Running Shoes Guide: Different Types of Running Shoes, Explained

The right types of running shoes are non-negotiable in your training and your race day, whether you’ve just started running, or have been doing it all your life.

But navigating the various decriptors and types of running shoes on the store shelves can be confusing:

“Motion control.”

“Stability.”

“Cushioned Ride.”

“Natural.”

When wondering What Type Of Running Shoe Do I Need?, it’s easy to get a little lost.

So we’ve created this guide!

The truth is that there is no one shoe to rule them all. The one you choose will need to fit your style of movement as well as how you plan to use them.  

Because of this, our list can be broken down into two sections: features they provide and activity type.

The shoes from these two lists will most certainly overlap, so keep both in mind to mix and match and find the style that best suits you.

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to fine-tune your sprint, we have our top picks to suit every kind of runner.

Let’s get into it!

types of running shoes explained

Types of Running Shoes By Feature

Firstly, the shoe will need to have the right design to suit your unique body. It’s not enough to pick one specifically made for terrain like trail running; rather, your shoes should first and foremost depend on you.

Before heading to the store, you will want to have these basic needs in mind:

  • Will I need a lot of foot stability for my running style?
  • Will a lot of cushion serve me best? 
  • Do I want a light shoe, or something a bit heavier?

The answers to these questions depend largely on things like the running form and body type of the runner, as well as where you plan to do most of your running.

Always bear in mind your running history, any injuries or issues you’ve had in the past with running shoes when going to choose new running shoes – this can help guide you!

Related: How Long Do Running Shoes Last?

types of running shoes

Motion Control

This is all about running gait, or a person’s manner of walking and running. Where your foot falls as you run is important – if your foot tends to roll inward or outward after it hits the ground (called pronation), you may opt for shoes designed to control how much it can do this. These tend to be very stiff shoes to help support and shape how you run.

asics gel kayano motion control type of running shoes
The Asics Gel Kayano series is a great example of motion control running shoes that provide good support

This rolling is called pronation, and the height of your arch can affect how much or little it happens. Determining this if you are already a runner is pretty easy. Find your current pair of running shoes, flip them over, and check the tread. 

  • If there is fairly even wear on the toes and heels, you are a normal pronator and your arch is neutral.
     
  • If the wear strays toward the inner side, you are an overpronator, and your arch may be low.
  • If the wear is more toward the outside, you are an underpronator (called supination), usually caused by a high arch.

If you discover you over or underpronate to some degree, don’t worry!

This is a perfectly normal thing and doesn’t change much unless it’s a severe amount. Studies have shown that for a mild to moderate amount of pronation, your risk for injury isn’t increased. It’s just the way your foot rolls. 

If you’re new or not sure which category you fall into, there’s help! Some specialty shoe stores come equipped with a treadmill and a camera to analyze your running style and show you how your foot falls. 

types of running shoes explained

The Cushioned Approach

Especially for long-distance runners and marathon runners, your body can take a bit of a beating over time. Heels striking the ground constantly without a soft barrier can bring up a whole host of problems if not properly equipped, from joint pain to increased risk of running injury

How much cushion you need depends on you. Light runners may be able to swap cushion for a lighter shoe, while heavier runners may require more. Those with frequent joint pain will also find great benefit in a cushy sole. 

saucony triumph running shoes types of running shoe
The Saucony Triumph series are a great line of cushioned running shoes

Remember to be kind to your body. Though you will develop muscle to help mitigate impact as you train, you still need support and a soft place to land. Your bones and joints will thank you later. 

Running Shoes Guide: Different Types of Running Shoes, Explained 1

When You Need Stability

If you find yourself needing more of a balance between both motion control and cushioning, a running shoe that gears toward stability will be your best bet.

You’ll want just a bit of excess motion control with a mix of rigidity. These are best for those who have fairly normal pronation and would like to focus mainly on arch support with a bit more flexibility.

brooks adrenaline gts 20 types of running shoe
The Brooks Adrenaline GTS series are a good example of a stability running shoe

For the Lightweight

Lightweight running shoes are all about flexibility and comfort. As the name suggests, you have a shoe that aims to decrease fatigue and soreness. These can include a mesh upper for better ventilation and a minimalist design with a bendable cushion. Get the right ones and you may feel like you’re not even wearing shoes (check out my guide to minimalist and barefoot-style running for ultra-lightweight shoes!).

If you’ve read over the categories but are not sure about what you need just yet, don’t worry: we’ve made a guide for how to choose the right running shoes for you, including more information on things like pronation, based on these types.

Types of Running Shoes by Activity

types of running shoes by activity

Now you’ve figured out your basic needs for your next shoe. Next, we have to think about the primary use of your new kicks. 

Your running speed and activity play a big part in whether you need something lightweight and bendy or something strong and supportive. 

Considering some shoes are made for a specific purpose rather than being a general training shoe, you have some factors to consider:

Do you prefer to go long distances at a time, or are you more of a sprinter? 

Do you need something that can handle abrupt turns, or one that provides more cushion in general no matter what you’re doing?

Let’s walk through the various types of running shoes by activity!

The Daily Trainer

daily running shoes road runners types of shoes

For everyday use, reach for a pair that has durability and comfort. These are often referred to as road running shoes, simply to differentiate them from trail running shoes.

While the others on this list are made for more specialized circumstances, daily trainers are more of a catch-all for a mild to moderate aerobic pace. They tend to come with medium cushion–too much and it can alter your gait, too little and it can cause pain with regular use. 

Because they’re meant to be heavily used, they are usually made with stronger materials that hold up to a bit of wear and tear. These are meant for comfort over maximum speed, and are designed to last from 300 to 600 miles. 

Whether you’re hitting a trail, cross-country track, or simply exploring your own neighborhood, it’s important to find what will suit you in the long run.

Trail Running Shoes

trail running shoe, type of running shoes

Trail running shoes primarily focus on trail running – so handling uneven, rugged terrain. These are built to withstand loose rocks, roots, soft earth, and everything in between. You can easily spot these by their larger lugs (the raised treads underneath) to provide maximum grip. 

Generally, if you’re running on hard-packed soil, smaller lugs will do, but opt for larger ones in places that include more slippery surfaces such as wet grass.

Trail running shoes will feel stiffer through the midsoles and may have a reinforced, heavier upper for support as you trek. They may also come with plates underneath the sole to protect you from pebbles and sharp objects. 

Lightweight Trainers

The primary function of lightweight training is speed but with enough flexibility to allow you to build foot strength, unlike racing flats which offer more support. 

These allow for a full range of motion. They can be used for a variety of activities, not just running! Sprints, intervals, and speed workouts are all served well here.

Due to their increased flexibility, we recommend walking in them for a while to start, then gradually easing into short jogs and longer runs to increase that foot strength slowly over time. 

Shoes With Spikes

Running Shoes Guide: Different Types of Running Shoes, Explained 2

Short distance racing is key for these shoes, also called track spikes. Spikes are much stiffer shoes, mainly due to the actual plastic or metal spikes embedded in the front half for greater traction. With more support on the balls of your feet, you will have an easier time sprinting. 

Spikes are made to grip a track in any weather, even during harsh rain. There are several different types: metal needle spikes, for example, are smaller and a bit sharper for standard tracks, while cross-country spikes are bigger and heavier in order to last longer over more varied land. 

Out of each of the categories, these are the lightest in weight, coming in at under five ounces or 142 grams. You will find this handy for picking up your feet with less effort when you need every millisecond you can get.

While ideal for cross-country or track, they provide minimal cushion for longer wear. If you find yourself needing to go farther but still train for speed, reach for…

Racing Flats

These are exactly what they sound like. Say you still want speed, but over a greater distance such as road races. These come with just a bit of cushion for whatever type of race you plan to challenge, and stiffness to support you throughout. 

Racing flats, also called simply “flats,” are intended primarily for race day and not everyday use, though you should certainly train in them for a bit to get a feel for them first. They typically come with less foam underfoot. So while excellent for a single race, a shoe with more cushion and therefore greater shock absorption may be your best bet for extended use.

If your goal is to lace your new shoes up and train for a marathon, we’ve got you covered. 

Here’s a list of our top picks of marathon shoes, as well as a whole library of free downloadable marathon training plans to get you started. 

Setting a plan can take the guesswork out of what can seem like an intimidating process, and turn the concept of running your first marathon from daunting to exciting. Let us help!

Mia Kercher

Mia Kercher

Mia Kercher is a hiker, cyclist, and runner. After finishing her first marathon in 2013, she continued the sport but found a new passion in trail running. She now explores the glorious mountains in Portland, Oregon where she works as co-founder of Evoke.

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