Perhaps the biggest misconception about choosing a running shoe has to do with the number of styles available.
Many people think running sneakers are a single type of footwear with a ton of unique looks, but in reality, foot shapes and running styles are varied enough that there are all kinds of running shoes for all different runners.
Generally speaking, there are eight standard running shoe types you can find on most shelves. Not every type is fully exclusive, but there are general guidelines you can use to identify what a running shoe is for and how it functions for a given style of running or a unique type of runner.
These two general categories should showcase the main types of running shoes as well as a few rare running shoes that might be what serious runners look for in their running shoes.
1. Running Shoe Style Types
The first category of running sneakers relates to the purpose of your running shoe, meaning the style of running you do most.
There are different soles and fits for different surfaces, including specific indoor and outdoor environments, like a trail running shoe, stability running shoe, cushioned running shoe, or racing shoe.
Getting the wrong shoe style in this category can cause problems with your balance and safety on your usual routes, so you must make sure which kind of running shoe style you’re getting.
1.1 Road Running Shoe
Road running shoes are perhaps the most common running shoe style, made for running on flat surfaces like pavement and rubber. They’re mainly used for running on the street and occasionally on treadmills.
They’re usually very airy, meaning they provide just enough traction while letting your weight hold you down.
Something important is that they still have more grip than certain other styles of running shoes, meaning these can commonly scuff gym floors and other surfaces made for indoor shoes. This flaw doesn’t apply to every road running shoe, but it’s important to understand before using them indoors.
1.2 Cross Training Shoe
These are significantly flatter than road running shoes. They’re generally for indoor environments and balance rather than durability. They have thick platforms for soles instead of thinner rubber soles, which provide much more balance when doing other activities besides running in indoor spaces.
These can be a great pair of general athletic shoes, but they can also be weaker than road running shoes since they’re for indoor and man-made surfaces. They’re great if you want running shoes that function as reliable gym shoes but are fairly poor if you want something versatile.
1.3 Trail Running Shoe
One of the most popular outdoor running shoes is trail runners for outdoor running on natural surfaces like gravel, grass, and dirt. These are different from the other types listed above due to larger ridges to help grip onto uneven ground, and they usually have thicker materials to help protect your feet.
The main issues with trail running shoes are that they’re extremely uncomfortable when running on flat terrain and aren’t as helpful when running on pavement.
They’re more versatile than cross-training shoes, but they suffer from similar problems to road running shoes by not being excellent outside of their ideal environment. That said, their utility is undoubtedly more unique than nearly any of these other styles of running shoes have.
1.4 Minimalist Running Shoe
For quite a while, there was a trend among runners to attempt barefoot running instead of using footwear. The idea was that your foot curves much more naturally without a shoe flattening your impact on the ground, leading you to a safer run and more options for running on surfaces like sand beaches.
This trend has disappeared quite quickly over the years, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a surprising number of minimalist running shoes that aimed to capitalize on this trend.
Minimalist running shoes can take a few different forms. Some look like normal shoes but use thin fabric materials and feature extremely light soles that are significantly more flexible.
There are also specific barefoot running shoes where it’ll perfectly fit your toes and foot, looking slightly more cartoonish but essentially just giving your feet a fabric shield.
People debate the effectiveness of these shoes and their running style, but these are certainly an option if you feel you have a safe space to run with less protection.
2. Running Shoe Support Types
As touched on with minimalist running shoes, serious runners should also pay close attention to the shape of their shoe’s interior support. These will usually have raised sections or padding on the insole to alter how your weight shifts as you run, letting the wearer curve their steps more easily or remain perfectly straight.
These running shoes can be found in most of the styles listed above but will greatly affect the way you run in any environment you choose.
2.1 Neutral Running Shoe
These are the most common style of running shoes you find, typically with little in the way of unique lifts and reinforcements on the insoles. If you don’t have a particularly unusual step and don’t roll your feet, you’re generally going to want these since you can have the most versatile amount of stepping range.
That said, note that this isn’t what you have to go for if you don’t feel your steps are uncommon.
They provide a great base utility, but there’s still plenty of strength and comfort that comes in other support types, and you definitely can get more strengths by picking up a pair of running shoes that can help you prevent stepping in ways that could damage your feet on certain routes.
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(a pair of women’s Nike running shoes)
2.2 Motion Control Running Shoe
Motion control is a somewhat misleading term, as they don’t necessarily give you better control the same way as a car with smooth steering. Instead, these shoes have interior support to protect your heel and the ball of your foot which are two of the most vulnerable areas when running on any surface.
You won’t usually find these in normal running shoe stores, but you shouldn’t buy them unless you have specific concerns about the way you step.
They can be safe and secure if you have physical reasons that affect your running, but this level of support and padding can be detrimental to serious runners who don’t need them.
2.3 Stability Running Shoe
These are essentially a middle ground between motion control running shoes and neutral running shoes, having a slight amount of support but without enough to make them feel unusual. These are great if you have slight concerns about the safety of your feet, but don’t feel like you need the extreme support of motion control shoes.
These are also surprisingly great for keeping your balance, as the added support will make your steps feel much more even.
They’re an excellent option if you run frequently and want to prevent unexpected or gradual damage to your feet, but are hardly necessary if you run on relatively safe surfaces and don’t make high-impact steps.
2.4 Maximum Cushion Shoe
Rather than motion control shoes, which commonly feature padding in localized areas, maximum cushion shoes are a kind of inverse to barefoot and minimalist running shoes. Instead of having a severe lack of protection, these shoes have thick general outer soles, making for a comfortable and soft step.
These are much more common in basketball shoes and can feel quite odd to serious runners who prefer to sprint and improve their speed.
If you happen to be going on more endurance-based runs where time isn’t as concerning, though, a maximum cushion shoe is a great option for aspiring runners who might want a little more comfort to help make long distances more bearable.
When buying a new pair of running shoes or replacing your old ones, it’s always important to buy the shoes that fit your needs best.
As is shown by the types of running shoes out there, you can get all kinds designed for whatever style of running and any path you can imagine, so you should never feel like you have to get a generic style.
With the right types of running shoes, you can easily turn your exercise into something more serious and quickly take your running to the next level.