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If you really think about the action of running, you're essentially pounding your feet on the ground consistently for a prolonged period of time. Unfortunately, your feet and joints (or bad knees if you've got them) won't love that if you don't have cushioned running shoes to soften the blows. The right kicks on your feet can result in improved running performance and reduced muscle damage, according to a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
What are the benefits of cushioned running shoes?
"Cushioned shoes can help a runner use less precious energy to run at the same pace/intensity level," says Laura Norris, running coach in Boulder, Colorado. "While heavily cushioned shoes do not necessarily protect against all running-related injuries (see this 2018 study in Scientific Reports), a plush cushion can reduce impact forces while running."
This is because cushioned running shoes are designed to help absorb shock, making the impact easier on your feet and joints. They also provide extra comfort and protect your feet from getting injured from consistent pounding on the ground, says podiatrist Elizabeth Bass Daughtry, MD.
How can I find the best cushioned running shoes for me?
Since everyone has different feet, you'll also want to make sure you get a proper fitting, says Mark Mendeszoon, DPM, a board-certified podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon. "Cushioned shoes absorb a great amount of stress." But if they don't fit properly, you can exacerbate injuries instead.
From Hoka and Saucony to Asics, there are luckily a lot of shoe brands on the market with their own cushioning systems and technology, Dr. Mendeszoon says. That means there's a sneaker just for your feet, running style, and comfort. Here are the 12 best cushioned running shoes, as recommended by running coaches and podiatrists.
If you're a sustainable shopper, you'll appreciate the mix of earth-friendly materials these sneakers from Brooks are made with. Plus, they don't skimp on performance. "It's a moderate-soft cushioned shoe with a great upper fit and smooth transitions," says Anh Bui, PT, CSCS, a run coach at Run Resiliently DPT. "This is a great daily trainer for runners of any level." Reviewers also say they soften running impact on knees.
Rave Review: "I love the extra support these shoes give when I’m running or lifting weights. I can especially tell in my knees."
Fresh Foam 880 V12
If you're looking for extra bounce in your step, consider trying out these New Balance sneakers. "They're great everyday trainers or long run shoes. They're also lighter than previous 880 versions, but feel bouncier and more comfortable" says Tammy Whyte, running coach and part-time employee at Fleet Feet Chicago. The shoes also boast a wider toe box, which is helpful for those who need it.
Rave Review: "I ordered these shoes after going to my local running store. I have never been able to run without my feet and shin splints hurting. These shoes are a Godsend."
Gearing towards the heavier side of the spectrum are these nine ounce GEL-Nimbus 24's. "These shoes have the most cushioning and great shock absorption," says Dr. Mendeszoon. He recommends them for longer training runs and races. You can also remove the insoles if need be.
Rave Review: "These shoes put a new spring in my step! They are so comfortable with so much support. I love them."
If you're looking for a great everyday training shoe, you'll love the Ride 15. Just keep in mind that it's better for those with narrower feet. "The 15 has a slightly more narrow toe box than the 14, which may be a challenge for some runners,"says Whyte. The trainer does have a moderate amount of cushioning, though, which makes it ideal for the average runner.
Rave Review: "Extremely comfortable and beautiful shoe! Great for people who supinate."
No one likes having their toes crushed in their shoes. With the Rivera, that won't be the case. "This shoe, like all Altra shoes, is made to fit the shape of your foot, so it has a wider toe box so feet can splay naturally," says Whyte. The heels feel smooth—and the sneaker light and breathable.
Rave Review: "This is the most comfortable sneaker I have ever worn. Any other sneaker that I have had, you can’t wait to take it off at the end of the day. I have wide feet, bunions, and a hammer toe and this sneaker lets your feet breathe without feeling confined. I will absolutely buy this again. Very satisfied customer."
Fresh Foam Beacon V3
If you're looking for the perfect mix of comfort and snug, you'll fall in love with these New Balance sneakers. "This shoe has a lot of cushion, but is really light and has a lower heel-toe drop, as well," says Whyte. "I like to use these for speed workouts and shorter efforts." Its lightweight feel makes for a bouncier run while maintaining overall durability.
Rave Review: "New Balance makes solid running sneakers. The Fresh Foam line puts a premium on cushioning that is appreciated by those looking for a softer foot strike while running or walking. These are a good alternative sneaker for easy or recovery runs."
Hokas are one of the most trusted brands for long-distance running shoes. They're known for their comfort, so be sure to stock up on these if you're a fan of spending hours hitting the pavement. "There are several on the market that I would consider 'most cushioned' and that I grab when I’m helping customers at Fleet Feet," says Whyte. "The Bondi has one of the biggest stack heights."
Rave Review: "These shoes fit perfectly and they kept me comfortable all day long!! They are light and the cushioning is amazing! They’re literally the most comfortable tennis shoes I’ve ever worn."
On the list of solid options for the average runner, the Glycerin 19 sits high. It provides neutral support and seriously soft cushioning. "This shoe is well-cushioned without overdoing it, and it’s great for everyday runs or long runs," says Whyte.
Rave Review: "These are my go-to shoes. I have plantar fasciitis and these are the most comfortable shoes I’ve been able to find. They also help with back pain and knee pain caused by my foot problems."
ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknits
These Flyknits have extra backing for additional support that you won't get from other shoes. "It's a great daily trainer with a very soft cushioned midsole, wide heel base, and maximal energy return," says Dr. Bui. "If you love the Nike Vaporfly Next’s and Alpha Fly’s for their cushioning, you will love the Invincible Run for your everyday trainer."
Rave Review: "These shoes offer tons of cushioning and support without feeling heavy, which is great for protecting your body when the mileage gets high. They keep your running comfortable. I'm on my third pair—love these!"
Some Hoka's tend to be on the heavier side, but these feel like you're walking on a cloud. "It's a maximal cushioning shoe that's lightweight (7.2 oz) with a wide midsole that provides foot stability," says Dr. Bui. "It has great durability and is versatile for short or long runs."
Norris is also a fan. "There's a reason this shoe is so popular amongst runners—it provides plush cushion in a lightweight package.
Rave Review: "These are nice and cushy! They fit perfectly and feel very comfortable standing, walking, or sitting. I am happy as a clam!"
Endorphin Speed 3
These Endorphin Speed 3's will help you bring all the heat to your next fartlek run. At only seven ounces, these shoes are designed with ultra-light cushioning that allow you to test your speed without feeling held back. "These are firm cushioned shoes that are responsive, smooth, and lightweight," says Dr. Bui. "This shoe is versatile and can handle interval runs to long tempo workouts."
Rave Review: "Super light and comfy—like walking on a cloud, but with support. They're worth the price, since my feet feel good casually, as well as when exercising."
This shoe will go wherever you take it. Got a bootcamp class coming up? How about a speed workout or a standard gym sesh? Either way, it has you covered. "This shoe blends a plush cushion with a snappy energy return," says Norris. "They feel cushioned enough for long runs, yet snappy enough for a marathon training workout. The cushion holds up well on surfaces such as gravel and dirt roads."
Rave Review: "Great sneakers—super comfy and supportive without being overly structured."
Are cushioned running shoes good for running?
Yes, cushioned shoes are good for running as long as they are comfortable for the individual runner. In a 2021 meta-analysis in the European Journal of Sports Science, the most economical and protective shoes are found to be the ones runners feel most comfortable in. Your personal biomechanics, weight/height, type of paths you run on, and total volume of running all impact what will feel best for you. "Some runners may feel more comfortable in highly cushioned shoes; others may feel best in smaller amounts of cushioning," says Norris.
What kind of cushioning is best for running?
There are two types of cushioning that experts recommend looking for. Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) and supercritical nitrogen foam are top picks from Dr. Bui. "EVA is the most basic foam material. However, it is inexpensive and has lower durability," she says. "Supercritical nitrogen foam uses nitrogen to create pores within the foam to create a lightweight, firm, and resilient midsole. However, it is more expensive." On the other hand, leather or suede should be avoided since they can lead to blisters and other foot injuries.
No matter what type of cushioning you opt for, where the cushioning matters most is the midsole, according to Dr. Mendeszoon. "Higher levels of cushioning can get higher mileage, ranging from 350-550 miles."
What level of cushioning should I look for in cushioned running shoes?
There are five levels of shoe cushioning. Five has the most cushioning and one has the least. To decide which level is best for you, consider your:
environment or terrain
If you're new to running or planning on running a major race, Daughtry suggests opting for something with more cushioning. A one or two-level cushion can be beneficial for strengthening the foot, while the average person might prefer a level three for a more natural feel.
"Too much cushioning in a shoe can throw off the alignment of your spine, hips, and knees. It can also affect your proprioception," says Daughtry. "The opposite extreme, or a shoe with too little cushioning, can have similar results, except it can cause other areas of pain or overuse injuries such as stress fractures." While shoe shopping, try walking around or lightly jogging to determine what feels best for you.
Does the weight of the shoe play a role in comfortability?
The weight of your running shoe is key to your overall comfort. A heavy shoe is considered anything over 10.5 ounces. Unfortunately, with most shoes, it's a catch-22.
You can get a shoe that's designed for increased speed, but it won't have as much cushioning to protect your feet. Meanwhile, you can get a cushioned shoe for long-distance purposes, but you'll have to deal with a heavier shoe. So it's best to weigh the pros and cons before making a purchase.
“The biomechanical needs of your foot structure along with your running style should dictate the weight of the shoe," says Daughtry. "Shoe weight is important for avid, competitive runners to assist with aerodynamics and running form to avoid injury."
What's the best cushioned running shoe?
It's on this list, but the best one for you depends on your foot and running style. If you can get evaluated by a professional and undergo a proper biomechanical exam, it can really help determine what type of shoe is best for you, says Dr. Mendeszoon.
Your fave route also matters for shoe selection. "The surface you run on will impact which type of cushioning is best," says Norris. "If you plan on running on the roads, a plush cushion can be favorable.” However, if you run often on dirt trails, you may want to opt for a firmer cushion. “Trails are softer and thus have less energy return, which a firmer cushion offers. A firm cushion also gives more stability on technical trails,” adds Norris.
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