What is the Difference Between Sneakers and Running Shoes?


Sneakers versus Running Shoes

Is it time to trade out last winter’s athletic footwear for a fresh pair of snug shoes? But as you walk into the store, you become overwhelmed by the array of different types of sports shoes on display, wondering, “What is the difference between sneakers and running shoes?”  

The main difference between sneakers and running shoes is that running shoes are specifically designed for breathability and movement, while sneakers are meant for motion control and require more cushioning. 

While there are some sneaker lines meant for running, as a whole, sneakers and running shoes are designed differently. As a seasoned runner, you wouldn’t get the same pair of shoes as a parkour enthusiast or volleyball player. Knowing the difference between sneakers and running shoes will help you make the right choice for your feet and your unique lifestyle. 

What is the difference between sneakers and running shoes?  

Depending on which English-speaking country you’re in, you may hear sneakers be referred to as athletic or training shoes, meaning they are used for the rapid movement of sports, such as regular gym-going, walking, or any other athletic activity not including running. 

Running shoes, on the other hand, are specifically designed for high-impact, long-distance running. The speed of your jog and your weight press the front and back of the shoe, absorbing 4x your body weight than sneakers. Because of the level of strain and impact, running shoes are lighter and internally more spacious. 

Are Sneakers the Same as Running Shoes? 

While there is some overlap between sneakers and running shoes, the function and design are not the same. The table below showcases the distinct differences between the two. 

Running ShoesSneakers/Training Shoes
Function Long-distance runningAny kind of intense athletic trainingCushioned 
Design Low-top Low-top & high-topBreathability   

Sneakers are designed to maximize cushioning, as rapid movement between the front, back, and midsole is frequent and can negatively affect the medial longitudinal arch, or the mid section of your foot. 

Athletic training shoes are designed for maximum cushioning to help ensure motion control, whereas running shoes are designed for maximum breathability. 

Key difference between sneaker and running shoe

The main difference between the design of sneakers and running shoes is the shape of the midsole.

The midsole is the most functional portion of the running shoe. Unlike the intense cushioning of a sneaker, the midsole is not only designed to soften impact but to conform to different foot shapes, as well.

What Makes a Sneaker a Running Shoe? 

Because running shoes serve a different function than sneakers, they vary in arch support. 

The Midsole

As mentioned, midsoles in running shoes are important. Running shoes need to bend and conform to the runner’s foot and the speed, which affects impact. 

Yet they also need to be thick enough to protect the arch of your medial longitudinal arch, the first area of the foot that begins to ache for long-distance runners. When negatively affected in that region, you may develop plantar fasciitis, an inflammatory condition that affects low-arched and high-arched people. 

While running shoes may not have as much cushioning, the midsoles are still very stiff. The stiffness is the only significant cushioning of the running shoe and is meant to protect you from injury and ease discomfort. 

The midsole is stiff yet flexible. When considering a new pair of running shoes, try to bend the shoe from the toes to see if the sole is flexible and aligns with the shape of your foot. 

While it may be difficult to know the exact level of midsole stiffness (since manufacturing companies do not provide this information), it’s still an important factor to consider. 

The variation of thickness between the length of the midsole is also important. 

For example, the midsole beneath the rear foot is thicker than the midfoot for added protection against heel trauma. 

Runners with a low arch tend to purchase stiffer midsoles, while runners with a high arch often buy more flexible midsoles. 

Arch Height

Midsoles are important because of the way they affect your arch, or the medial longitude arch, of your foot. You’ve probably heard the phrase “flat feet” being used to insult someone who’s clumsy. 

The human foot can be categorized between one of five accepted shapes in our species: Greek, Roman, Celtic, German, and Egyptian. 

These five shapes refer to different curvatures of our arch. 

Thus, runners will experience different injuries based on their arch height and width. 

As far as manufacturing for various foot types, companies have narrowed down three general categories to measure arch height: low, neutral, and high arch. Or Square, Egyptian, and Greek.

If you are a low-arched individual, or someone with “flat feet” like me, then less cushion is necessary. However, if you have a high arch or a “Greek” foot, then more cushioning is required for shock absorption. 

Someone with a neutral arch, Egyptian, which is about 70% percent of the population, should get semi-curved cushioning that supports the end of your heal to the ball of your foot. 

Can Sneakers be used for Running? 

As a general rule, no. While many people assume more cushioning is the best, the pressure of running can negatively impact your foot. Running shoes are designed to enhance your landing and strides. 

As you run, your feet hit the ground with the force 4x your weight. Therefore, more cushioning can hurt your feet on impact or as time goes on. Instead, opt for space and breathability with a sturdy, yet flexible, midsole. 

Are Sneakers Better than Running Shoes? 

It all depends on what activity you are engaging in. If you are in a motion-controlled sport or light walking, then a cushy sneaker is right for you. However, if you are a runner who really goes the distance, then invest in a proper pair of running shoes. 

Regardless of what shoe or activity, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the shape of your foot. 

Are you a Square, Greek, or Egyptian? 

Mark Norman

I've been running for over 6 years and now try to balance it with life as a dad to two young kids. I'm not super quick, I just try to run consistently, not always easy! I'm lucky enough to have run the London Marathon twice along with countless other half marathons and 10ks. I'm also one of the Run Directors at my local parkrun.

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