Surprise: a woman’s feet are no Just a narrower version of the men’s foot. However… for the most part, running shoes are designed not only around the geometry of the male foot, but also around the biomechanics (or movement patterns) of the male runner.
Anatomically, women typically have wider forefoot and narrower heel (think triangle vs. rectangle) than men, and they tend to have a greater height difference between the heel and forefoot. A woman’s weight will naturally be more distributed in the front of the body, and her feet are more likely to collapse inward.
These differences may not be obvious to the average person, but they do exist. And, over time, squeezing a woman’s foot into a man’s shoe can lead to decreased performance, discomfort, injury, and even injury. (FWIW, female runners are more likely to be injured than males, according to a 2021 scientific review published in the journal Physical Activity and Health.)
On the plus side, many women can comfortably wear running shoes designed around a male or unisex last. For those who can’t, major brands are (finally!) researching and developing sneakers tailored specifically for female runners. No matter which camp you fall into, a pair of these doctors, coaches, and other experts-vetted women’s running shoes should help you perform at your best.
best light shoes
Lululemon made its first foray into footwear by analyzing scans of more than 1 million women’s feet. The result: a unisex sneaker with a wider forefoot to accommodate women’s geometry and more cushioning around and under the heel for comfort. “The Blissfeel is a great choice for women looking for a cushioned, lightweight shoe for their daily runs,” says NASM-certified personal trainer and runner Maria Restrepo.
best extra support
Since its debut in 2015, the Ultraboost has been the ultimate cushioning staple for long-distance runs for both male and female runners. In reimagining the latest version, the designers went all out, using over a million feet of scan data to create the lasts around which new men’s and women’s shoes are built. “The Ultraboost 22 has a narrow, S-curved heel and a low instep,” says Rami Hashish, Ph.D., Ph.D., physical performance and injury specialist. Plus, he adds, extra support on the inside of the outsole helps prevent the foot from rolling inward, which is more common in women.
Best for Added Comfort
Puma has considered athletes such as Olympian Molly Seidel, as well as ordinary consumers, when creating women-specific running shoes. “The XX Nitro is designed for the woman who likes a stable and well-cushioned ride,” says Restrepo. “Thanks to its responsive foam sole and supportive upper, it’s perfect for those with overpronation and those looking for extra comfort.”
best for off track
The Nike Invincible features 37mm of the brand’s lightest, softest, most responsive foam (the same foam found in the brand’s much-hyped racing shoes). “The Invincible is perfect for any runner who wants to simulate running on softer surfaces on an easy day, while the responsive bounce will make you feel like you’re going faster,” says running coach Amie Dworecki. “These shoes offer High level of support, which helps those who overpronate, plus they have a decent tread, so if your running part puts you on dirt roads, you get good grip.”
Best for arch support
Under Armor also turned to 3D scanning, custom lab testing, and fit and wear testing to develop its new women’s-specific shoes, with a focus on women’s heel, arch and midfoot height. “Under Armor Synchronicity is perfect for runners who need extra arch support,” says orthopedic surgeon Kellie K. Middleton. “The shoe is designed with unique arch stabilization technology that helps ensure a secure fit and improves shock absorption.” It’s also ultralight and less cushioned, making it ideal for faster workouts.
best for wide feet
Brooks is the largest women’s performance running shoe brand, and Ghost is its best-selling women’s running shoe. While the shoe isn’t specifically designed for women’s anatomy, it’s a better fit for wider forefoot. And, it incorporates the brand’s softest midsole cushioning with a heel bumper that helps absorb impact better.
“With a heel-to-toe slope of 12mm, it’s a nice neutral padded shoe for people with high arches,” says podiatrist Nelya Lobkova.
best for flat feet
The GEL-Nimbus has always existed, but it’s one of ASICS’ heavier, almost bulky styles. Not anymore: Just this year, the brand gave the classic running shoe a complete redesign: “The Nimbus 25 is perfect for runners who prefer the comfort and cushioning of a neutral or mild construction shoe, for long runs or easy runs ,” says Lalitha McSorley, a physical therapist at Brentwood Physiotherapy Calgary. “Runners who need extra stability and protection, such as those with flat feet or high arches, will benefit from the cushioning and support this neutral shoe provides.”
Best for Cushion Support
Hoka’s Bondi line has received the American Podiatric Medical Association’s (APMA) seal of approval and is “known for its soft cushioning and unique shape,” says podiatrist Jamila A. Butcher. “It’s a great option for runners who need a lot of cushioning and support.” The latest update uses softer, lighter foam and a new extended heel geometry that, combined with a wider sole, helps to seamlessly guide the foot through the gait cycle without wasting any energy. It’s not a fast shoe, but it does go a long way.
best for beginners
One of New Balance’s top women’s shoes, the Fresh Foam X 1080v12 is gender-neutral, yet caters to the needs of female runners. “These shoes are super light and comfortable, especially for beginners,” says Miami-based HitFit trainer and program developer Olesia Stefanko. “Thick, stable platform protects joints from negative running shocks – without making you feel like you’re on a pillow/mattress.”
best for speed
In updating the Ride 15, Bell called them Goldilocks because “they’re not too soft, but not too stiff; not too cushioned, but not too flat,” and the Saucony uses a new midsole foam that helps provide Smoother running experience. It’s a bit sturdier than previous iterations, which allows runners to pick up their pace and still go further. The wider sole makes for a very stable ride, while the slightly wider forefoot provides room for the toes to splay, and the semi-rigid padded heel counter keeps the foot in place. There’s also more foam underfoot for soft, responsive cushioning.