Can Basketball Shoes Be Used for Running? (And Vice Versa!)

The subject of basketball shoes has come up quite a bit lately due in part to the popularity of the movie Air. The film documents the process that the Nike basketball shoe department underwent as they attempted to sign Michael Jordan as one of their sponsored athletes.

In the decades since the events in that film took place, the basketball shoe industry has grown exponentially, and is close to becoming a $5 Billion annual market. Shoe technology has changed quite a bit over the years, and there’s no doubt that they are more durable than ever. (source)

Basketball is a sport that consists of running, jumping, dribbling and shooting the ball. Running up and down the court is one thing, but each of those trips only covers 90 feet and can be done in less than 10 seconds. Basketball shoes are built to endure those types of quick movements. It is a completely different thing to run for several minutes (or even hours!) on end.

Can basketball shoes be used for running? Basketball shoes can be used for running, but only for short distances. For anything longer than a very short run, you would be much better off wearing a running-specific shoe in order to protect your feet. Additionally, the extra weight of a basketball shoe would result in increased fatigue if worn during a longer run. Finally, running in higher topped basketball shoes will often result in chafing and blistering around the ankles and Achilles tendon area.

Can Running Shoes Be Used for Basketball?

Wearing running shoes while playing basketball is also possible, but not recommended. Athletes can open themselves up to the possibility of injury by wearing running shoe on the basketball court.

Running shoes are lighter in weight and have a lower profile than basketball shoes.

They are not ideal for absorbing the shock that comes from jumping, nor can they lend support to the feet and ankles as basketball players tend to constantly switch direction on the court.

If the wrong shoes are worn too often, it can easily lead to ankle, back and hip problems.

If you want to do both sports but you don’t want to have separate pairs of specific running shoes and basketball shoes, you might consider a cross trainer.

These types of shoes can be useful for both sports, as long as you’re not playing basketball every day and your running distances are on the shorter side.

What Is the Difference Between Running Shoes and Basketball Shoes?

The main differences between running shoes and basketball shoes are the overall weight, the amount (and type) of traction, and the amount of materials used.

The first basketball specific shoes – the All Stars – were made over 100 years ago by the Converse company. The sport of basketball includes a lot of stopping, jumping and abrupt starting.

As a result, basketball shoes are made to provide ankle stability and proper shock absorption, and yet be flexible and allow lateral movements. They are usually quite heavier and bulkier than running shoes.

Many basketball shoes are made to go higher up on, and even above, the ankles. This quality offers great support while on the court, but is completely unnecessary for a sport like running.

Running shoes, on the other hand, are built to be much lighter. Shoes made specially for running have been around since the 1850s, but the modern running shoe era really started about 50 years ago [source].

Since running mostly happens in one forward direction, no extra materials are needed to provide support for side to side motion. The soles and tread of running shoes are specially designed to constantly propel the body forward. See our other article here to read about different types of running shoes.

What Sports Can I Use Running Shoes For?

Running shoes are best and most appropriately used for sports where you are moving forward in a straight line. Options that fit this criteria are very limited, and include certain track races, speed walking, cross-country, and of course long-distance road running.

Unless they have pedals that require them to do otherwise, many amateur triathletes will use running shoes for both the running and cycling segments of the race.

Outside of these few sports, for regular or extended participation it is a good idea to look into purchasing a specific shoe for that type of activity.

Wearing a sport-specific shoe will not only increase your level of performance, it will help you to avoid many types of possible injuries and accidents.

What Sports Require Specific Shoes?

There are some sports that go beyond recommending specific shoes, and instead they require participants to wear them. Included in this list is soccer, lacrosse, (American) football, and baseball. All of these four sports require athletes to wear shoes with cleats in order to participate.

These cleats are usually made of hard plastic or metal. They are located on the bottom of the shoes to increase traction while playing on grass or soft surfaces.

There are major differences among the cleats that are specific to each sport, so make sure to do a lot of research or consult an expert before buying a pair of your own.

The following is a list of the major types of sport-specific shoes outside of running and basketball shoes that can be found on the market as well as their defining attributes:

  • Minimalist Shoes – less cushioning and less than 8mm drop from the toe to the heel
  • Walking Shoes – provide stability through the arch, good shock absorption, and a smooth tread
  • Tennis Shoes — solid tread and are designed to provide stability in all directions
  • Cross Trainers – often made of mesh and leather
  • Trail Running Shoes — deeper tread pattern for solid traction and more stability than road running shoes
  • Baseball Cleats – longer and more narrow cleats, often made of steel
  • Soccer Cleats – form fitting and no toe cleat with a low profile
  • Lacrosse Cleats – high upper and a center toe cleat with more midsole support than football cleats
  • Football Cleats – center toe cleat and stiffer outsole, often with a higher upper
  • Golf Shoes – stability in the arch, often have removable cleats for grip while swinging the club
  • Hiking Boots – good tread, higher upper, provide stability across uneven surfaces as well as cushioning to absorb various types of impacts
  • Cycling Shoes – snug fit with cushion under the ball of the foot; ability to attach cleats to clip into brand-specific bike pedals

As you can see, there are a wide variety of athletic shoes available, each with its own set of attributes to aid the athlete in performance and injury prevention.

While it is possible to wear shoes intended for one sport while playing/participating in another, we should try not to do it too often or for very long periods. Whatever sport it is that you choose to play today, make sure you have fun and be safe!

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

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