Walking Shoes, Running Shoes, or Nothing?

Walking Shoes, Running Shoes, or Nothing?

Ever wonder what the deal is with shoes these days?  If you are getting into walking or running, what do you need to know?  Is it OK to walk in a running shoe or run in a walking shoe?  And, what about these folks who say barefoot is best? 

Here’s an overview and primer to help eliminate at least SOME of the confusion. 

The Difference Between Walking and Running

When you are walking, the impact on your body is 1 to 1.5 times your body weight.  When you run, the impact is 3-4 times your body weight.  This little fact alone means that manufacturer’s of running shoes used to (and some still do) make them with much more cushioning than walking shoes. 

When you walk, your heel hits the ground further back than if you are running.  Also, the foot does not roll forward as quickly as when you are running, so your foot requires more flexibility in the toe area.  Therefore, walking shoes tend to have a heel designed to accommodate more motion from back to front, and a more flexible toe box.  Note:  When you run, your tendons are recruited to a greater extent that if you are walking.  That is what gives you that extra propulsion and “bounce” that moves you along more quickly than walking. 

Because of all this knowledge, these days walking shoes are better designed for walking, and running shoes are better designed for running. 

What About Going Barefoot?

Then there’s the barefoot or minimal shoe camp.  Here is where taking a look at what’s happening with the muscles and nerves and not just impact forces has greatly altered the thinking about what is the best way to walk and run. 

The barefoot camp maintains, with research to back it up, that the bottoms of your feet have many, many, small nerves in them that read vibrations coming from any impact.  Being very small, they also can do so very, very quickly.  Quickness is key for helping the muscles and tissues in the feet and legs know that they need to stiffen up to stabilize whatever motion is happening as your foot strikes the ground.  Once your foot hits the ground, your body has literally milliseconds to adjust. 

Because of this, the argument goes, if you put anything between your foot and the ground, especially if it has a lot of cushioning, your body cannot detect the true vibrations that are coming from impact.  This will mean that your body isn’t ready, and you can get injured more easily.   

The thing about walking or running barefoot or with minimal footwear is that you would need to train for it first.  Most of us have been wearing shoes before we even started to walk.  Our feet have all the requisite nerves and muscles, but they have also been restricted, restrained, and ignored for years.  There are ways to train your feet and the rest of you that will give you the best results if you decide to go that route.  Specifically, you would need to start with a few minutes (like 10) each day for several days, and slowly add in more minutes as you continue to train. 

There Are Hardly Any Perfect Feet 

There are pronators, supinators, varying toe lengths, hammer toes, bunions,  arthritic big toes, diminishing fat pads, and on and on.  Left undetected or untreated, any of these issues can result in injuries that may stop you in your tracks.  Shoes can help.

Walking and Running Commonalities:

  1. Walking is good.  Running is good too, but it’s not for everyone. 
  2. Keeping your feet and ankles strong and flexible is good for them and for the rest of your body (it all goes up the chain).
  3. Continually taking a long stride length is not necessarily a good thing.  Shins, knees, hips, and low back do not adjust well to a long stride. 
  4. Believe it or not, it is important to engage your abdominals and core when you walk or run.  Why?  Stability in this area will make for less superfluous motion.  That makes the walking or running more efficient and you less prone to injury.
  5. If you plan on getting started with a regular walking or running program, or even if you have been at it for a while, it’s a good idea to head to a running shoe store where they can evaluate your gait on a treadmill with a video camera.  This can be invaluable for getting yourself into the right shoe, even if it is a minimal one.

Whatever you choose, enjoy it, stay healthy, and keep up the good work! 


© 2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

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