How to Rotate Running Shoes

Are you just getting into running as a hobby? Or have you been logging miles for years? Either way, if you aren’t rotating your running shoes, you’re missing out. It can give you the support you need for specific run types, help prevent injury, and extend the life of your shoes.

You can rotate your running shoes by switching 2-3 pair of well-fitting shoes chosen to support their arch and gait, but with varying other features (amount of cushion, shoe weight, etc.). Some runners have 5-10 pairs (or more), each selected for a specific run type (roads vs. trails, slower runs vs. faster runs, shorter runs vs. longer runs).

However you decide to rotate your shoes, every runner can benefit from this practice.

Before we get into the factors to think about as you build your shoe rotation, you should understand why it’s important.

You probably have a few different types of runs that you engage in regularly. Each of these different runs utilizes a different set of muscles and requires a different type of support. With multiple shoe options, you can tailor your shoes to fit your specific needs to keep you running your best.

Rotating your shoes also helps prevent injury. Shoe rotators have touted this idea for years, and researchers recently correlated this with a study on runners that rotated shoes vs. those that did not. Shoe rotators had a 39% lower risk of running injury than their non-rotating counterparts.

Rotating through running shoes also gives your shoes time to rest. A shoes inner foam needs to decompress for 24-48 hours before being worn again. This rest results in a better fit the next time the shoes are worn and extends their life.

Terrain

The first factor you want to think about as you build your rotation is where you’ll be running:

  • Trail shoes are more durable, offer more stability, grip the ground better, and protect your feet from larger obstacles you’ll be running over (rocks, roots, etc.).
  • Road shoes, on the other hand, are generally lighter-weight, more flexible, and have varying levels of stability and support.

If you normally run on roads, you’ll be left with more time and money to focus on the other factors involved in building your shoe rotation.

Support

As you start to build your running shoe rotation, you’ll want to think about your gait and arch. These factors affect the way your foot strikes the ground when you run, which, it turns out, is a big deal, and finding this information out is easier than you’d think.

To determine your gait, look at the wear patterns on the bottom of your shoes:

  • Overpronation – more wear on the inner foot (around the big toe area and inner heal)
  • Neutral Gait – wear in the area around the middle toes and outer heel  
  • Supination/Under Pronation –the outer section of the foot (near the smallest toes) and outer heels have more wear

If you overpronate and have flat arches, you’ll likely need stability shoes to help stabilize your gait. If you have extreme overpronation, you may benefit from shoes designed for motion control. If you have a neutral gate or supination with a normal or high arch, a neutral shoe will likely meet your needs.

Related: Difference between stability and motion control running shoes

Run Type

The last factor to think about is what type of runs are a regular part of your running plan. Below is a general guide for what appeals to most runners, but your needs and preferences may vary. Talk to a shoe specialist and/or try on lots of styles with varying weight, support, and cushion before purchasing a pair.

  • Easy runs (shorter distance runs, usually at a slower speed) – look for medium-weight shoes with lots of cushion
  • Interval, tempo, or threshold runs (you’re pushing yourself to run harder longer and/or speed is your goal) – a lighter weight shoe with a more responsive feel can help you run your best.
  • Mid to long-distance runs – look for durable shoes, with enough support and lots of cushion to keep you comfortable for the length of your run.
  • Race/marathon day runs (speed is important, but so is comfort) – some runners prefer a lighter weight shoe for more speed; others want more cushion for comfort. 

Building your rotation

It may take some time to fill out your running shoe rotation. As you save up money and do your research, begin by buying quality pair or two that fit well and support your arch and gait. Then take your time deciding what your other running needs are.

Another approach is to look at the types of runs you’re currently logging and purchase a few pair that will work for multiple run types. If you usually run on the road with a mix of tempo/threshold runs and mid/long-distance runs but aren’t huge on racing, a lightweight pair and a pair with some cushion should meet your needs. If most of your runs are on the trails, you may be able to find a trail shoe that’s also lightweight enough to wear for a road run a few times a month.

Related: Top 15 Best Trail Running Shoes

However you decide to build your rotation, give your body time to adjust. If you usually wear shoes with a lot of support and stability, going to a lightweight, more minimal pair too quickly could easily result in an injury. To prevent this, start with an easy run a few times a week in your new shoes and increase your distance slowly over a few weeks.

How to Rotate your Running Shoes

Most professional runners know that rotating your running shoe lineup is the best way to avoid injury and extend the life of your shoes. However, many amateur runners are unaware of this. Having a solid running shoe rotation is something that most long-distance runners do, but it can benefit sprinters and shorter-distance runners as well.

Just like your muscles, shoes actually need time to recover between runs as well. Running compresses the sole of the shoe, especially the midsole. It can take a good bit of time for this sole to decompress fully and be ready for running again. If you’re an avid runner who exercises every day, this can cause a problem. Enter: the running shoe rotation.

A great way to start doing a running shoe rotation is to start with your base shoe that can fit all of your needs. If you’re a long-distance runner, it should give you just the right support for long-distance running. If you’re a trail runner, you’ll want your ideal trail-running shoe. Once you have this perfect base shoe, then you can add another pair of shoes that fits some slightly different criteria. Maybe you want to have some up-tempo days and you need a better shoe for that.

Ideally, you’ll want to have at least three pairs of shoes to rotate through on any given week. However, we know that running shoes can be expensive. Don’t break the bank just to get three pairs of running shoes if you can’t afford it. Two pairs of shoes will work well, and will still help to prevent injury and extend the life of your running shoes.

Running Shoe Types

Running shoes on the floor

There are different styles of running shoes out there on the market. Let’s look at some of the more common types that you are likely to run across in your research.

Long-distance shoes

This shoe will most likely be the heaviest type that you own. It’s all about cushioning and padding for your feet during a long-distance weekend run. These shoes are perfect for the slow-and-steady pace of a high-mileage run on a Saturday morning.

Tempo shoes

Tempo shoes are built for speed. They’re lightweight and breathable, but they lack some of the cushioning of a long-distance shoe. Tempo shoes are good for speed training, and can even be used on a race day.

All-purpose shoes.

This shoe is a blend of the tempo shoe and the long-distance shoe. It holds up well on a long run, but it doesn’t have as much weight as a typical long-distance shoe. It is a little heavier than a tempo shoe, but it still features breathability and less weight in its design style.

Racing shoes.

Racing shoes tend to be some of the most lightweight shoes that you can buy aside from a minimalist shoe. The type of racing shoe you get will depend on the distance of your chosen race. These are built to be used much less often than your daily running shoes. They’re made only for speed and breaking your last record.

Minimalist shoes.

In general, minimalist shoes are the lightest shoes available to your arsenal. They feature the least padding and are designed to give your feet the most natural stride for your body. You will feel everything under your feet with these shoes. A good pair will make you feel like you aren’t wearing shoes at all.

Zero drop shoes

Zero drop shoes can be almost any of the styles we’ve listed above. The average running shoe has a heel-toe drop of 8-12 millimeters. This means that the heel has 8-12 more millimeters of cushioning than the forefoot of the shoe. A zero drop shoe typically only has 3-6 millimeters of additional cushioning in the heel. Most minimalist shoes already feature a zero-drop design.

Why You Should be Rotating Running Shoes

Cropped image of athlete runner's feet and shoes running

Now that we’ve covered the basic types of running shoes available on the market, let’s look at why you should consider getting a couple of new pairs to rotate throughout your routine.

1. Getting rid of muscle imbalances

When you wear the same pair of shoes for every run, your body actually adapts to that specific shoe. If it isn’t the perfect fit for your foot size and stride, then your body will try to overcompensate for any imbalances you have in the shoe.

More often than not, we can’t find the “perfect” shoe for us. We usually have to settle for an almost perfect shoe. By rotating between different shoes, it helps to counter those imbalances that are created by running in the same pair of shoes day-after-day.

2. More cushioning in your running shoes

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, shoes with cushioning get squished down and compressed when they are used for a run. Some shoes can even take more than 24 hours to completely decompress and be ready for use again. Rotating your shoes ensures that your first pair has plenty of time to get back to its proper shape and form before you run.

Better cushioning helps to prevent injury, and it increases your comfort when running. Of course, you can always add insoles to your shoes, but they will never provide the support that a shoe’s cushioning does. Good cushion ensures that you have a comfortable and safe stride.

Related: Max Cushioning – Maximalist Running Shoes

3. Better performance on different types of runs

The reason there are so many different types of running shoes out there is because they are all specialized with a certain type of run in mind. Different shoes make our feet work in different ways. They change how our heel or midfoot strikes the ground, and they can even change where we strike the ground.

Minimalist shoes just aren’t as good for long-distance runs as true long-distance shoes are. You’ll probably find that your feet start to hurt after 10+ plus miles in a pair of zero-drop minimalist shoes.

However, you’ll probably find that the opposite is true when you try to wear your long-distance shoes on a short tempo run. Those shoes will be too bulky, and they’ll feel heavy on your feet when you try to pick the pace up. You’ll find yourself longing for a lightweight shoe to help you gain some speed and lower your mile time.

There is also always the need for under and over-pronators to have shoes that fit their needs. If you’re looking to add shoes to your rotation and you know that you pronate too much or too little, you’ll have to get shoes that help to alleviate these problems for you.

Shoe Rotation Basics

Running shoes on floor

Like we talked about before, running in the same pair of shoes over and over can lead your muscles to overcompensate for any imbalances that the shoes create. By adding multiple shoes into your rotation, you can cancel out these imbalances, and force your muscles to stay alert and adaptable.

We talked about race shoes above, but you shouldn’t worry about keeping these in your rotation. Races are not always very common, and if you do have a pair of these shoes then you won’t be wearing them that much. You can use the same pair of shoes for every race as long as you aren’t racing every other day.

If you’re going to try to have three pairs of shoes, then you’ll want two pairs of similar shoes. If you’re more into long-distance running, then you should have two pairs of long-distance shoes that are similar. The same is true if you are a short-distance speedrunner. Then you would want to have two similar pairs of tempo shoes. Either way, you’ll want to get a shoe that has a different heel-toe drop to help keep your muscles from becoming accustomed to a certain drop type.

Your third shoe should be the opposite of your other two pairs. If you’ve got two pairs of long-distance shoes, go for a pair of tempo shoes. Do the opposite if you have two pairs of tempo shoes. This will help you to keep a good variety of shoes that will allow you to do any type of running that you want.

There are two basic shoe rotation concepts

  • Make sure that you’re rotating the right kinds of shoes in. If you’re doing a long-distance run, don’t rotate in a pair of tempo shoes. This is not the kind of variation that your muscles are looking for. Similarly, if you’re doing a long-distance run, don’t substitute in a pair of tempo shoes. Wearing lightweight shoes on a long-distance run can lead to an injury.
  • It’s a good idea to rotate in a pair of minimalist running shoes for doing any off-road running or short distance runs. These are great shoes for trail runs or short recovery runs after a long-distance run. Minimalist shoes force your feet to work in different ways, and they actually help to strengthen all the stabilizer muscles in your ankles, legs, knees, and hips.

Studies have shown that having just 10% of your mileage comes from a minimalist running shoe can have huge effects on your growth and muscle development.

Why 3+ pairs of running shoes is better

You might still be wondering why you need more than just two pairs of running shoes for a rotation. We’ve already talked about how different shoes are better at different types of running. We’ve also covered how using those different shoes can help strengthen all of your supporting muscles to help prevent injuries.

We’ve mentioned how your legs adapt to the type of running shoe you wear, but let’s dive a little deeper into that. When you wear the same pair of stability shoes with a lot of cushion every day, your feet become accustomed to that extra support. Eventually, your legs will come to rely on that cushioning and support to function properly. Once those shoes break down, you’ll start to have shin splints, knee pain, and lots of other injuries.

When your legs are forced to adapt to a different shoe each run, it keeps them from becoming reliant on any one style of cushioning and support. This lessens the risk of injury for most runners.

The average lifespan of a running shoe

In general, most running shoes are built to last an average of 500 miles. However, this lifespan can vary greatly among runners all over the globe. It can depend on a lot of different factors:

  • How hard of a striker you are
  • What surfaces you run on, and what frequency you run on them.
  • How often you run throughout the week
  • How often you rotate your shoe lineup

Should we rotate the same shoe or different types?

As we’ve talked about, it can actually be beneficial to rotate between the same types of shoes with different styles of support.

You may have a pair of Nike running shoes that you’ve been using for years that you absolutely love. It is okay for you to rotate between two pairs of the same shoe, but it is not ideal. This will help to prevent injury from a lack of cushioning, and it will extend the life of the shoe. However, your feet and legs won’t be forced to adapt and build their stabilizer muscles to the same degree as they would if you wore two different styles of shoes.

Why do they change running shoes every year?

Sometimes, you go back to buy your favorite pair of running shoes from last year only to find that they’ve been discontinued. This can be very disheartening if you have been loyal to a certain pair of shoes for a while. Here are some of the reasons that most manufacturers discontinue their shoe line:

  • New and better technology to improve the feel and performance of a shoe
  • Upgrades taken from customer feedback
  • Changes to the appearance to keep it current with modern styles
  • Keeping media attention in order to draw in new sales from customers