When it comes to buying sneakers, we all want to get the maximum bang for our buck: the shoes are expensive and, often, not as stylish as might hope, so we’d like to get as much use as possible out of every pair. Which of course begs the question: can I wear the same shoes for my tennis match, morning jog or basketball game? The answer is: it depends! Let’s explore why there’s no one answer to this very pressing shoe query. When it comes to different sports, are all shoes created equally?

What to Look for in a Sneaker: The Basics

Before we explore how many athletic shoes you may need, let’s discuss what common features you should look for before you purchase any pair. Here are two main factors to look for:

1.       The design of the shoe should help prevent common injuries in the activity for which it’s intended: like high-tops for basketball players, whose frequent, fast direction changes lead to ankle instability and potential sprains.

2.      The shoes should be comfortable from the first moment you wear them.  This means no break in periods necessary.

With those concepts in our heads, we can start to look at specific sports and decide whether special foot wear is required. In terms of soccer and football, cleats are obviously recommended, since running on the grass can be a slippery situation without the extra traction. But what about basic sneakers—how many different pairs is it really important to own?

Court shoes versus running shoes

Leaving out the high-tops we mentioned earlier, let’s face it: most athletic shoes are just variations of the same basic goals: they are made to support and cushion your feet, and most have some kind of traction on the soles to prevent slips during rapid movements.

Common features of athletic shoes, therefore, include mostly flat soles (although drop is a hot topic among many athletes, especially runners), a relatively wide and reinforced toe box, and stability in the heel, with flexibility along the arch.

Many shoe designers offer running shoes as well. In contrast to other sneakers, this type of shoe is lighter weight, so feet can fly off the pavement. Most of flexibility is found in the front of the shoe, so toes can push off the ground easily. And there’s a ton of padding in the mid-to-rear soles of these sneakers, to help with the impact of heel-strikers.

While you can certainly see the intentions of the shoe makers in these differing designs, we still have to ask: do any of these bells and whistles really make a difference?

While there’s no definitive answer, we can look for clues to lead us in the right direction.


The Surprising Science of Sneakers

While there hasn’t been a ton of research about specific shoe designs, a recent clinical trial actually found that basketball players didn’t actually gain protection for their ankles from wearing high tops—in fact, they only lowered their ability to jump high and run fast.  

And, when it comes to running, the science may once again surprise you. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that running shoes lower your risk of running injuries. All we know for a fact is that you’ll run better (i.e. longer and faster) in lighter sneakers. So, buying shoes specifically designed for runners may improve your race time. But there’s no guaranteeing you won’t still end up with an injury like shin splints.

Which brings us back to the main topic of this article:

Can I get away with using one sneaker for every sport? Surprisingly, science does not support the idea that high tops prevent basketball-related ankle injuries!

We’ve already shown you that, outside of cleats, sport-specific sneakers don’t actually do that much to protect your from sport-specific injuries.

And, let’s face it, unless you’re a professional athlete, you don’t really need to worry about the minute performance boosts a sport-specific sneaker may be able to offer.

In other words, the short answer is this: if you’re not feeling pain, you can get away with wearing one shoe for every physical activity in which you participate. Just remember, all shoes need to be replaced after they’ve taken you between 300-500 miles. This can be harder to track if your sneaker is doing double or triple duty. It’s also worth remembering that alternating shoes is a good idea if you’re doing daily exercise: remember, most athletic shoes have built in cushioning. When you wear them for physical activities, especially for runs, that cushioning gets squashed down. It takes time for the padding to rebound, so it’s a good idea to take a day off between wearings. You may find that having a second pair of sneakers will help ensure the effectiveness of their protective features.

So: to recap the rules of wearing shoes:

1.       They should be comfy.

2.      They should be designed for physical activity (supportive and well made)

3.      They should be in proper working condition (not worn out or over-used.)


As long as you can guarantee all three factors every time you step into a sneaker, we don’t care how many pairs you own or for what sport their specific design features are intended!


Jordana White
Jordana Rothstein White
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