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Training Shoes Vs Running Shoes | Which Should You Use?

When in doubt, use the right tools for the job. If you’re running distances over 2 miles, invest in a good pair of running shoes. For strength, training, get a good pair of training shoes. Your performance and body will thank you later.

Training shoes and running shoes are absolute musts when it comes to performing well in your respective style of activity. There are a lot of differences that we should account for to ensure we’re wearing the best type of shoe to support our performance.

With countless training shoes and running shoes on the market, no two shoes are created perfectly the same. Training shoes and running shoes will differentiate with their construction in multiple ways and understanding the features to look for in each can be imperative for making educated buying decisions.

Wear Training Shoes If…

  1. You’re Lifting: If you’re tackling any form of strength workout, wear training shoes. A good cross-training shoe will have a denser midsole with less toe spring which will translate to more stability and better balance.
  2. You’re Cross-Training: While some running shoes can work for cross-training, you’ll get more out of a training shoe in this vertical. They’ll support multi-directional work, plyometrics, and varied workouts better.
  3. You’re Doing CrossFit: If you’re tackling any form of CrossFit WOD, wear training shoes designed for CrossFit. Running shoes can break down exceptionally fast in this training context and will lack the stability needed for most WODs.

Testing the Born Primitive Savage 1 for Deadlifts

Don’t Wear Training Shoes If…

  1. You’re Running A Lot: There’s a difference between a hybrid workout with short intervals and a workout that prioritizes running. I typically suggest opting for running shoes if you’re running bouts longer than 2-3 miles at a time in a workout.
  2. You’re Walking A Lot: Don’t get me wrong, you can walk a lot in certain training shoes. However, if you want your shoes to last or you like a plusher feel when walking then you may want to reach for running shoes or models designed for walking.

Wear Running Shoes If…

  1. You’re Running: If you’re running more than 2-3 miles in a singular workout and running is the main focus of your training session then opt for running shoes as a training shoe’s midsole density can lead them to getting uncomfortable.
  2. You’re Doing Track Workouts: If you’re doing track workouts and blending interval runs with light strength training and bodyweight exercises then a good pair of running shoes will typically work best.

Flux Adapt Runner Weight

Don’t Wear Running Shoes If…

  1. You’re Strength Training: For light workouts, some running shoes can work, however, running shoes can vary greatly. You’ll want to avoid running shoes with thick midsoles and aggressive toe spring and heel bevelling for most strength workouts.
  2. You’re Doing Serious Cross-Training: If you’re doing workouts with a lot of sharp cuts and multi-directional work or explosive exercises, then you’ll want to opt for shoes with denser midsoles and more upper security.
  3. You’re Doing CrossFit: To put it simply, CrossFit workouts wreck traditional training shoes at times, so if you want your running shoes to last and to perform better in CrossFit WODs, pass on wearing them unless your WOD has a lot of running programmed in it.

Training Shoes Vs Running Shoes Construction Differences

There are four key construction differences between training shoes and running shoes that I want to discuss in this article.

Please note, that there are exceptions with training shoes and running shoes regarding their construction, so this list is not intended to be definitive, but more so, to provide a general idea of differences you’ll typically see.

Difference 1: Heel-to-Toe Drop

  • Typical Running Shoe Heel-to-Toe Drops: 0-12+mm
  • Typical Training Shoe Heel-to-Toe Drops: 0-9mm

Heel-to-toe drop in shoes accounts for the difference in height between the base of the heel and the forefoot. Higher heel-to-toe drops elevate the heels more and put the ankle in a slightly more forward position, while lower heel-to-toe drops promote a flatter foot positioning.

Generally speaking, running shoes will have a higher heel-to-toe drop and this is due to these shoes working to promote heel-to-toe locomotion patterns and to feed into the forward nature of running.

Born Primitive Savage 1 Review

Training shoes will have a much lower heel-to-toe drop. This is once again to promote stability in a variety of activities and to account for multi-directional training.

As for heel-to-toe drop norms, they can vary greatly with running shoes due to minimalist shoes and more shock-absorbing shoes creating a large heel-to-toe range, but with training shoes, they’re generally pretty consistent.

Difference 2: Outsole Tread Pattern and Coverage

  • Typical Training Shoe Outsoles: Full or nearly full rubber outsoles
  • Typical Running Shoe Outsoles: Full rubber or partially full rubber to limit overall shoe weight.

The outsole is the construction that makes up the bottom of the shoe. Running shoe outsoles will usually vary greatly and will often have a more textured material and build and will not be as firm as a training shoe’s outsole.

Training shoe outsoles are typically firmer rubber that has traction to promote multi-directional activity. Outsole construction differences can help us understand how supportive a shoe will be and how good it will be at shock absorption.

All outsoles can be beneficial and there isn’t a “one style fits all” construction that will be best for everyone. We need to base outsole construction and firmness on the context of our needs and activities.

Difference 3: Midsole Density

  • Typical Training Shoe Outsoles: Dense and medium-density foam materials.
  • Typical Running Shoe Outsoles: Thicker, plusher, and bouncier midsoles.

The midsole is the part of the shoe’s construction that separates the outsole (bottom of the shoe) from the insole (inside of the shoe). Midsoles are incredibly important for performance as they can be one of the main factors that contribute to stability, versatility, and shock absorption.

adidas ultraboost 22 for walking and daily wear

Thicker midsoles, often seen in running shoes, will compress easier and will be more responsive when it comes to utilizing energy input and output during running.

Due to their compressive nature, this is why it’s often not recommended to lift heavy in running shoes, especially those with big midsoles. Note, minimalist running shoes are exceptions here.

Thinner or more stable midsoles will compress much less under heavier weight and that’s why we’ll often see high-density foam material used in cross-training shoes. These materials provide some responsiveness and compress much less when loaded.

Adidas Dropset Trainer 2

Difference 4: Upper Construction

  • Typical Training Shoe Uppers: Mesh, textile, and knit with strategic overlays to boost durability and security.
  • Typical Running Shoe Uppers: Mesh, textile, and knit with more ventilation and lighters layers to keep weight down and breathability high.

The final major construction detail we’ll cover in this article is differences in upper construction. Generally, running shoes will have a lighter upper construction, and popular options include mesh and knit material due to their breathability.

Training shoes will vary greatly in their upper construction and differences usually coincide slightly more with durability.

For example, most running shoe uppers that are designed with knit materials would likely not be the best option for durability when doing activities where friction and abrasion are inevitable like s-lock rope climbs.

Testing the Reebok Nano X3 for Rope Climbs

Every company will usually apply its own spin and shoe tech to training and running shoe upper constructions.

Why Use Training Shoes and Running Shoes?

Before we dive into the construction differences that training shoes and running shoes will often possess, let’s first discuss the why behind each style of shoe as this “why” will help suggest what construction features different shoes will possess.

Training Shoes

Training shoes are designed to provide stability in a variety of activities and are designed to accommodate forward, lateral, and backward movement.

A great pair of training shoes will be able to tackle things like recreational lifting, HIIT workouts, lighter runs, and whatever else you can throw their way that isn’t hyper-specific.

Me testing the Nike Free Metcon 5 for jump rope

Running Shoes

Running shoes are designed for running and running shoes can come in multiple forms. Compared to training shoes, running shoes are often designed to accommodate one thing — and that’s running.

Their construction is focused on promoting forward momentum and can be limited in nature as these shoes are designed with more specificity in mind.

training shoes vs running shoes performance differences

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I run in a training shoe?

Yes, you can run in training shoes. However, it's often recommended to keep runs slightly shorter in these shoes due to their firmer construction aspects. If you plan to put a lot of mileage in, then you may want to explore proper running shoes.

Should you get running shoes or training shoes?

Having separate pairs of shoes can be useful for supporting your performance in each activity. If you only want to get one pair of shoes, then base your decision on your training style. If you run a lot and that's your main activity, then opt for running shoes, and if you train with a lot of versatility, then explore training shoes.

What are training shoes used for?

A lot! Training shoes are designed to tackle activities ranging from lifting, HIIT workouts, agility and plyometrics, and even lighter runs. Depending on the training shoes you get, they'll be better suited for specific activities over others within the realm of versatility. For example, firmer outsole training shoes will have a slight edge for training heavy while training shoes with responsive midsole will be better for agility work.

Are training shoes or running shoes better for walking?

Both running shoes and training shoes can be used for walking and decisions when picking between each shoe for walking should be based on length of walks, overall physical fitness levels and backgrounds, how you want to use the shoe outside of walking, and desired comfort levels.

Takeaway Thoughts

Training shoes and running shoes can vary greatly when it comes to construction. When looking for training shoes and running shoes, it can be incredibly important to understand what to look for regarding how you train.

  • If you’re someone who lifts frequently, does shorter runs, and does a variety of activities, then you should reach for training shoes.
  • If you’re an avid runner and plan to put a lot of mileage into your shoes, then opt for dedicated running shoes based on your needs and running background.

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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