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Running Shoe Rotations - What's the Big Deal?

Running Shoe Rotations - What's the Big Deal?

Most runners lace up the same pair of shoes every day when they head out the door. Whether you’re an occasional runner or aiming to set a personal best in the marathon, it’s likely you’re  wearing the same pair of shoes for most – if not all – of your runs. 

However, setting up a shoe rotation in which you cycle between different shoes over the course of your training week can actually improve your running in a number of ways.

“What gives?” you may reasonably ask. “I was told to go to my local running store to get fitted for the perfect pair of shoes for my foot and stride. If I already have the ideal shoe for my running, why should I get another pair of shoes that, almost by definition, is less perfect for me?”

We’re certainly not telling you to ditch the shoes you’ve come to love over hundreds of miles or that there’s another pair of shoes out there that, on its own, is better for you than the ones you’ve got.

But, there are still plenty of reasons that having two (or three, or four, or five, or …) pairs of running shoes is better than one. 

Why you should have a running shoe rotation

Your shoes will last longer

Obviously buying multiple pairs of running shoes up front will cost you more than buying just one pair. However, it could save you money in the long run. That’s because you can actually increase the amount of mileage you can get out of a pair of running shoes by not running in it every day. 

Piggy bank coin

Every time you go for a run, the foam in the midsole of the shoe compresses, and, over time, that foam will become more and more compressed until it’s no longer giving you the cushion you need. When it’s sitting on your shoe rack, however, that foam actually bounces back. Particularly if you’re running every day, giving your shoes more time off between runs allows the foam more time to recover, making your shoes last longer.

It reduces the risk of injury

The most common running injuries are caused by overuse from the repetitive motion of running. One way of preventing these injuries? Making that running motion just a touch less repetitive. Because of differing foams, midsole geometries, and heel-to-toe offsets, your stride is going to be slightly different in every shoe.

red cross made out of bandages

As a result, each shoe is going to recruit different muscles in your legs, further dispersing the repetitive impact of running and lowering your chance of overuse injuries. It makes intuitive sense, and studies back it up.

One study found that running in more than one pair of shoes reduced the risk of injury by 39% compared to runners wearing the same shoe day after day!

You’ll have the right tool for each workout

Not all your runs are the same, so it doesn’t make sense that your shoe should be the same for each one. Just as your kitchen has different knives you grab for different purposes – chef knife for chopping, bread knife for, well, bread, or a paring knife for peeling – your shoe rack could benefit from shoes that work best for the task at hand.

You’ll have your daily trainer for the bulk of your mileage, a lighter and more responsive shoe for speed work, and a more cushioned shoe for long runs and recovery days. Sure, a chef knife or a daily trainer can handle basically anything in a pinch, but having other options makes things a whole lot smoother.

It makes running more fun!

Variety is the spice of life, and it can be the same with running! We all have those days where it takes a lot of work to find the motivation to just get out the door. Having a choice between shoes keeps things fresh, so you won’t as often find yourself stuck in a rut. Maybe your legs are feeling beat up – the promise of a super-cushioned shoe to pamper your legs can lessen the dread of a slog on tired legs. Maybe your running has been a bit stale for a few days – lacing up a speedier shoe can add some fun back to your routine. 

How to build a running shoe rotation

Every runner’s shoe rotation will look different depending on their goals, training, and – let’s be honest – budget. Generally, a rotation of two to three shoes will probably work best for most people. Below is a sample rotation, listed in order of importance.

Daily trainer

This is the shoe you’re going to spend most of your time in. If you’re already running and have been properly fit for a shoe in a running store, this is the shoe already in your closet. Like that chef knife you grab every time you’re in the kitchen, the daily trainer can do a bit of everything. It can handle your daily mileage, but it also has enough cushion to go long distances and is responsive and light enough on your feet to pick up the pace from time to time. 

If you run purely for fitness with no interest in signing up for a race, this might be where you stop in building a rotation. It still helps for injury prevention and extending the life of your shoes to have multiple pairs in this category, but a couple pairs of daily trainers are likely all you need

Examples: Brooks Ghost, Hoka Clifton, Mizuno Wave Rider, New Balance 1080

Speed day shoe

If your training includes sprint work, tempo runs, or track intervals, you’ll want to consider a specific shoe for these runs. Your speed day shoe should ideally be lighter and more responsive – translation: firmer and bouncier – than your daily trainer.

You’ll feel lighter on your feet and, well, faster. Putting on these shoes will get you ready to crush your workout. This can double as your race day shoe if you want.

Examples: Saucony Endorphin Speed, On Cloudflow, Hoka Mach X, Adidas Boston

Race day shoe

After the daily trainer and the speed day shoe, we’re truly getting into the “luxury items” portion of the shoe rotation. For most runners, a rotation consisting of one or two daily trainers and one faster shoe will suit your needs. But, if you’re training for a chasing a PR – personal record – you’ll want to add a race day shoe to your closet. 

Runner on road ahead of other racers

We’re talking about those fancy carbon-plated shoes you might have heard about. While, these will certainly set you back $200 or more, they will improve your times. The New York Times – the freakin’ paper of record! – says so, so it must be true! 

A word of warning, though: these shoes often aren’t designed to hold up to heavy mileage. So use them sparingly during your training cycle.

Examples: New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elite, Hoka Rocket X, Adidas Adios Pro, Nike Vaporfly.

Recovery day shoe 

When you’re in an intense period of training – say, the peak of a marathon training cycle – the amount of cushion in a daily trainer doesn’t always cut it. When you need to maximize your easy days to get ready for your next workout or long run, you need as much cushion under your foot as you can find. 

Enter: The recovery day shoe. These are going to be soft, plush, and max cushioned shoes designed specifically to give your legs a rest when you really need it. 

Examples: Hoka Bondi, Brooks Ghost Max, New Balance Fresh Foam X More, On Cloudmonster.

Trail shoe

Not every runner has easy access to trails, but if you’re among the lucky few who hit the trails regularly, you might want to add a shoe specifically designed for running over rocks, roots, and streams.

Trail shoes generally have deeper lugs for better traction in mud, and some even have rock plates to protect your foot from bruising and waterproofing features. 

Trail runner running on trail

Adding a trail shoe to your rotation can also help extend the life of all your other shoes. Rugged trails can beat up a pair of road shoes quite quickly, so you can extend their life by saving them for what they do best.

Examples: Altra Lone Peak, New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro, Saucony Peregrine, Hoka Speedgoat.