Choosing the Perfect Workout Shoes: Road, Trail, Cross-trainers, etc?


Perusing your local sports store, you come across a number of different types of workout shoes. You see shoes categorized as running, trail running, cross-trainers, walking shoes – athletic shoes, generally, but they all seem to look alike. So what’s with the categorizing?

Note, while this article states shoes are “engineered” a specific way, wearing one type of shoe for another activity does not necessarily mean the shoe won’t be able to handle activity. How a shoe is constructed results in how it can be used more efficiently and may even affect the quality of your workout due to levels of comfort.

Running Shoes

ThinkstockPhotos-526902107Running shoes are constructed to propel you to move forward. Modern shoe technology has allowed running shoes to range in various styles – from minimalist to maximalist; from seamed uppers to seamless – so we’ll go into detail about that further down. Generally speaking, running shoes are engineered to encourage the forward movement of an athlete.

  • Most shoes you’ll see are road running shoes – shoes that are made for running on hard surfaces, including roads, asphalt and concrete.
  • Tend to be more cushioned and more supportive than other types of shoes
    • Level of cushion and support will vary depending on the particular shoe. Some shoes are made with extra cushioning while others have more stability or motion-control features.
  • Best for: heel-to-toe motions, such as running and fast walking; best for a more customized foot type, such as when dealing with overpronation or underpronation (see below) as running shoes are often engineered to accommodate different foot types.

Read: Choosing the Perfect Workout Shoes: Gaits and Arches

Notice the lugs on the trail running shoes
Notice the lugs on the trail running shoes

Trail-running shoes, on the other hand, are made for the trail – softer surfaces, such as dirt.

  • Essentially for the outdoor enthusiast, trail running shoes tend to have lugs – round, little pegs on the outsole – or deeper treads to enhance grip and traction on uneven surfaces. Can be worn on established trails or in the backcountry if you’re an experienced trail runner.
    • Many trail running shoes are coming out in “minimalist” styles to enhance natural foot motion and promote grip.
  • Best for: Outdoors, running on park trails or trail areas, light hikes and day hikes with simple terrain. 


ThinkstockPhotos-482234125While running shoes are engineered to propel forward movement, cross-trainers are specifically made to encourage forward, backward and lateral movement.

  • This also means they generally lack in support and may not protect the foot from repetitive high-impact stress such as continuous running.
  • Trainers are usually cushioned enough for short, repetitive bursts of exercise.
  • Cross-trainers tend to have a wider sole to allow for lateral movement and sharp cuts.
  • Best for: workouts that include a variety of movements, including cross-fit, plyometrics, interval training, dance workouts and weights. Generally made for use on hard surfaces.

Walking ShoesThinkstockPhotos-177429476

  • The forward motion mechanics of walking and running may be similar, but the way the body moves during each of the motion will ultimately affect whether or not a walker should choose a walking shoe or a running shoe.
  • Walkers will heel strike (the heel landing before the rest of the foot while walking or running)
    • Runners, on contrast aim for the front two-thirds     of their feet to strike the ground, though some runners are naturally heel strikers
    • Walking shoes are engineered to have more cushion in the heel to account for heel striking. Will generally not have all-around cushioning the way a running shoe would.
  • Will also bend near the ball of the foot for a proper toe-off
  • Best for: walking!

Read More: Choosing the Perfect Workout Shoes: Gaits and Arches


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