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Training Shoes Vs Running Shoes: Which Are Best For Your Training?

There are a lot of features that can differ between running shoes and other types of athletic shoes that depend on the specific demands of the sport they are created for. Even within each type of shoe, there are tons of options for styles and features.

For example, with running shoes, there are stability running shoes that provide extra support for pronation, maximalist running shoes that have super thick midsoles to provide plush cushioning, and there are even carbon fiber running shoes that have a carbon fiber plate to help optimize energy return.

Although it’s clear that running shoes are intended for running, many people wear running shoes for different types of workouts, and some people prefer wearing training shoes for some amount of running.

But, what are training shoes? What are the primary differences between training shoes vs running shoes? When is it better to wear cross-training shoes vs running shoes? 

In this article, we will explain what training shoes or cross-training shoes are and the primary differences between cross-training vs running shoes, including when it is ideal to wear training shoes vs running shoes or running shoes vs training shoes.

More specifically, we will cover the following: 

  • What Are Training Shoes?
  • Training Shoes vs Running Shoes: The 4 Main Differences
  • When to Wear Cross-Training Shoes vs Running Shoes

Let’s get started! 

Three different color sneakers.

What Are Training Shoes?

A training shoe, often called a cross-training shoe, is a versatile athletic shoe designed to be able to “cross“ across a variety of different types of exercises and training surfaces and stand up to the changing demands of each. 

As such, cross-training shoes can be likened to the “Swiss Army knives” of athletic footwear or an “all-in-one” training shoe.

For this reason, cross-training shoes function as a “hybrid“ of other types of athletic shoes, such as running shoes and weightlifting shoes

Therefore, the design of high-quality training shoes enables the shoes to be seamlessly transitioned from quick bursts of cardio and sprinting drills to weightlifting exercises or plyometrics, as these shoes can be used for jumping, cutting, stopping, and changing directions quickly.

Ultimately, the best cross-training shoes are stable, durable, and versatile across a wide range of activities, training surfaces, and movement patterns. 

A person sprinting.

Training Shoes Vs Running Shoes: The 4 Main Differences

While cross-training shoes and running shoes are both worn for various activities, there are notable differences between training vs running shoes, which can make one type of shoe more suitable than the other for a given activity.

Cross-training shoes are typically stiffer or more rigid than running shoes and a bit heavier. They are designed to provide more lateral support for agility movements, back squats, or lifting exercises. 

Here are some of the key differences between training shoes vs running shoes:

#1: Flexibility of the Sole

One of the main differences between cross-training shoes vs running shoes is the flexibility of the sole.

A person running on the road.

The intended purpose of the shoe alters the ideal sole flexibility, which then affects the materials and construction to embody those characteristics.

Running shoes are designed to flex in the front-to-back direction because the shoe is intended to facilitate the heel-to-toe transition from heel strike to push-off. 

Therefore, you need the sole to flex, especially at the forefoot, so that you can smoothly transition in your running stride from ground contact to toe-off.

If the sole were too stiff, you would be “fighting” the shoe, and your foot would not move smoothly and roll over as you land and push off.

Training shoes are designed for multi-directional exercises and movements, including lateral (side-to-side) movements.

Therefore, the sole of the training shoe is specifically designed to provide traction, support, and some flexibility in all directions of movement.

Accordingly, the tread pattern, the density, and the stiffness of the sole of training shoes vs running shoes are different.

A person lifting a barbell.

#2: Heel Drop

One of the key distinguishing features between cross-training shoes vs running shoes is the heel drop or heel-to-toe drop.

Cross-training shoes are almost always very flat, usually having a 0-4 mm heel-to-toe drop.

This means that the thickness of the sole is consistent throughout the shoe (zero drop), or the heel is only slightly thicker and elevated relative to the toe region.

Running shoes are available in a variety of heel drop measurements, but the traditional or common heel drop is around 8 to 13 mm.

This means that the heel of the shoe is elevated relative to the toe, so there is more cushioning or material between the bottom of the heel and the actual ground than there is between the ball of the foot and the ground.

A person tying a running shoe.

The primary purpose of having a higher heel-to-toe drop in running shoes vs training shoes is to provide additional cushioning for heel strike when you land.

In contrast, a zero-drop training shoe allows you to have more natural biomechanics, a more stable platform or base of support, and a full range of motion in your ankles and calves.

With that said, there are also zero-drop running shoes, which have become increasingly popular as more runners seek to replicate “barefoot running“ or run in minimalist shoes.

A lower-heel drop or a zero-drop running shoe may potentially encourage landing on your midfoot rather than your heel when you run.

#3: Stack Height

Another difference between running shoes vs cross training shoes is in the thickness and materials of the midsole, which directly influences the stack height of the shoe.

Stack height refers to the overall thickness or amount of material between the bottom of your foot and the training surface, so it comprises the midsole and outsole of the running shoes or training shoe.

Stack height differs from heel drop in that a shoe can have a very high stack height, like a maximalist running shoe, but a relatively small heel drop because the thick platform is consistently thick throughout.

A person walking on a treadmill.

In general, there is much more cushioning and a thicker midsole in running shoes vs training shoes.

This is because running shoes are designed to provide greater shock attenuation and cushioning for high-impact running.

As such, running shoes usually have a variety of specialized foams or gels in the midsole, whereas training shoes have minimal cushioning and a resultantly lower stack height so that your foot sits closer to the ground.

Although the cushioning is potentially helpful for runners to help absorb impact stress, this feature of running shoes makes them not particularly ideal for lifting heavy weights.

It is usually better to do weight lifting in cross-training shoes vs running shoes because training shoes have a firmer midsole with denser foams that do not compress as much under a load of heavy barbells, dumbbells, and your body weight.

This makes the shoe more stable rather than unpredictably squishy and compressible, as is the case when weightlifting in running shoes vs cross training shoes.

The uppers of blue running shoes.

#4: Upper Materials and Feel

Another construction difference between cross trainers vs running shoes is in the construction of the uppers.

When comparing running shoes vs cross training shoes, running shoes generally have a lighter upper that is primarily composed of knit mesh to enhance breathability.

The upper of training shoes tends to be more durable and designed to withstand abrasion, such as the friction from climbing a rope.

There may also be more overlays to enhance lateral stability and grip the foot for multidirectional movements.

When to Wear Cross-Training Shoes vs Running Shoes

Ultimately, deciding whether you should wear running shoes or cross-training shoes is a matter of considering the type of workout you are going to do.

Running

If you are primarily going to be doing any sort of running workout, such as a treadmill run, outdoor run, track workout, or trail run, that is more than just some targeted short sprints; you should wear a running shoe.

Running shoes tend to be lighter, more flexible, and more cushioned than cross-training shoes. This makes them ideal for running longer distances and better for your feet and lower body than running in training shoes. 

However, running shoes are not designed to provide lateral support or traction on a field, turf, or gym flooring the way that high-quality cross-training shoes can.

A person doing a box jump.

Training

Therefore, if you are going to be lifting weights, doing circuit training, plyometrics, short cardio bursts, agility training, sprint training, or general exercise classes at the gym, you should wear cross-training shoes.

Either running shoes or training shoes can theoretically work for walking, but running shoes tend to be better due to the forward-to-back flexibility.

For more information about shoe comparisons, check out our guide to running shoes vs walking shoes here.

A person hiking.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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