Hitting the treadmill for a run may be convenient, but it’s not always exciting. Unless you’re drowning out the monotony with a killer playlist, you’re going to feel every step you take with more acuity than if you were hitting the pavement or trails. This is why it’s important to find the right treadmill running shoes—not only will they help you meet your goals, but they’ll keep you comfortable as you watch the minutes and miles rack up.
Here’s the thing: Don’t assume the shoes you use for other activities will work for treadmill running. “There are differences between running on a treadmill versus a fixed surface like roads and trails,” says Steve Lemig, the Communications Director at Road Runner Sports and an avid runner. “First, treadmill running is done in a more controlled environment. You don’t have to pay attention to surface differences like slippery pavement or curbs. Second, treadmill running can be safer because you don’t have distractions from car traffic or crowded trails. Last, treadmill running is easier on your joints than running on pavement. As a result, you should consider different running shoes for a treadmill.”
And while Lemig has a few tips for choosing the right treadmill running shoes, he starts by emphasizing the importance of getting the right fit. If you haven’t had a professional fitting, head to your local running store to get one done. If you know your fit already, Lemig suggests you find “a shoe with smooth tread to give you more surface contact for better grip. The ideal treadmill shoe will have mid-level cushioning and can be lighter than your road shoe.”
Meet the Experts: Steve Lemig is the Director of Communications for Road Runner Sports and has spent 30 years running races including half-marathons, marathons, and ultra-running events. Joseph Tucker is a personal trainer, dietitian, and the co-founder of Max Health Living—he regularly works with clients on treadmill running programs.
Our top picks:
If you plan on hitting the treadmill this year, start shopping our top picks for the treadmill running shoes, then grab socks, running shorts, and other running gear, too.
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Best Women’s Running Shoe
Freedom 5 Running Shoe
Best Men’s Running Shoe
Best for Overpronators
Best Zero Drop
Best for Foot Pain
Air Pegasus 39
How to choose the best treadmill running shoes
✔️Get the right fit. As with all athletic shoes, when it comes to treadmill running shoes, fit trumps everything. It’s important to be sized correctly and to have a gait assessment to determine whether you need more or less support. These are typically offered for free at specialty running stores. And, even if you’ve had a fitting in the past, if it’s been a couple years, consider going in for a new fitting. Foot size and gait can change over time, so you want to make sure you’re making the best shoe choice for your current needs.
✔️Consider your body weight. “Your shoes must be durable enough to take the load if you weigh more. For instance, soft sole shoes won’t last long for those weighing more than 150 pounds. Lightweight shoes with supportive, firm soles are good bets,” says Joseph Tucker, personal trainer, dietitian, and co-founder of Max Health Living, who works regularly with runners.
✔️Pay attention to stability. The stability provided by the shoe is indicative of whether it’s designed for those with a neutral gait or those whose feet tend to pronate (roll inward) or supinate (roll outward) upon foot strike. After being fitted, if you’re told you overpronate, you need to make sure you’re choosing a shoe with increased stability. If you have a neutral gait or if you tend to supinate your foot, a neutral stability shoe is your best bet.
✔️ Buy the shoe designed for your biological sex. It may be tempting to buy whichever shoe looks the coolest, but shoes are designed based on biological sex-specific traits, and you’ll want to pick the right ones to avoid injury. People’s feet have some characteristic differences—like soles wider than their heels. Some people also have wider hips, which will change their center of gravity.
✔️Check the shoe’s tread. A smooth tread on a shoe allows for more surface area connection between the treadmill and show, creating a “grippier” surface that contributes to safety and foot strike turnover.
Can I use road running shoes on a treadmill?
Generally speaking, road running shoes are the best options for treadmill running. That said, the shoes you use for your runs on the road may not be ideal to use on the treadmill. Pay close attention to the weight, cushion, and style of the tread on the shoe you use on the treadmill. A light weight, moderately cushioned shoe with a smooth tread is going to be your best bet for a treadmill running shoe.
Can I run with just socks on a treadmill?
Technically, it’s possible to run with just socks on a treadmill, but it’s not advisable. For one thing, the contact grip between the socks and the treadmill won’t be very strong, which could increase the likelihood of a slip or a fall. You may also find that the contact between the socks and the treadmill end up creating heat on the soles of your feet. If you want to use a “natural” or “barefoot” running gait on a treadmill, your best bet is to opt for a zero-drop running shoe with some added cushion to offer your feet greater support, like the Topo Athletic shoes included on this list.
How we chose the best treadmill running shoes
First, we consulted with long-time runner and athletic shoe expert, Steve Lemig of Road Runner Sports to get tips on the running shoe features that are deal for running on a treadmill. We also consulted with Joseph Tucker, a personal trainer who designs treadmill running programs for his clients to get input on how a person’s gait and biomechanics might affect their running shoe selections. Finally, we perused scores of running shoes and hundreds of reviews to select the best treadmill running shoes to feature on this list.
For more than 70 years, Prevention has been a leading provider of trustworthy health information, empowering readers with practical strategies to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Our editors interview medical experts to help guide our health-focused product selections. Prevention also examines hundreds of reviews—and often conducts personal testing done by our staff—to help you make informed decisions.
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