Most people have a general understanding of tennis shoes and running shoes, but there is also a fair amount of confusion about the difference between them.
This largely stems from the fact that people use the terms “tennis shoes“ and “running shoes“ rather loosely and often interchangeably to describe sneakers. However, there are distinct differences between tennis shoes vs running shoes.
But, what are the main differences between running shoes vs tennis shoes? Are tennis shoes good for running? Are running shoes good for tennis or other sports?
In this article, we will look at the difference between tennis shoes and running shoes, comparing various factors of tennis shoes vs running shoes and then answering the question: “Can you run in tennis shoes?”
We will look at the following:
- Are Tennis Shoes and Running Shoes Different?
- The Differences Between Tennis Shoes vs Running Shoes
- Are Tennis Shoes Good for Running?
Let’s get started!
Are Tennis Shoes and Running Shoes Different?
Although many people colloquially use the term “tennis shoes and running shoes“ to describe any type of sneaker, tennis shoes, and running shoes are indeed distinct types of footwear with different intended purposes.
Tennis shoes are designed for playing tennis or other similar sports, whereas running shoes are designed for running.
If you think of comparing the movement patterns in tennis vs running, one of the main differences that should come to mind is that tennis involves much more directional changes, whereas running is primarily done in the forward direction.
This key distinction between running vs tennis translates to the main structural and functional differences between running shoes and tennis shoes.
Running shoes are designed for forward movement and are thus optimized to be lightweight and cushioned for a heel-to-toe transition in the forward direction.
In contrast, tennis shoes are designed to provide much more lateral stability and traction for directional changes.
Even though there is plenty of running in tennis, tennis shoes tend to be less cushioned because there is generally less impact force, as you often do a lot of side-to-side shuffling and lunging rather than landing on one foot at a time from an airborne position.
The Differences Between Tennis Shoes vs Running Shoes
The main difference between tennis shoes and running shoes is that tennis shoes are designed to provide more lateral support stability, whereas running shoes are optimized to be lightweight and cushioned for the forward movement direction.
This means that running shoes are more flexible in the forefoot than tennis shoes, so it is easier to push off as you run. This helps enhance forward propulsion.
Here are some of the additional differences between running shoes and tennis shoes:
Tennis Shoes vs Running Shoes: Support
In general, when comparing tennis shoes vs running shoes, tennis shoes provide much less arch support and pronation control than stability or motion control running shoes.
Minimalist running shoes and neutral running shoes are more along the lines of support provided by tennis shoes.
The reason that tennis shoes don’t offer as much side-to-side support in the arch is that if the arch were built up too much with stiff materials, the risk of twisting your ankle when making directional changes or pressing into the lateral sides of the shoe would increase as if hitting a brick wall.
Tennis Shoes vs Running Shoes: Cushioning and Stack Height
The stack height of a shoe refers to how much material lies between the bottom of your foot and the ground based on the thickness.
Shoes with a higher stack height have more cushioning.
One of the structural differences between tennis shoes vs running shoes is the thickness of the midsole. The midsole of an athletic shoe refers to the portion that sits between the insole and the outsole.
The midsole generally provides cushioning and arch support.
The materials, thickness, and construction of the midsole of any running shoe are often what imparts the characteristic feel of the shoe, especially in terms of the cushioning or firmness vs how lightweight and responsive the running shoe or tennis shoe is.
There is a wide range in the thickness and materials used in the midsoles of running shoes and tennis shoes.
For example, minimalist running shoes or barefoot running shoes have almost no midsole at all, making the shoe very flat, low to the ground, lightweight, and firm.
In contrast, maximalist running shoes have a thick stack height, which means that there is a lot of material between the bottom of your foot and the running surface to provide a lot of cushioning and shock absorption.
Given the range of midsole characteristics across all types of running shoes, it is a little difficult to make universal comparisons of the midsoles of all running shoes vs tennis shoes.
However, in general, tennis shoes have a lower profile and sit lower to the ground than running shoes because they have less cushioning and a thinner midsole.
Of course, the exception here would be minimalist and barefoot running shoes.
Tennis Shoes vs Running Shoes: Weight
While there is a wide range of weights for running shoes, you will generally find that running shoes are lighter than tennis shoes.
This is because tennis shoes are designed to provide superior traction and lateral stability, and these construction elements add to the weight of the shoe.
In contrast, running shoes are intended to be lightweight to reduce energy costs and improve running economy over long distances.
Studies have found that a 100g increase in the weight of running shoes decreases running economy by 1%.
Tennis Shoes vs Running Shoes: Traction
With the exception of trail running shoes, which are designed to provide enhanced traction for uneven and loose surfaces when running on trails, you will find better traction and grip on the outsole of tennis shoes vs running shoes.
Because of the directional changes in tennis, the sharp cuts, quick stops, and lateral movements, you need to have a good, anti-slip grippy bottom of the shoe to prevent sliding, slipping, and falling.
There are different tread patterns on running shoes, but overall, the traction is less significant on running vs tennis shoes.
Tennis Shoes vs Running Shoes: Longevity
Most running shoe companies recommend replacing running shoes every 300-500 miles, depending on the type and quality of the running shoe, your body size, training factors, biomechanics, and how often you run in your shoes (and if you rotate your running shoes).
Running shoes primarily need to be replaced because the cushioning and support in the midsole break down.
Tennis shoes also need to be replaced.
However, the primary driver behind when to replace tennis shoes is when the outsole tread is worn down.
Because tennis shoes need to provide good traction for directional changes, the integrity of the grip on the bottom is essential.
Thus, when comparing replacing running shoes vs tennis shoes, the longevity of running shoes is determined by the integrity of the midsole, whereas the integrity of the outsole impacts when tennis shoes need to be replaced.
Are Tennis Shoes Good for Running?
Although there is running in tennis, and it is certainly possible to run in tennis shoes, it is not recommended to run in tennis shoes.
As can be seen, tennis shoes are structurally and functionally more similar to cross-training shoes than running shoes and are not really designed for long-distance running.
They are heavier, less cushioned, less supportive, and often fairly inflexible for the heel-to-toe transition with running. Essentially, the sole of tennis shoes is stiffer and more grippy, and tennis shoes are less responsive than running shoes.
These factors can compromise the fluidity of your running stride, reduce your running economy, and increase the risk of running-related injuries when running in tennis shoes instead of running shoes.
But what about running shoes for tennis? Are running shoes good for tennis?
Similarly, it is not recommended that you play tennis, other racquet sports, or other sports with directional changes and lateral movements while wearing running shoes.
Running shoes lack the lateral support and traction you need to be safe with these types of movement patterns, so the risk of falls, sprains, strains, and other injuries is increased.
Wearing the right footwear will not only help you perform better in the sport you are doing but will also reduce the risk of injury.
To learn more about how other types of athletic shoes compare, check out our guide to road running shoes vs trail running shoes here.