Should I walk in running shoes? Should I run in walking shoes?
Many times when I am prescribing an exercise program for patients, it includes a combination of both walking and running. I have often been asked the question of the appropriate footwear for each activity. To many people, walking and running seem very similar. But when you look closely at the two activities and the demands they place on your feet and your footwear, the two are really quite different. The differences between the two activities create a need for, and design of, two very different styles of shoes. But before we get to the shoes, let’s take a look at walking and running and the body mechanics involved with each.
As you walk, the body’s weight is distributed more evenly on the foot than when you run. When walking, your weight rolls from the heel, through the ball and continues to the toe in one foot after the other. This gentler, rocking-chair like motion requires your feet to absorb the shock of only 1-2x your body weight with each step. Further, during walking there are points where both feet are firmly on the ground, dividing the body's weight.
Running, on the other hand, requires the support of at least 2-3x your body weight and each stride has moments with neither foot on the ground. With each step, the outer heel absorbs most of the impact before distributing weight through the foot in an "S" motion through toe off. So what does this mean to your shoes?
Walking shoes are designed with the specific body mechanics and strike path of walking in mind. They are constructed to be more flexible through the ball of the foot to allow a greater range of motion through the roll of the forefoot. They also have greater arch support to protect where the force is heaviest on the foot.
Running shoes, in contrast, have more cushioning in the heel – the point of impact – and less protection through the ball of the foot. The amount of heat generated in the running motion is greater, so running shoes also are made with a higher amount of mesh to keep feet cool during exercise.
Picking the proper shoes can prevent discomfort, injury and will encourage you to maintain an active lifestyle. When you shop for shoes, wear the socks you exercise in. The shoes should be comfortable as soon as you put them on. The heel should fit snugly, not slip up out of the shoe. If the shoes are tight, do not expect them to stretch out, even if they look stylish. Since feet swell during the day, shop for shoes in the afternoon or after a long walk. To prevent painful blisters, calluses, and to avoid foot disorders like bunions and hammertoes, check for enough room on the sides of your feet, above your toes, and about a half-inch between the end of your longest toe and the shoe.
When picking a new pair of walking shoes, be sure to consider your arch type. You can determine this by bringing an old shoe to the store with you, or by dampening your foot and placing it on a piece of paper. What does your footprint look like? If you don’t see much of a footprint, you have a high arch. If it is wide, your feet are flat. Feet with high arches may be prone to stress because of the lack of natural shock absorption. If this describes you, you should seek shoes with cushioning to alleviate this problem. If your feet are flat, they may not support your body well, leading to muscle and joint stress in your feet and knees. Walking shoes that are more structured will give you stability. Look for shoes with medial (inside) support to limit over-pronation and support your feet.
For both running and walking, it is overall recommended you use a running shoe. Many people find the cushioning aspect of running shoes to be more comfortable when walking, leading them to purchase running shoes. While running shoes are made specifically with runners in mind, there is no harm in wearing a running shoe to walk in. However, due to the way walking shoes are constructed, it is not recommend running in a walking shoe.
It is most important that your shoes feel comfortable so that you do not avoid exercising. Once your shoes are worn out, they must be replaced. If you can see through the outer sole to the midsole, or feel the support buckling as you exercise, it is time for a new pair. Even well-made shoes eventually degrade. The best advice is to keep track of the mileage on your shoe. On average, shoes last roughly 300-500 miles, so if you walk for exercise, keeping a weekly log of miles will help you understand when your shoes are ready to be replaced.
The best way to ensure that you will enjoy exercising is to have a pair that fits right. Whether you decide walking, running, or cross-training is the best activity for you, now you can make an informed decision about the shoes that will help you achieve your goals.
Sarah Bicknell PT, ATC