/ 18 min

Tennis Shoes vs. Running Shoes: What’s the Difference?

logo kuru author2
By: KURU Footwear

If you’re new to shoe shopping, you might wonder why two similar-looking shoes have different labels or categories, specifically: running vs. tennis shoes.

Though many people use these two labels interchangeably, the different names actually denote the specific purpose or design element of the shoe. The distinctions may seem subtle, but they make all the difference in performance and injury prevention.

As the saying goes: “Use the right tool for the right job.” The choice between these two types of shoes can make a world of difference in your performance and comfort, whether you’re sprinting on the track or executing a fierce backhand on a tennis court.

Key Takeaways

  • Despite similarities in appearance, tennis shoes and running shoes serve different purposes. Tennis shoes are primarily designed for side-to-side movements and running shoes are optimized for forward motion.
  • Tennis shoes typically have more substantial toe and lateral support and feature a lower profile to maintain a player’s stability during quick, angled movements
  • Running shoes are, quite literally, made for running—constructed with thick, cushioned soles to absorb shock, and have a higher heel drop to propel forward motion.

The Anatomy of Tennis Shoes

So, what exactly are “tennis shoes?” Simply put: tennis shoes are shoes specifically engineered with the demands of tennis in mind.

They feature a flat and sturdy sole, allowing players to move quickly and pivot easily. The upper part of the shoe is built to support the lateral or side-to-side movements that are inherent to tennis. Meanwhile, the midsole is designed to be thicker toward the front of the shoe to accommodate frequent quick stops and starts.

This unique anatomy serves to enhance playing performance and reduce the risk of injuries. In the realm of tennis, shoes are far more than just foot coverings—they are essential gear that can significantly influence a player’s game.

Traction and Stability

The outsole or bottom of tennis shoes is made of durable rubber for long-lasting traction, even after prolonged playing on rough court surfaces.

The bottom typically features a specialized tread pattern. The specific arrangement and depth of the grooves in the outsole tread pattern are crucial in providing better grip and stability on various court surfaces. This traction is crucial to help prevent slips and falls during swift and sudden shifts in movement—a common occurrence in tennis.

The shoes also have a wider base for better stability, supporting the player’s balance during side-to-side movements. Further, the midsole often incorporates cushioning technologies for shock absorption, reducing impact and providing stability during quick stop-and-start actions in tennis.

Durability

Key elements of durability in tennis shoes are the outsole and the toe cap. The outsole is made of robust rubber designed to endure regular friction against rough court surfaces. The toe cap of a tennis shoe is often reinforced with additional layers of material—such as a sturdy form of leather or synthetic compounds—since it’s the area that experiences the most wear and tear during play. 

Moreover, the upper part of the shoe also uses resilient materials, such as synthetic leather or canvas, to resist tearing and maintain its shape. This durability ensures that the shoes can support the high-impact, fast-paced, and rigorous nature of tennis, providing players with both longevity and value for their investment.

Lateral Support

Several tennis shoe elements provide proper support for players during quick lateral or side-to-side movements. These include:

  • Upper Construction: The upper part of a tennis shoe often incorporates supportive overlays or materials strategically placed in areas that experience lateral movement, such as the midfoot and sides.
  • External Heel Counter: Many tennis shoes feature an external heel counter, which is a rigid piece of material that wraps around the back of the heel. The heel counter helps to lock the heel in place, providing stability and preventing excessive movement during side-to-side actions.
  • Arch Support: Tennis shoes often have built-in arch support systems, such as molded footbeds or an ergonomic shape, which provide support and help prevent the foot from rolling inward or outward.
  • Wide Base and Low Profile: These features help increase stability by providing a broader platform for the foot and lowering a person’s center of gravity, which can reduce the risk of ankle rolling during lateral movements.

Court Types

Tennis is played on a variety of court surfaces, each demanding a specific type of shoe. Choosing the right tennis shoe for the court type not only enhances performance but also reduces the risk of injury.

On hard courts, such as concrete, shoes with durable soles that can withstand the rough surface are in demand. Additionally, they should offer ample cushioning to absorb the shock from the hard court.

For clay courts, players often opt for shoes featuring a herringbone pattern on the sole for better traction, enabling swift, sharp movements without slipping.

Grass courts, the fastest of all surfaces, require shoes with traction on the soles for enhanced grip and quick reactions, helping players avoid falls during the game.

KURU Footwear QUANTUM 2.0 Women's Sneaker in Pewter-Night Sky.

Popular

(720) Ratings

QUANTUM 2.0

Icon depicting KURU Footwear Recommended Product.

RECOMMENDED

Our best got better. As we celebrate 10 years of fan-favorite QUANTUM, we bring you the next generation of heel pain relief: QUANTUM 2.0. This premium walking shoe brings you our most cushioned midsole yet, a wider base with a wide toe box, and upgraded KURUSOLE heel support for ultimate foot pain relief.

Types of Tennis Shoes

Delving into the diverse world of tennis footwear, one quickly realizes that the term “tennis shoes” encompasses a wide variety of designs and constructions, each tailored to meet specific needs and court conditions. The different types of tennis shoes are built based on the types of tennis courts.

From the classic hard court trainers to the intricate clay-friendly styles and the quick-paced grass court shoes, the world of tennis footwear is as varied as the game itself.

This variety aims to optimize performance, enhance comfort, and most importantly, minimize the risk of injuries regardless of what type of court you play on.

Hard Court Shoes

Hard court surfaces are popular among tennis enthusiasts due to their balanced game pace and predictability. These courts are typically composed of concrete or asphalt, making them more durable and resistant to weather.

However, this toughness can be hard on players, putting their feet and joints under significant pressure. Hard court tennis shoes are specifically designed to help players withstand these conditions. Hard court tennis shoes are often characterized by their robust and durable soles, which are engineered to endure the harsh, unyielding court surface.

These shoes also feature enhanced cushioning to absorb shock, protecting the player’s feet from the stiff court. 

The upper part of the shoe is typically reinforced to survive the relentless scratches and scrapes that are common in hard court play. Consequently, hard court shoes, with their balance of durability and comfort, make a huge difference in performance and safety on hard surfaces.

Clay Court Shoes

Clay courts offer a unique playing experience in the world of tennis. Composed of crushed stone, brick, or shale, these courts are known for their slower game pace and higher bounce characteristics. A match on a clay court can turn into a test of stamina, as the ball often remains in play longer.

Clay court tennis shoes are typically designed with full herringbone pattern soles. These soles provide exceptional traction on the slippery clay while preventing the material from clogging up the grooves and losing its grip. This shoe type also offers a lighter build and less rigid upper structure for enhanced on-court agility. 

The design ensures that players can slide into shots smoothly, a key aspect of clay court play, without sacrificing stability or comfort during longer play times.

Grass Court Shoes

Grass courts are the classic stage for tennis, harkening back to the origins of the sport. Their distinctive, lush surface creates a fast-paced game, with the ball often skidding and bouncing low, requiring quicker reflexes from the players.

Grass court tennis shoes need to offer excellent grip on this often slippery surface, so they are generally designed with traction-heavy outsoles. 

This shoe design is reminiscent of soccer cleats, but the traction is not as pronounced or spiked. Still, the small protrusions provide the needed traction while causing minimal harm to the delicate grass. 

Moreover, the shoes are typically lightweight, with a flexible upper, allowing for swift, agile movements. The cushioning is also usually optimized to facilitate quick recovery after each shot.

When to Choose Tennis Shoes

Choosing between tennis shoes and running shoes is usually a no-brainer. You should choose tennis shoes if you:

  • Play tennis or other similar sports that require a lot of side-to-side movements
  • Need more lateral support and stability during exercise
  • Want better quick stopping and gripping power to prevent slipping on the court

Tennis shoes are the go-to choice if you’re playing tennis or similar sports, such as badminton and racquetball. If you will be engaging in side-to-side movements, making quick shifts in direction, or playing on a variety of surfaces, we recommend choosing tennis shoes. 

However, if you’re hitting the pavement for a jog, then leave the tennis shoes at home and lace up your favorite pair of running shoes instead.

The Anatomy of Running Shoes

Constructed to cushion the blows of repetitive strides, running shoes boast a unique anatomy designed for forward motion. Yes, they may look similar to tennis shoes, but their purpose and function vary significantly.

The structure of running shoes caters to the specific demands of running, which is a primarily linear activity, involving putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly. The architecture of a running shoe, particularly its cushioning and shock absorption, is specifically formulated for running mechanics. Since runners need support, stability, and comfort, running shoes help runners maintain an efficient stride over prolonged distances.

Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of running shoes.

Cushioning and Support

One of the trademark features of running shoes is their robust cushioning system, which is specifically designed to absorb shock as the foot strikes the ground repeatedly. 

This cushioning is typically focused on the midsole. Made up of foam compounds, the midsole helps to minimize the impact on your feet, ankles, and knees, which helps reduce the risk of injuries when running.

In addition, running shoes are made with exceptional support elements to keep the foot stable and well-aligned. One of the most supportive parts of the shoe is the arch support, which is particularly crucial for runners who overpronate or when their foot rolls inward on impact. 

Other supportive features may include a stiffer heel, additional insoles, or a design that promotes stability while running, like KURU’s patented heel-hugging technology, KURUSOLE.

Breathability

Running shoes are often built with a primary focus on breathability, a feature that distinguishes them in the running vs. tennis shoes debate. Breathability is crucial since running shoes are generally worn longer and under sweatier circumstances.

Breathability ensures that your feet stay cool and dry, especially during long runs or in hot weather. The improved airflow that breathable materials like mesh, knit, or canvas offer also helps to prevent blisters and other painful hotspots. 

The use of lightweight, porous materials in the shoe’s upper construction enhances air circulation around the foot, which helps keep foot odor at bay. 

Overall, the breathability provides a much-needed cooling effect for runners, especially during extended training sessions or in warmer climates. The material and design choices also help wick away sweat, keeping the foot dry and more comfortable.

Pronation Control

When it comes to the battle of tennis vs. running shoes, running shoes stand out with unique pronation control features. Pronation is the natural inward roll of the foot while running or walking. Some runners tend to overpronate, which could lead to injuries if not addressed or compensated for.

Running shoes are designed to correct this movement through enhanced arch support and other stability-focused features. Arch support is especially critical as it helps distribute the impact of each step, reducing strain on the foot and ankle. 

Some running shoes incorporate features such as a medial post (a stiff material on the inner side of the shoe) to combat overpronation. Designing running shoes with a wider base for more stability can also help with pronation control.

Running Surfaces

One of the key factors influencing the design of running shoes is the variety of surfaces on which you can run. Whether it’s the consistent flatness of a treadmill, the uneven terrain of a trail, or the solid hardness of a concrete sidewalk, each surface necessitates different design elements to provide optimal performance and safety.

For example, road running shoes are designed with more cushioning to absorb the shock of hard surfaces, while trail running shoes provide extra grip and durability to handle rough terrain. Track running shoes, on the other hand, are often lightweight and designed for speed, with slightly less emphasis on comfort or durability. 

This variety in shoe design underscores the importance of choosing the correct footwear for the running surface.

KURU Footwear ATOM Women's Athletic Sneaker in Jet Black-Misty Lilac.

Popular

(4,245) Ratings

ATOM

Icon depicting KURU Footwear Recommended Product.

RECOMMENDED

Finally, an athletic sneaker with built-in support and superior heel cushioning. The sleek ATOM combines airy mesh uppers, our revolutionary heel-hugging technology, and a thick KURUCLOUD midsole for maximum comfort in every step.

Types of Running Shoes

When it comes to running shoes, there is no one-size-fits-all situation. Even if you take sides in the tennis vs. running shoes debate, both types of footwear have a multitude of different styles, models, and specialties. An array of running shoes crowd the market, each tailored to diverse needs, running styles, and individual preferences.

These varieties aren’t mere marketing gimmicks—they each offer a unique set of pros and cons, catering to different running activities and surfaces. 

From road runners that cushion your strides on concrete to trailblazers that grip the roughest terrains, the world of running shoes is much more nuanced than it may appear. 

Understanding these differences not only optimizes your performance but also promotes a safer, more enjoyable running experience.

Neutral Running Shoes

Neutral running shoes are a go-to choice for runners with a neutral or underpronated stride. They offer maximum midsole cushioning, which absorbs shock impact during the foot strike, providing overall comfort and reducing the risk of running-related injuries. Typically, these shoes feature a semi-curved or curved last, aiding in promoting a natural foot motion.

While they are versatile enough for use on various surfaces, they perform their best on hard, even terrains like roads and paths. They are also an excellent choice for long-distance running and marathons, where comfort and endurance matter the most. 

Additionally, neutral running shoes are a solid choice for casual gym-goers or people who engage in light workout routines, as they offer comfort and support, and can easily transition between different types of equipment and exercises.

Stability Running Shoes

Stability running shoes are designed for runners who exhibit mild to moderate overpronation. They feature a dense, durable foam in the midsole, particularly on the arch side, known as a medial post. This additional support helps to counter overpronation, promoting a smooth, natural stride. These shoes typically have a firm, straight last, which further enhances stability.

The prime benefit of stability running shoes is their ability to correct the foot’s inward roll, easing pressure on your knees and joints. They shine on moderately uneven surfaces, where the supportive design can navigate the terrain while keeping the foot secure. 

The robust construction of stability running shoes makes them an excellent choice for brisk walking, cross-training, or even light hiking. They’re a fantastic option if you’re looking for a balance of comfort, support, and durability.

Motion Control Running Shoes

Motion control running shoes are the go-to choice for runners with severe overpronation or flat feet. These shoes are characterized by their heavy-duty support features, including a sturdy medial post and a straight last. The design works to slow down excessive foot motion, providing a steady gait cycle.

Thanks to the tough build and superior control, these shoes are particularly beneficial for heavy runners and those logging high mileage. These shoes offer a structured cushioning that helps in spreading the shock of foot impact evenly across the foot. 

The main advantage of motion control running shoes is their ability to prevent injury by correcting the foot’s inward roll and offering maximum support and comfort, making them an excellent choice for long-distance running, marathon training, or walking on rough terrain.

Experiencing discomfort from plantar fasciitis? Our guide provides insights, exercises, and prevention techniques to ease symptoms and promote healing.

Discover relief with our comprehensive guide to plantar fasciitis pain relief.

When to Choose Running Shoes

If you’re still stuck between running shoes vs. tennis shoes, let us help you out. You should choose running shoes if you:

  • Run or jog regularly
  • Need more cushioning for forward motion
  • Want a lightweight shoe that allows for efficient forward movement

It comes as no surprise that running shoes are ideal for anyone who actively involves themselves in running, jogging, or other high-impact fitness activities. The specialized design and features of running shoes cater to these specific movements, offering enhanced support, comfort, and durability.

Running shoes are the perfect choice for marathons, long-distance running, or even a casual jog around the park. Running shoes also benefit those who overpronate or have flat feet, as they are designed to correct and control this foot motion.

FAQs

  • Can I wear tennis shoes for running?

    Technically, you can wear tennis shoes for running, but whether you should is a whole different matter.

    Tennis shoes and running shoes have distinct designs tailored to their specific purposes. Tennis shoes are designed specifically for lateral movements and quick direction changes, which are common on the court. Running, on the other hand, typically involves straightforward motion. As such, the shoes are built to support this type of movement: they have specialized cushioning and shock absorption to handle continuous impacts and a design to aid forward motion.

    While you can run in tennis shoes, it is generally not recommended for regular or long-distance running. Doing so could lead to discomfort and potential injuries. If you are a beginner at running, it’s much better to wear proper running shoes since you need the added cushioning and support these shoes offer.

  • Can I wear running shoes for tennis?

    While you could wear running shoes for playing tennis, take note that it may affect your overall performance. Running shoes are designed for steady forward motion, providing cushioning for continuous impacts and a sleek design to aid in swiftness. While optimal for running or jogging, these shoes may not provide the same level of stability and maneuverability that tennis demands.

    Tennis is a game of abrupt stops, lateral movements, and speed changes. Wearing running shoes on a tennis court might leave you slipping and sliding—lacking the necessary grip and support for quick, side-to-side movements. 

    The high heel-to-toe drop in running shoes could also increase your risk of rolling an ankle. Investing in a pair of tennis shoes would provide you with the appropriate support, traction, and reduced injury risk, especially if you plan to play regularly.

  • How often should I replace my running or tennis shoes?

    It all depends on various factors, such as how often you use the shoes, your mileage, the type of surfaces you run or play on, and the shoe quality.

    Podiatrists recommend replacing footwear every 300 to 500 miles or about six months to one year. However, if you’re a more aggressive runner, or if you often run on rough surfaces, you might need to replace them sooner. Check the outsoles of your shoes—if they’re worn out or the cushioning feels less springy, it’s probably time for a new pair.

    Tennis shoes might not clock up as many miles, but they endure a lot of lateral stress. If you play tennis regularly, such as two to three times a week, you might want to consider replacing your tennis shoes every five to six months. Again, keeping an eye on the condition of your shoes is key.

  • Do tennis shoes provide adequate cushioning for running?

    In general, tennis shoes don’t offer the same level of cushioning as proper running shoes. As a result, they also fall short on overall protection against sore feet and potential injuries.

    Tennis shoes are designed for short bursts of movement, particularly sideways motions, and they have the stability for quick pivots and stops. While they still provide some degree of cushioning, it isn’t sufficient or as comfortable for long-distance running.

    Running shoes, however, are engineered specifically for forward motions. As such, they are designed with a special emphasis on shock absorption and cushioning that supports the runner’s natural stride. While you might not feel the difference in a short dash to catch the bus, running in tennis shoes over longer distances or repeatedly could lead to discomfort or injuries.

  • Can I use tennis shoes for other sports or workouts?

    Yes, tennis shoes can be used for other sports or workouts, particularly those that involve lateral movement or quick pivots. Since tennis shoes are designed to offer stability and support for quick directional changes, you can use them for sports or workouts that involve similar movements as tennis.

    Good examples include badminton, volleyball, squash, racquetball, and pickleball. You can also wear tennis shoes for certain types of gym workouts that involve lateral motion. Additionally, tennis shoes may be suitable for weightlifting and light cardio exercises.

    Just take note that tennis shoes might not provide optimal support for activities that involve a lot of running or jumping. For activities that mostly involve forward movement, like running or long-distance walking, wearing dedicated running shoes would provide better cushioning and support.

  • Why are tennis shoes designed differently than running shoes?

    The different designs of tennis vs. running shoes are due to the unique demands of each activity. Both shoes are tailored to the specific biomechanics of their respective sports to enable optimal performance and minimize injury risk.

    Tennis involves a lot of side-to-side movements, sudden stops, and quick sprints. Because of that, tennis shoes are geared toward offering stability, support, and enhanced grip for such movements. They often have a lower, flatter sole for better stability and a more robust upper for durability during foot drags.

    On the other hand, running is primarily a forward movement, often over longer distances. As a result, running shoes are designed with a higher and thicker heel to act as a cushion and absorb the shock of each foot strike. Plus, they are lighter to reduce the strain on the runner’s feet and legs.

  • Is there a mileage limit for tennis and running shoes?

    Every pair of shoes has a limit—and tennis and running shoes are no different. The difference is that the limit varies based on several factors. These include:

    • The wearer’s weight
    • Playing or running style
    • Shoe’s construction or overall quality
    • Frequency of use

    On average, you should replace your running shoes once you’ve run between 300 and 500 miles. This period is usually around four to six months if you use the shoes regularly.

    With tennis shoes, although the wear and tear is often more visible, this damage is usually dependent on the court conditions and intensity of play rather than the distance you covered while wearing the shoes. Still, replace your tennis shoes every five to six months if you play around two to three times a week.

Maximize Your Performance With KURU

Understanding the nuances between running vs. tennis shoes and wearing the appropriate footwear for the corresponding activity is paramount—not only for optimal performance but also for your health and safety. The specificity in the design of these shoes addresses the unique demands of each activity—tennis shoes for quick-stop lateral movements and running shoes for continuous forward momentum.

Using the right shoes can enhance your agility on the tennis court or help maintain your pace and posture on a long run. Whether you’re serving aces on the tennis court or running marathons, the right shoes are integral in maximizing your performance and providing the necessary support, grip, and balance that can make all the difference.

On the flip side, inappropriately matched footwear could not only hamper your performance but could also lead to discomfort and fatigue. However, if you can only invest in one pair for now, we recommend getting running shoes first.

KURU shoes stand out as a versatile solution offering unparalleled foot and arch support, heel cushioning, comfort, breathability, and durability. Designed with an understanding of the foot’s natural biomechanics, KURU shoes provide a level of support that effortlessly adapts to your foot’s unique shape and movements. Our patented KURUSOLE technology offers dynamic, responsive heel cushioning that absorbs impact, reducing strain on your joints and keeping your heel in place—which is fantastic for stability as a temporary pair for playing tennis.

This high level of comfort, combined with superior breathable fabrics, provides an exceptional experience.

If you need a temporary tennis shoe substitute, our QUANTUM 2.0 shoes, with their lateral structured stability and wide toe box are optimal for all-around running and tennis playing.

Remember: if you’re looking to maximize your performance, then you need to get the right shoes for the job. Thankfully, no matter your sport or activity, KURU is here to help address all your foot health and pain relief needs.

Shop women's shoes from KURU!

Shop All

Women’s

Shop men's shoes from KURU!

Shop All

Men’s

Sourcing

  • Tennis Shoes vs Running Shoes: The Important Differences Discussed. Marathon Handbook (July 2023)
  • Running and Tennis Shoes: 3 Key Differences to Know. Holabird Sports (April 2021)
  • Court Shoes vs. Running Shoes…What’s the Difference. Pickleball Depot (June 2021)

About Us

At KURU, we’re on a mission to help you Heel Better™ with footwear technology designed to relieve foot pain, so you can live a life you love. Since launching our innovative technology in 2008, we’ve received more than 32,000 five-star reviews from thousands of customers who tell us their KURU shoes helped them get back to doing what they love.

For all media inquiries, please contact us at pr@kurufootwear.com.

Sign up for our newsletter
Stay informed on the latest in foot health and wellness. Gain access to advanced foot care knowledge and receive tips for healthy feet from our team of experts.
You’re Subscribed