Shoes can be highly specialized, such as those made specifically for cycling, running, lifting, or even sports in which you’ll be cutting laterally like tennis. Then, it gets even more granular: if you’re running, will you be on the trail or on the road? How many miles do you plan on running per week? And more importantly, how cool do you want to look in your shoes? (Okay, maybe not the last one.)
Here are the most common types of workout shoes you’ll see, and when they’re actually useful.
Most running shoes are designed with some sort of motion control, stability, and shock absorption technology. In some shoes, you’ll find extra stiffness or cushion around the arch intended to reduce pronation, or the foot’s inward roll from landing; as well as a more cushioned, higher heel to supposedly reduce trauma from the repetitive footfalls of running. Other shoes will have a low heel drop, a fancy term to describe how much higher the heel is than the forefoot. Essentially, the lower the heel drop, the more you are encouraged to land on your forefoot. These features are extra bells and whistles; the real test comes when you head out on the road yourself.
Speaking of which, you’ll enjoy running a heck of a lot more if you have the right fit, because improperly sized shoes can cause some painful, not-so-attractive stuff like blisters, bruised toenails, and bunions. Most of these problems arise from the shoes being too small, narrow, or simply ill-fitting for the individual’s foot. If you can’t play footsies in your shoe, then it might be too small.
Road Running Shoes
Good for: Most running shoes are “road running” shoes. Despite their name, they’re great for anyone who wants to run (mainly forward) on any surface.
Price Range: $70 – $200
Pros: Shoe companies have developed fancy features and models to accommodate runners of all types, and there’s a ton of debate over which type of shoe fits which type of runner. In general, you can base your decision on your running distance (lightweight shoes are beneficial in endurance events, for example) and comfort during a run (which is not the same as comfort in the store).
Cons: Running shoes would be bad for any sort of lateral movement, such as football-like training, since it’s assumed you’ll be running mainly forward, and so the shoes don’t offer much ankle support.
Trail Running Shoes
Good for: Running on very technical, rocky trails. Unless you’re planning to run some really mountainous trails, your normal running shoes will suffice.
Price Range: $70 – $150
Pros: It’s not unusual to see people using regular road running shoes on the trails, but shoes that are specifically designed for the trails have thicker soles to protect your feet from being impaled by unusually pointy rocks and jagged debris (ouch!). They also include a lower-to-the-ground feel for extra stability, a really grippy sole for traction—especially for those loose dirt, downhill segments—and in most cases, water-resistant material.
Cons: They’re generally stiffer than road shoes, and might not have as smooth of a running feel.
Good for: Sports like soccer, football, Ultimate frisbee, baseball, etc. If you play any of these sports regularly, we definitely recommend buying cleats.
Price Range: $50 – $350
Pros: Cleats offer major traction for spontaneous directional changes and push-off, which are crucial in sports like football and soccer.