are and how much support your feet need on the court.

Lightweight shoes tend to be slightly less durable. Those shoes with a thicker outsole will be more durable, but will have some extra weight behind them.

Flexibility & Performance vs. Support & Stability

A more flexible tennis shoe will allow for speedier movement on the court. The more your foot can flex in the shoe, the easier it will be to push off and make quick direction changes.

But you’ll be sacrificing stability. When your tennis shoe is more flexible and less stable, you have more change of injury.

A shoe that’s less flexible (i.e. stiffer) will have slightly less freedom of movement, but will support the foot better in its lateral movements, and do a better job of protecting against injury.

Quality vs. Value

A high-quality tennis shoe will be a little pricey. But they should last up to a year, depending on how often you play.

Choosing a better value shoe (ie. a cheaper one) may seem like a good choice in the moment, but they may not do as good a job of supporting your feet.

Weigh up the pros and cons and figure out if buying a high-quality shoe upfront will be the best choice for you. If you’re really only planning on playing once a month, then a less expensive pair may suit you.

How To Pick The Best Running Shoe For You

When shopping for running shoes, consider these factors:

Low or High Cushion Level

Cushion is incredibly important when running. You’ll need to decide whether you need a moderate level of cushioning or a higher level of cushioning to protect your feet.

Each running shoe brand has their own type of cushioning technology. It’s a good idea to shop around and compare a bit before settling on one that you feel comfortable with.

Support: Lightweight or More Stability

Speed is key when running. Choosing a lightweight shoe may help you run faster, but it’s likely to have less technology in it than a slightly heavier one.

If you overpronate, you’ll need a stability shoe to keep your foot in the right position. For a neutral foot, you most likely don’t need extra help keeping your foot where it should be.

Stability shoes may be slightly heavier than regular shoes. They’re usually designed with some extra technologies to help keep the foot stable, which can up the weight marginally.

Road or Trail Sole

The type of running you’ll be doing will determine the type of sole you should choose. Running shoes fall into road running or trail running categories (track shoes also exist, but most casual runners don’t use them). The stability and the sole’s grip are the biggest differences.

Make sure you choose the right one for your running. You can use one for the other, but it’s not recommended. They’re structured slightly differently thanks to the difference in terrain.

Quality vs. Value

Like tennis shoes, you’ll need to evaluate your own performance and frequency of training in order to decide if a high-quality or a great-value shoe is best for you.

If you’re a serious runner, or someone who runs more than twice a week, we definitely recommend a high-quality running shoe.

The Wired Runner