Cross-training shoes are designed to accommodate a variety of tasks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they could or should be worn for everything.
When we talk about cross-training shoes, we need to remember that there will always be some levels of specificity that some training shoes won’t be the best for.
On the topic of specificity, a few common questions that I get asked include:
- “Can I walk long distances in this pair?”
- “Can I wear these to do longer hikes and wear them for long periods?”
- “Will they be uncomfortable?
These are all great and valid questions. When we think, of “cross-training shoes”, what typically comes to mind is HIIT workouts, lifting, and plyometrics, but walking is never really an activity considered.
Long story short, you can walk long distances in cross-training shoes, but just because you can doesn’t always mean that you should, and we’ll discuss more on this below.
In this article, we’re going to break down if you can effectively walk longer distances in cross-training shoes and highlight some relevant research on this topic.
Cross-Training Shoe Construction Considerations
When we reference the research below, it will highlight how minimalist shoes and other footwear can influence walking performance and foot musculature. For the sake of clarity, we’ll define cross-training shoes in the context of this article as hybrid shoe models between minimalist shoes and running shoes with thick midsoles/outsoles.
Basically, cross-training shoes that we’ll define as a “hybrid” model that lives between minimalist shoes and running shoes in this context will have:
- lower heel-to-toe drops 0-4mm
- firmer, stable, and grounded midsoles
- firmer and flatter outsoles
Now, there’s obviously a stark difference between the specs listed above and true minimalist shoes, but with little research on this specific product category (cross-training shoes) in regard to this activity (long-distance walking), then drawing the best suggestions will be our best bet.
Walking Long Distances In Cross-Training Shoes
When considering the act of walking long distances in cross-training shoes, there are a few questions that I always have to ensure one is making an educated choice per their purchase.
- What type of shoes do you wear now?
- What does your current training look like?
- Do you have foot-related performance issues that you’re aware of?
If we can define and understand the questions above, then making educated buying choices can get increasingly easier. Here’s where the research comes in and the understanding of one’s training background.
In the research setting, studies continue to go back and forth on the effectiveness of using minimalist shoes to produce enhanced walking/running mechanics and performance. Multiple studies suggest that minimalist shoes can improve one’s walking and running economy, limit some running-related injuries, and build intrinsic/extrinsic foot muscles. (1, 2, 3)
However, in the context of opting for cross-training shoes for long-distance walks, we have to assess this information from a greater lens. A consistent suggestion that was present for nearly all of the studies was that minimalist style shoes and their usage need to be eased into just like most training methodologies and modalities.
This suggestion basically states that if you’re a newer runner or someone who’s used to wearing thicker running shoes, then you should have a progressive plan to acclimate yourself to more minimal-esque shoes, as the foot muscles will need time to adapt and your biomechanics will need to adjust accordingly.
Now, when discussing cross-training shoes and longer walks specifically, we should apply somewhat of a similar mindset, as their construction can vary greatly compared to traditional running shoes if that’s what you’re used to wearing. Additionally, comfort should be a consideration as well when making an educated buying choice.
Some Thoughts to Keep In Mind
- If you’re brand new to wearing cross-training shoes, then you should ease into wearing them for longer walks and acclimate to their more stable performance aspects.
- If you’re used to wearing running shoes for longer walks, ease into wearing cross-training shoes for long walks to acclimate to mechanical changes and overall comfort differences.
- For those who already wear cross-training shoes for most of their training and day-to-day, then you should be fine wearing these models for longer walks as you’re likely already acclimated.
The main takeaways here are that footwear matters and we need to consider the bigger picture for how things like footwear can alter running and walking biomechanics, in this context. As opposed to making dramatic shifts with footwear choice when specific goals are the focus, we should think of the bigger picture and how one thing can relate to another (ie: footwear and locomotion mechanics).
The foot muscles, just like every other muscle on the body, will need time to adjust to different shoes and mechanical patterns that we utilize when walking. Current training levels, strength levels, and footwear typically worn should all play a role in helping one decide if they should walk long distances in cross-training shoes.
Yes, however, it’s usually a productive idea to assess your current training level, foot strength, and current footwear before haphazardly slapping on a cross-trainers to use for longer walks. The feet need time to acclimate when switching from thicker running shoes to cross-trainers that have less material separating the foot from the earth.
No. Minimalist shoes will generally have very little material separating the foot from the ground and provide a more “natural” feeling similar to going barefoot. Cross-training shoes will be more of a “hybrid” style model between true minimalist shoes and thicker midsole running and training shoes.
There could be! If you’re used to wearing thicker midsole running shoes for walking, then using cross-training shoes in a progressive training matter could be useful for building intrinsic and extrinsic foot musculature, as in this context, they’d be serving as an in-between from thicker midsole models to minimalist models.
1.RIDGE, S., OLSEN, M., BRUENING, D., JURGENSMEIER, K., GRIFFIN, D., DAVIS, I., & JOHNSON, A. (2019). Walking in Minimalist Shoes Is Effective for Strengthening Foot Muscles. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 51(1), 104-113.
2. Petersen, E., Zech, A., & Hamacher, D. (2020). Walking barefoot vs. with minimalist footwear – influence on gait in younger and older adults. BMC Geriatrics, 20(1).
3.Gillinov, S., Laux, S., Kuivila, T., Hass, D., & Joy, S. (2015). Effect of Minimalist Footwear on Running Efficiency. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 7(3), 256-260.