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Sneakers, sneaks, tennis shoes, running shoes, trainers—what you call the shoes you use for running doesn’t matter as much as what those shoes were developed to do. But it can be super tempting to use that same pair of shoes to lace up for yard work, the gym, or a walk around the park.
While it’s not a bad idea to be a bit of a minimalist wherever you can (what with global overconsumption contributing to this thing called climate change), refusing to pony up for multiple pairs of athletic shoes might mean buying more in the long run.
Not only does wearing your trainers for everything under the sun wear them down faster, but it may also lead to injury depending on what activity you are participating in.
“Running shoes are made for forward motion, not lateral motion,” says Bob Dyer, co-owner of a St. Louis shoe store called Running Niche. Running shoes tend to sit higher up with more cushioning, he explains. For something like cross-training or gym work–activities you absolutely should have in your training plan as a runner–you’ll want a shoe with a lower profile, something designed for the gym.
When you are doing cross-training or weight lifting in the gym, you’ll want to wear shoes that are specifically designed for those types of workouts. Shoes that were developed with the various motions in mind—forward and backward, side to side, and up and down.
Take tennis shoes, for instance. They are designed for people who play tennis. In tennis you move from side to side and forward to back.
You can run in tennis shoes and you can play tennis in running shoes if you desire. However if you want your shoes to last longer and not risk an injury like rolling your ankle, then stick to the shoes intended purpose.
The same goes for any other sport-specific shoe. You wouldn’t go for a run in Jordans, so why would you play basketball in running shoes? Athletic shoes are developed with injury prevention in mind for the specific sport you are playing. Running shoes are made for running, not for anything else.
If you reserve your running shoes for their sole purpose, you’ll also be saving money and replacing them less frequently. That’s because a mile is a mile on your running shoes, whether that is a mile spent walking around the grocery store or the gym or a mile running on a trail.
“Whether you’re running or walking, there’s still wear and tear on the shoes,” says Dyer. “When shoes, kind of get to end of life, it’s the midsole cushioning that goes.”
The midsole is specifically important for shock absorption and reducing impact on your knees.
Shoes typically last 300 to 500 miles. Dyer admits that running shoes do make great walking shoes, but saving them for when you run will allow you to get the full mileage out of them.
Don’t think walking around really adds up? If you wear an activity tracker and attempt to get 10,000 steps a day, that is roughly 5 miles. Wear your running shoes three days per week while doing non-running activities and that is an extra 15 miles per week. If you use your $120 running shoes for running and $80 shoes for the gym, you are saving money by not having to purchase another pair of shoes sooner than you needed to.
Dyer even recommends runners have multiple trainers to switch up throughout the week, especially runners who are building up in mileage. “If you were in the same shoe all the time and you’re pounding 40 miles a week, you’re firing the exact same muscles every time,” he says. Instead, he recommends runners switch between shoes that have different drop levels (measured as the difference between heel height and ball height). “What that does is causes the runner to use slightly different muscles from their feet all the way up to their hip.”
One last nice outcome of sticking to the intention of your shoes? You’ll begin to form a habit. When you put your running shoes on, your mind can start to associate with certainty that you are going for a run. The same would be true if you were to put on your designated gym shoes: You are going to the gym.
Who doesn’t need a mental trick to get them out the door some days?