As the country has made the transition from working out at gyms and fitness studios to our homes and neighborhood streets, indoor runners (and power walkers) may have found that, despite the movement being exactly the same, running indoors versus outdoors can feel very different. That’s mainly due to the change in surfaces that you’re running on, which can impact how your foot strikes the ground. Because of this, we’ve asked experts for how to find the best running shoes for outdoors, versus what you’d wear on a treadmill.
“Brands don’t typically build running shoes specifically for indoors versus outdoor use,” says Bekah Broe, senior product manager for the New Balance performance running team. “They are meant more for the type of running that you’re doing.” According to her, there is a lot that sneakers can do to change the impact of how the foot absorbs the shock of the pavement, thanks to cushioning and structuring within the shoe.
“The biggest difference when running outdoors is not having that treadmill surface helping to take some of the shock off of your body for you,” says Broe. “A lot of people have more success in battling joint pain with a slightly more cushioned shoe for running outside versus on a treadmill, because that the belt and suspension system of a tread is really designed to help absorb some of that shock.” When running on pavement, your sneakers have to do all of that work, which means you’re going to feel it a lot more if you don’t have a lot of cushion. “Outside, there’s a lot more variety in what you’re doing to your body and what you’re experiencing underfoot, which can manifest in different aches and pains than you’re used to.”
Trainer and founder of #RunWithMeg Meghan Takacs adds that outdoor running uses more of your body’s natural mechanics, which changes which portion of your foot absorbs shock. “That means there’s more shock absorption and more muscles in your ankles and hamstrings that are being used,” she says. This can lead to different types of injuries, so make sure that your body is responding to whatever shoe you’re wearing, and check in with an orthopedic doctor or foot specialist if you continue to have problems.
If you’re experiencing joint pain from running outside in your go-to sneakers, Broe recommends looking for more cushioning in your shoe. If you’re a minimalist running shoe devotee, she notes that there are still lightweight sneakers you can turn to for outdoor running that feel sleek but work better on pavement. If you need more impact protection, she recommends looking for more structure on your foot, which you’ll find in structured cushioning running sneakers. Keep scrolling to start shopping for the best running shoes for outdoors.
The Goldilocks options: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37, $120
A long-time gold standard in mid-level cushioning, the Nike Pegasus is a dependable running sneaker that actually works well for indoor and outdoor runs. This version has added forefoot cushioning, responsive foam lining the sole, and uses what the brand calls an “airbag” to soak up impact and provide responsiveness with your stride. And, despite how it looks, it feels incredibly lightweight.
Asics Gel-Nimbus Lite, $150
These sneakers are lightweight, but provide ample cushioning along the sole to absorb some of the impact. They’re durable and are responsive to your gait, allowing you to run with comfort but without the hard-hitting effects of a paved surface. Takacs recommends sneakers like these for heel-to-toe strikers.
For extra support: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080, $150
This New Balance sneaker is deceiving—it looks like it’d be heavy with the amount of cushioning it has, but it’s actually very lightweight and flexible. The bouncy, plush midsole absorbs a good amount of impact so that your joints don’t… without getting in the way of your stride. They actually make you feel like you’re running on clouds or a trampoline.
Hoka Clifton 6, $130
Another option for extra support is the Hoka Clifton 6, which makes your stride feel springy without weighing your feet down. Takacs recommends these if you’re a heel-to-toe striker in particular and experience more impact on your shins and knees.
For the roadrunner: On Cloudswift, $150
On sneakers are known for their cloud-like soles in which the bubbles provide bouncy support. These are especially useful for roadrunning or other hard pavements, but they feel feather-light with neutral stability and soft conditioning—plus they’re temperature-resistant.
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