There’s a meme going around, from Reddit, that running was invented when someone tried to walk twice at the same time. At first glance, walking and running might appear similar enough to entertain this thought while you wait to stop laughing at it. After all, isn’t running just a faster form of walking?
Well, no, not at all. Walking and running are mechanically very different. So different, in fact, that shoes made specifically for walking or running have notable differences.
This article will tell you everything that you need to know about the major differences between running and walking shoes. While they might look fairly similar, there are actually features that separate one from the other. We’ll tell you what these are!
The Main Differences
Although it seems paradoxical, running shoes actually came into existence before walking shoes. Before 1986, if you had gone to the store to find walking shoes, you wouldn’t have found anything beyond generic sneakers. But now you can.
Walking shoes and running shoes tend to differ in several major categories. We’ll start first by comparing walking shoes and running shoes before answering some frequently asked questions.
Support and Stability
Walking shoes tend to be very supportive. They help to keep your feet aligned to prevent any type of pronation. In other words, they help to keep your feet nice and straight when you’re walking.
There is more variety in support in running shoes. They can range from no support (minimalist shoes) to highly supportive (maximalist shoes). The added force from running can require more levels of support depending on the runner.
Because there is a fairly even standard for walking no matter what type of person you are, the type of support included in walking shoes is more consistent. Running shoes have a greater variety because how people run can vary so much. Too, running puts far greater strain on muscles, bones and connective tissues. The wide variety of running shoe designs covers how differently bodies respond to this increased stress.
You’re not going to have as much cushioning in a walking shoe, because walking requires less cushioning. What we mean is that walking has significantly less of an impact on your muscles, joints, and feet. Walking shoe companies know this, and cut back on the amount of cushioning their shoes have. Of course, you can always add an insole if needed for comfort.
Running shoes usually have lots of cushioning because there is a larger amount of force put on shoes when running. Chances are that your walking shoes will stay nice and cushiony for a long time. Your running shoes could wear down in just a couple months depending on how often and how hard you run.
If you’re not planning to walk super-long distances, you’ll do fine with a lightly cushioned walking shoe. However, if you regularly walk long distances of 5 miles or more at a time, you might want to consider running shoes.
This is something important to consider for walkers who might walk longer distance races, like a 10k, 15k, or half marathon. You’ll need more cushioning than your typical walking shoe because you’ll be on your feet longer.
The weight of walking shoes varies. Some walking shoes with less cushioning can be lighter. However, many walking shoes are highly supportive, causing them to weigh more than high-end running shoes.
Running shoes try to balance cushioning and support with weight. Companies want to make sure that you aren’t harming your feet. But they also don’t want it to feel like you’re dragging a lead balloon.
That being said, running shoes are constantly getting lighter as technology and materials improve. Running shoes from decades ago will feel like walking shoes in comparison to today’s nice and light running shoes.
Many running shoes today have mesh components, which allow air to move freely, and help keep the weight of the shoe down. The thought is that lighter shoes will help you run faster.
Since we don’t use heel-to-toe drop in our everyday language, there’s a chance that you might not be familiar with it. The heel drop simply means the difference in how much cushioning (and therefore height) is in the heel and how much cushioning (and therefore height) is in the toe.
For example, typical running shoes have a heel drop of about 12mm. This means that there is more cushioning in the heel than in the toe. Thus, your heel is slightly raised. This design cushions your heel if that is where you land first. Zero-drop shoes, on the other hand, place the heel and toe at the same height, as they are when you are barefoot. And of course there is a range of drop heights in between as well.
Walking shoes typically have a high heel-to-toe drop, meaning that there is more cushioning in the heel. This is because walkers almost always land heel-to-toe during a stride. (Try walking and putting your toes down first…it feels odd).
By contrast, running shoes can have vastly different heel drops. Like support, heel drop varies from shoe to shoe. Runners who land on their midfoot or forefoot do better with a lower drop, whereas runners who heel-strike need a high drop.
If you wear trail running shoes, you likely have shoes that have a flared heel. This helps provide some extra stability on challenging technical trails. This, however, is not ideal for a walking shoe.
Since walkers walk heel-to-toe, undercut or straight heels that help aid in the heel-to-toe movement are best. Flared heels will just make it harder.
Running and walking shoes alike have good flexibility at the midfoot. Walking shoes with heavy support are stiffer, but this makes sense. To get extra support, the shoe is going to be bulkier. Running shoes vary based on the amount of support.
No-support shoes are flexible because there isn’t any supportive material to bulk up the shoe. High support shoes are extremely stiff. If you want to know if your shoe is flexible, press down on the toe and see where your shoe bends.
Often, running shoes will bend and flex at the midfoot. But depending on the needs of a runner, they may also flex at the forefoot. You do want to make sure that your walking shoe flexes some, typically at the forefoot since walkers push off their toes.
Color and Design
Walking shoes tend to be very moderate in terms of color and design. They tend to be neutral colors. All-black or all-white shoes are common. If a brand is feeling particularly edgy, there might be a different accent color like red or blue.
Running shoes are often completely different. While it is possible to get gray, black, or white running shoes, it’s much less common. Typically, running shoes come in flashy colors and stand-out designs. Hoka has some of the brightest and boldest running shoes!
Now that you understand the basic differences between running shoes and walking shoes, you might be wondering if they really matter all that much. We’ll answer those questions here.
Why Are Walking Shoes Designed Differently Than Running Shoes?
Walking shoes and running shoes are designed differently because they are for different actions. Although walking and running are two human-powered modes of locomotion, they require vastly different body dynamics.
For example, as a walker, you place a lot less force on your body from walking. You’re also taking fewer steps and putting a lot less force on your body. For this reason, you don’t need a super sturdy shoe that is designed to take a beating.
By contrast, as a runner, you put lots of stress and forces on your shoes, feet, legs, and body. You also have a faster stride turnover rate. So you are not only getting more steps in, but pounding on the pavement or another hard surface. You need a solid shoe.
Just think about it this way. When you walk, there is some impact on your body. You’re hitting the ground with 1.5x your body weight. However, when you run, you’re hitting the ground with 3x your body weight.
If you weigh 150 pounds, that means that when you walk, the impact on the ground is 225 pounds compared to 450 pounds when you run. That’s a huge difference, and necessitates a different shoe design!
Can I Wear Running Shoes For Walking?
Yes, you can wear running shoes for walking. But make sure that they are meeting the needs that you have as a walker. For example, what might be a good amount of cushioning for running might be uncomfortable when you’re walking.
There might be a couple of reasons why you’d want to wear running shoes for walking. If you’re doing a run/walk program like the Galloway Method, running shoes will allow you to alternate between the two. You certainly won’t be changing shoes for each interval. So you need a shoes that can handle both well. Most running shoes do.
If you’re tired of boring colors that you typically find on walking shoes, you might also consider running shoes.
My friend’s mom just purchased a pair of Hoka One One running shoes to use for brisk walking. She loves the bright colors after getting adjusted to them, and says that they are super comfortable.
You might also want to switch to running shoes because they are more breathable. If you live in the South like I do, it can get wicked hot in the summer. Having a lighter and more breathable shoe might make morning or evening walks that much more comfortable.
Can I Wear Walking Shoes for Running?
Ehh…no. It doesn’t go the other way. You do not want to wear walking shoes for running, because walking shoes are too stiff. They won’t give you the flexibility that you need to be comfortable when you run.
Additionally, because walking shoes have less cushioning and often weigh more than running shoes, they will unnecessarily make it harder to run, and could even cause undue stress and even injury to your feet.
Why Is It Important to Wear the Right Kind of Shoe?
It might seem like there’s not a huge amount of difference between running shoes and walking shoes, but there is. As my mom used to say to me growing up, “If you use it the way it’s intended, you won’t get hurt.”
It’s important to wear the shoe that fits your activity for two reasons: comfort and injury prevention. First, the right shoe for you is a comfortable shoe. And it’s definitely the case that you’ll experience discomfort in the wrong type of shoe.
Second (and more importantly), the wrong type of shoe can potentially cause or increase the likelihood of injury. No matter if you’re a walker or a runner, injuries are something you want to stay far away from.
Is There a Mileage Limit For Walking Shoes?
The short answer is yes. If you’re a runner, you know that you typically have to retire a pair of shoes between 300-500 miles.
But this is also true for walking shoes. Obviously, it will likely take you a lot longer to get to that mileage walking, but it is helpful to keep that number in mind.
Any cushioned shoe will eventually break down. To avoid injury, make sure that you get a new fresh pair once your current pair has maxed itself out. Tracking your miles can help you know when it’s time to move onto a new pair.
While it may seem like walking and running (and therefore walking shoes and running shoes) would be two sides of the same coin, it isn’t quite that simple. Because the impact of force that you put on your body when walking versus running differs greatly, you need different gear.
Knowing the difference between walking shoes and running shoes can help you when you need to pick out your next pair of shoes. Or help you realize that a pair you have been using for running would actually be better for walking.
At the end of the day, it’s important to make our feet as comfortable as possible whether we’re running or walking so that we keep exercising. No matter how you prefer to get your exercise in, it’s good to have shoes that are most conducive to fostering that choice!