What do Michael Jordan and Usain Bolt have in common? Not their shoes, that’s for sure. They both reached the pinnacle of their respective sport—basketball for Jordan and track for Bolt—but it’s doubtful they wore the same shoes while getting there.
Basketball shoes can be used for running short distances on infrequent occasions, but it’s not a good idea to run in them routinely. Basketball shoes do not provide the proper support and motion control needed by dedicated, habitual runners.
With athletic shoes out there designed to fit every sport, running in basketball shoes seems an unnecessary and potentially dangerous thing to do. Read on to see how the shoe fits!
You Can Run in Basketball Shoes…Sometimes
It’s not a question of whether you can actually wear basketball shoes when you run. Sure, you can—just like you could circle the bases without cleats or play tennis barefooted. For any of these scenarios, wearing the wrong shoes (or no shoes) will work in a pinch. But it’s not ideal.
Basketball shoes and running shoes are designed differently because the sports are played differently. The features you need in a basketball shoe are not what is best for regular, short, or long-distance running and vice versa.
Basketball Shoes vs. Running Shoes
You can tell by looking at a pair of running shoes that they are shaped quite differently from basketball shoes. The differences go even deeper into parts of the shoe that you can’t see. These visible and invisible features are there for a reason.
|Basketball Shoe||Running Shoe|
|Higher cut above the ankle for greater stability||Cut at or below the ankle for greater flexibility|
|Cushioned under the midfoot for quick motion||Cushioned in the heel and forefoot to accommodate running stride|
|Added weight due to more cushion||Lightweight to aid in lifting foot during a stride|
|Outer sole helps with traction||The outer sole is more flexible with less support|
|Shock absorption designed for more forgiving surfaces like wood or gym floor||Shock absorption designed for hard ground or pavement|
A 2000 study of the issues in court and running shoe design suggested that enhanced performance and injury prevention in each sport could be boiled down to a different key factor for each one.
- Court (Basketball) shoes: optimal traction
- Running shoes: cushioning and pronation control
Basketball Shoes Are Not Ideal for Running
If the fact that there are shoes called “running shoes” and shoes called “basketball shoes” is not enough of a reason for you, then consider a few other reasons that basketball shoes are not the best choice for routine runs. Short bursts of baseline to baseline running aside, basketball doesn’t call for the same shoe design as running distance does.
The mechanics of running involves forward motion of the foot and body as the runner strides. A runner lands on his heel first, and then the foot rolls forward until the runner pushes off with the ball of his foot. It’s how we humans maximize our stride and cover more ground faster.
Running shoes are designed with this basic motion in mind, and here’s why:
- Extra cushioning in the heel and forefoot accommodates the pounding these areas endure during a run.
- Lightweight materials help the runner pick up his feet during a run without being fatigued.
- The low-cut design around the ankle gives greater flexibility to the foot.
- The sole is made of materials that can withstand the roughness of the road.
On the other hand, basketball shoes work against the foot during a long run. Again, it’s not to say that you should never, ever run in basketball shoes, but you should be aware that they are making the activity more stressful on your body than it needs to be:
- Extra cushioning is in the middle of the foot, not under the heel or forefoot.
- Heavier shoe materials mean you will work harder to pick up your feet every stride.
- High-cut and mid-cut designs interfere with the flexibility needed to roll the foot through each step.
- The soles of basketball shoes are designed for a wood floor or other smooth surface.
Running in basketball shoes for short distances isn’t ideal, but you can do it occasionally without causing yourself harm. Running longer distances (3+ miles) is a no-no.
If you choose to run in your basketball shoes rather than purchase a dedicated pair of runners, it’s a good idea to limit the frequency and duration of your runs. A safe rule of thumb is to run in basketball shoes no more than once or twice a week and cap your distance at two, maybe three, miles per run.
Basketball Shoes Are Designed for Basketball
Gone are the days when you could buy one pair of athletic shoes and be good to go in any sport. Just lace up a pair of generic sneakers and hit the court or the field or the sidewalk. For most of us, it just doesn’t happen that way anymore.
An early study of athletic shoes offers several key thoughts around this idea that one shoe does not rule them all:
- Athletic shoe design should be centered on limiting injury and improving performance.
- Different sports need different shoes.
- Reducing shoe weight will “maximize energy return” and allow for the unique motions of each sport.
Since that 1986 study, as the science of sports performance has continued to advance, the overwhelming conclusion is obvious whenever you set foot in any sporting goods store: there is a shoe for nearly every sport played.
The Design of a Basketball Shoe
We’ve all watched a college or pro basketball game at some point. Or maybe you’ve cheered on your own kids at rec or high school games. Basketball is a game of constant motion. It is a game of running, sure, but players also jump, pivot, and brake fast and quickly, covering the court many times during the match
Basketball shoes are designed with this fast pace and variety in mind. A basketball shoe has to handle lots of baseline to baseline running as well as the action at midcourt and under the basket.
Players count on their shoes for cushioning on jumps and stability on quick turns and cuts. The main goal in a basketball shoe is to offer the wearer these features:
Let’s dissect a basketball shoe and see what makes it so perfect for the rigors of the game, and by extension, less perfect for routine running. We’ll examine each of the four parts in depth.
The upper part of the basketball shoe offers the player support and security. A snug-fitting upper will stay in place and not allow the foot to move around in the shoe. The laces or other closing systems are found on the upper part of the shoe; some models have an additional strap that helps hold the foot in place.
As basketball shoes evolved, three main styles have emerged, and each has unique pros and cons:
- High-cut: A fully enclosed upper offers greater ankle support
- Mid-cut: This more open design provides a blend of sufficient ankle support and a little more flexibility
- Low-cut: The low profile allows for more flexibility and cutting
An insert is just what it says—a removable piece for the insole that many players add to provide more arch support. Inserts can be purchased off the retail shelf or custom-designed for the more serious players.
The shoe’s midsole is arguably the most important part of the shoe because it is where the cushioning is found. As such, the midsole has been the focus of tons of sports performance research over the years. The cushioning design and materials are key to the shoe’s effectiveness.
Cushioning is typically made from a variety of foam materials, as well as EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) and compressed EVA. The EVA foam is a lightweight option, while polyurethane cushions are thicker and last longer. Air, gel, and synthetics have also been used in the midsole.
The midsole is where the brand names set themselves apart from the competition. Cushioning technology can help lower the stress on the foot and body during an intense game.
The purpose of the outer sole is to provide a broad base to give the wearer better balance. Outer soles feature patterns and textures designed to help the player grip the court surface without sliding all over the place during the quick cuts, stops, and starts.
The outer sole of a basketball shoe has more weight and stiffness, giving you more support and stability on jumps. The tread design on the sole has to allow for quick stops and spins on the smooth surface of a basketball court. Traction is an important part of the game.
What Are Basketball Shoes Made Of?
Historically, quality basketball shoes were made primarily of cow leather for the topside part of the shoe. Leather is supple, durable, and flexible. It stretches as needed with use which is a good thing given the fast pace of basketball games. It’s also heavy.
Nowadays, many basketball shoes are composed of a mix of leather and synthetic mesh or canvas, making them lighter in weight while maintaining flexibility. Shoe soles are typically made of rubber, which provides solid support and has a long life if cared for properly.
The Dangers of Running in a Basketball Shoe
Packing the gym bag with the wrong shoe and having to make do in a pinch isn’t the end of the world, but it shouldn’t become a habit. Wearing improper footwear during sports activities can lead to injury, especially if you are a regular player or runner who repeatedly wears the wrong shoe for your sport.
According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, wearing the wrong shoes (or old shoes) can lead to foot and ankle issues. Over time, the problems can migrate up to the leg, hip, and back. Stress in these areas can cause a fatigue injury from the improper alignment that the wrong shoe creates.
Running Stride and Fatigue Issues
True running shoes are designed to work with our natural stride—forward motion from heel to forefoot. Running in basketball shoes can interfere with this movement because they are heavier than running shoes and constructed to provide extra support for lateral moves.
Runners need a lightweight shoe that helps ease the work of picking up each foot multiple times during a run. Flexibility at the ankle also works with the motion of running, not against it.
A stress fracture is one of the most common sports injuries. Resulting from high-impact, repetitive motion, stress fractures are tiny bone breaks, usually in the lower leg bones. Several factors can cause stress fractures:
- Starting a new sport
- Upping the intensity of your play or practice
- Physical abnormalities like fallen arches
- Wearing worn-out or improper footwear
The Achilles tendon stretches from the heel bones to the calf muscle. It is the largest tendon in the body, and its purpose is to let you point your toes downward or raise on your tiptoes.
An Achilles injury is a common one in sports that stress the tendon by stopping or starting frequently or quick motions like pivoting. Runners and b-ballers are prone to tears or tendonitis in the Achilles tendon.
Wearing basketball shoes when you run can increase the risk of injuring your Achilles because they don’t provide the proper cushioning and support placement when you run.
Pronation and Supination
Pronation is about the natural lateral movement of the foot during a stride. A neutral gait is the goal, but two problems can occur:
- Overpronation: The ankle rolls down and inward every step, an excessive rotation that can lead to shin splints and stress on the two biggest toes.
- Supination: Underpronation (or supination) occurs when the foot rolls outward, causing the smaller toes and outer edge of the foot to do all the work.
These issues are fairly common in runners, despite wearing specific running shoes. However, wearing basketball shoes to run in can increase the likelihood of experiencing one of these problems, particularly if your running gait leans toward one or the other already.
Overpronation is handled by wearing shoes designed to control the specific inward rolling motion of this problem. Sometimes insoles or orthotics are necessary. Athletes with supination tendencies need to wear well-cushioned and flexible shoes.
Basketball shoes are not designed to deal with this inward or outward rolling motion. The cushioning is in the wrong place, and there is a lack of flexibility since the focus of basketball shoes is more on ankle stability.
If you want to avoid these annoying problems and even possible injury—which could force you on the bench to heal—get your gear together and wear the correct shoe. You may have to pack two pairs of athletic shoes: a pair for the pick-up game at the gym and a pair for the five-mile run afterward.
Best Practices for Basketball Shoes and Running
Basketball is a game of feet: the goal is 10 feet high; the free-throw line is 15 feet from the backboard, and a three-point shot is about 23 feet 9 inches from the basket. It’s also about your feet—the ones that do all the running, jumping, and pivoting.
If you want to keep your game sharp, start with your feet and what you put them in when you play. We’re not talking style or brands here, but function. Pick the best shoe for the sport:
- Get properly fitted for your basketball shoe. Decide on low, mid, or high cut and make sure your foot is securely supported and doesn’t move around in the shoe as you play.
- Avoid wearing your basketball shoes on distance runs. It’s not good for the shoe, and it’s not good for your feet.
- Swap out shoes. Have one pair for games and another pair for practices. Your game shoes will maintain their structure and cushioning longer. Let the practice shoes take the tough beating of drills and scrimmages.
- Follow a schedule of shoe replacement. Runners are advised to replace shoes every 300-500 miles (about 70 hours of running). Frequent basketball players like high school or collegiate athletes should do the same and replace their shoes every two to three months or even monthly during the season. Some pro players get new shoes after a couple of games.
We may not think of our feet as one of the most important parts of the body. But when it comes to most sports, your feet bear the brunt of the action. Football, basketball, soccer, tennis, running, lacrosse…you get the idea.
That’s why sports sciences exist and why, as a general rule, you should wear sport-specific shoes. Running a short distance in basketball shoes once in a while won’t kill you, but it won’t propel you to the top of your game either.