Why Walking-Specific Shoes Are Crucial

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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Why Walking-Specific Shoes Are Crucial

When it comes to walking, most people put on any old pair of sneakers or flip flops and go about their daily activities. Some may even choose loafers or high heels, depending on the day or event. However — and especially when it comes to walking for fitness — it is important you have walking-specific shoes on.

Of course, for your shoes to be most effective, you also must understand proper walking posture. Both will help you avoid injury and get the most out of your aerobic exercise.

“Everyone’s foot structure is different; there are some things that cannot be fixed with proper shoes,” says Brian Brateris, DPT at Professional Physical Therapy in Spring Lake, New Jersey. “An appointment with a licensed physical therapist or podiatrist can help identify issues and correct or adapt to them.”

Whether you’ve been walking for fitness for years or are just looking to start, here is what to know to make sure your shoes have the right function and fit.

WALKING VS. RUNNING SHOES

You may think it is OK to walk in your running shoes — and chances are if you only do it a few times, it won’t cause too much stress to your feet and legs. However, there are differences between the two; enough differences, in fact, that owning a pair for each activity is encouraged.

“Walking and running shoes differ in a few ways, most notably in the construction and placement of midsole cushioning, support and the flex zones,” explains Cori Burns, Run Category Manager at Under Armour. “There are greater impact forces and different foot mechanics when walking versus running.”

Burns shares that when you walk as a means of aerobic exercise, you strike in the heel and have a neutral stance in the midfoot before your foot rolls into the toe-off. When running, however, there are a variety of foot-strike patterns, so the cushioning between the two types of shoes is located in different places to offset this difference.

“A running shoe will typically have more cushioning through the forefoot and more medial focused flexibility through toe-off,” she explains. “[In walking shoes,] the cushioning is focused primarily in the heel, the midfoot often has a slightly wider base to support the midfoot-stance, and the heel to forefoot ‘slope’ is more dramatic to help promote a smooth [rocking] transition.”

WHY YOU NEED THE RIGHT SHOE

Besides comfort, the biggest reason to make sure you have the proper shoe for any activity you do is to lessen injury risk. This is more than injury to just your feet or legs; it can actually affect the alignment of your entire body and therefore, your posture.

“Your feet are where your body meets the ground. Making sure that your foot meets the ground properly will prevent any issues related to misalignment,” notes Brateris. “A shoe that does not provide proper arch support can cause the arch to collapse, the knees to buckle toward each other, the hips to rotate inward and the arch in your lower back to be increased which can cause pain.”

In addition to pain prevention, Burns adds that the right shoe can actually make running and walking feel easier. This is because you are able to strengthen the right muscles for your specific activity to improve your overall posture.


READ MORE > FIND YOUR BEST RUNNING SHOES EVER WITH THESE TIPS


WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN SHOPPING

When it comes time to shop for a pair of walking shoes, you should actually treat the process exactly like you would a pair of running shoes. This means you will want to visit a specialty store to see experts who are trained in fitting customers for the right pairs of shoes based on activity and gait.

“It’s very important to be fitted for proper size and width, for comfort and injury prevention,” confirms Burns. “If you have not been brannocked to determine your shoe size and width recently, it’s important to do so. Local running specialty stores will be able to fit and offer the best footwear choices for both running and walking.”

Additionally, Brateris adds that you should talk to the staff and detail your prior history. This includes not only the shoes you currently wear but also any injuries or treatment you may have received. This way they can take any pre-existing conditions or injuries into account when helping fit you with the proper pair.

About the Author

Ashley Lauretta
Ashley Lauretta

Ashley is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. Her work appears in The Atlantic, ELLE, GOOD Sports, espnW, VICE Sports, Health, Men’s Journal, Women’s Running and more. Find her on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.

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14 responses to “Why Walking-Specific Shoes Are Crucial”

  1. ThomThom says:

    Here’s the problem: finding walking shoes… at all. UA doesn’t make any that I know of. Search Nike site, “walking” directs you to “running”. I found NB 577s, which work great, and you can get them in any color you want, as long as it’s black or white. You covered the why and what. Please now cover the who, where, and how.

    • Vincent Sapero says:

      I am having a heck of a time finding the right pair for walking.

    • Angus Mack says:

      Exactly! I thought it was going to be an article telling you which shoes were good for walking.

    • David Rogers says:

      Me too! I love my ecco Bioms for walking, but I have no idea if they are specifically designed for that. A followup article on where to go and what to ask for would be greatly appreciated! In any case, a useful, well-written, and timely (for me) article!

    • Terry R says:

      I’ve been walking about 10 miles a day for the last 2.5 months. I’ve split time between Nike Pegasus running and UA HOVR Sonic and I’ve not had any unusual pains. Both are said to be running shoes. Main thing is to make sure your shoes are in good shape. They aren’t meant to last forever.

  2. fusspot57 says:

    I started getting a niggling left achilles from treadmill walking in flattish-soled workout shoes (asking for it what an idiot!) The problem is magnified if you do incline work as well. I have recently got a pair of New Balance 720v4 and even though they are technically a neutral running shoe they stand up well to treadmill inclines in that they have a good bevelled heel and a snug heel box. As with NB shoes, going up a half size or even a whole size may be necessary if you like a bit of space in the toe box.

  3. Don Quixote 109 says:

    To add “fun” to the equation, I’m not a small person. I’ve always had wide feet but as I’ve gotten older and larger I went from D to 4E so the options are limited. I looked explicitly for shoes that said they were good for walking but UA doesn’t have that category so I got a Micro G 4E, I think (not currently listed) based on the “neutral” and other features – here’s the verbiage from the Micro G pursuit that is on their website – same/similar to what I got, aside from color.

    Product DNA
    NEUTRAL: For runners who need a balance of flexibility & cushioning
    4E Sizing built to better fit athletes with extra wide feet
    Lightweight mesh upper delivers complete breathability
    Foam padding placed around your ankle collar & under the tongue for an incredibly comfortable fit & feel
    High rebound, die-cut EVA sockliner built with extended arch support
    One-piece Micro G® foam midsole turns cushioned landings into explosive takeoffs
    Tire inspired outsole pattern provides ultimate flex & superior traction
    Offset: 8mm
    Weight: 8.75oz/248g

    They’ve been very comfortable – not a $120 tied to your phone app shoe, but well padded and wide track plus the ankle support. At 300 Lbs I don’t want to turn an ankle.

    (And, I gave up on Nike’s a long time ago – they run too narrow for my feet.)

    • fusspot57 says:

      I hear you about the Nike’s running narrow. My feet are quite narrow (AA when a kid!) but have got a little wider with age but a pair of Nike Air Max were ridiculously cramped in the toe box to the point of making my feet go numb! I know they are more a “lifestyle” shoe rather than sports but nevertheless…! I haven’t bought a pair of Nike’s since.

  4. Barry Ward says:

    But many people use a run/walk strategy for longer races. Run a little then walk a little – rinse and repeat until you cross the finish line. Hence shoes suitable for both walking AND running are needed.

  5. Cindy Murray says:

    This article is hog wash. I train for and walk the Susan G. Komen 3-Day (60 miles over 3 days). My podiatrist told me ABSOLUTELY DO NOT buy walking shoes. They aren’t made for that kind of walking. They are made for people who walk 30 minutes a day. For anyone who walks 3K or more, you should wear a running shoe, which has better arch support. He actually recommended that I purchase the Brooks “Ghost” series, because they have an extended heel “flare”, which provides additional cushioning for the heel strike.

    • ThomThom says:

      The last sentence contradicts the first…. and gets to the critical point for fitness walking [vs 20mpd walking]. In short, what shoes have that extra cushioning for the heel strike? That information is extremely difficult to find or research. Thx for the tip about Brooks Ghost.

    • Glen Lien says:

      I can relate to all the walking questions presented within the comments on this subject ……..and found them most helpful. Went out today and purchased my 3rd pair after returning two others within the past week. Found a very knowledgeable sales and the fit and feel is great. Thanks for your direction Cindy…….from an 85 yr old 4 mile a day walker.Gleng

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