Many people assume that walking and running shoes are alike. They buy based on their looks rather than their function and fit. If you’re a runner, selecting a pair of walking shoes can be detrimental to your performance and may cause some discomfort as they’re not adequately cushioned. The same goes for walkers who mistakenly bring home a pair of running shoes, and find their heels awkwardly too thick.
In this article, I’ll be covering what to look for when choosing footwear for running and walking so that you can make the right choices!
Perhaps the most important component when looking for the right pair of shoes is the cushioning. Runners strike the ground with up to 3 times their body weight in impact. For walkers, it’s 1.5 times their body weight in impact. Obviously, running shoes such as New Balance running shoes would have much more cushioning compared to walking shoes.
Running shoes tend to have more cushioning in the heel and forefoot, as the proper running form requires us to strike the ground with our forefeet, and dropping the heels to spread the impact over the area of our feet.
Walking shoes don’t need such thick and cushioned soles because the impact exerted on our joints is much less. Additionally, shoes with more cushioning tend to be heavier which is an unnecessary trade-off if you’re walking. However, if you’re walking for longer distances at a time, it’s wise to look for shoes with walking shoes with more cushioning than they conventionally would.
The heel drop affects how your feet would strike the ground. It is the height difference of cushioning between the heels and the toes. Usually, it is measured in millimeters (mm).
As most runners tend to strike the ground with their heels (perhaps due to our walking habits), traditional running shoes have a heel drop of at least 10mm. This allows the heel to land first. You can opt for shoes with a lower drop if you prefer landing on your mid-forefoot, but keep in mind that you may require an adjustment period to get used to the noticeable changes.
Walkers don’t need a high heel drop. In fact, if you’ll only be walking, look for a pair of shoes which have the lowest heel drop as we already naturally strike with the heel and roll through with the rest of our foot.
Different shoes bend and flex at different parts. You can observe this by pressing the toe of the shoes. As a runner, pay much more attention. If you’re the kind to strike the ground at the forefoot, look for shoes that bend at the forefoot. If you strike the ground at the midfoot, look for something that flexes at the arch.
Most walking shoes would flex at the forefoot to allow walkers to push off with their toes, which is what you should be looking for. Some degree of flexing would also be required at the arch.
Unfortunately, there are shoes that are marketed as walking shoes that offer zero flexibility. You should avoid these.
Each runner has his or her own strike pattern, and the flares of your shoes will need to complement this to help absorb shock and protect your joints. Dane Lozier of Revo Physiotherapy and Sports Performance recommends shoes that have very small posterior and lateral flaring for heel strikers. For midfoot and forefoot strikers, look for shoes that have very small lateral flaring at the forefoot.
For walkers, look for walking shoes that have an undercut heel. Flared heels will impede rolling and affect the way your feet’s natural movement pattern.