The 10 Best Cushioned Running Shoes for Women, According to Podiatrist Guidelines
Choosing comfortable running shoes seems simple enough: Find the cushiest insoles possible and bounce along on your run, right? Wrong! Cushioning in running shoes is not just about pillowy insoles. It's also about adding shock absorption and a spring to your step, according to Pennsylvania-based podiatrist Tyler Austin, DPM.
And that's not the only misconception shoppers have about cushioning. Too much of it can actually be detrimental to runners who don't really need it. Luckily, Austin has a few helpful tips for choosing the best cushioned running shoes — and even revealed his own top product picks. (FYI, these are the best running shoes for long distances.)
The 10 best cushioned running shoes, according to podiatrist guidelines:
- Most Comfortable: Hoka One One Challenger ATR 6 Trail Running Shoe
- Best for Sprinting: Brooks Launch 8 Running Shoe
- Best Affordable: Saucony Cohesion 11 Running Shoe
- Best Soft Running Shoes: Asics Gel-Nimbus 23
- Best Support: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v11
- Best for Shock Absorption: Nike Revolution 5 Running Shoe
- Best for Training: Reebok Women's HIIT Training Shoe
- Best for Wide Feet: Altra Women's Lone Peak 5 Trail Running Shoe
- Best Fit: Adidas Ultraboost 21 Running Shoe
- Best for Treadmill: On Cloud X Training Shoe
Are Cushioned Running Shoes for Everyone?
It feels like every new running shoe boasts a plush sole that promises to soften your landing, propel your step, and reduce your risk of injury — but that's not always the case. A 2018 study found that highly cushioned running shoes, or maximalist shoes, can actually increase the impact load and cause a higher risk of injury. This paradox is attributed to runners landing with stiffer legs in highly cushioned shoes than they would in a conventional pair.
While you don't need to abandon cushioning altogether, the finding emphasizes the importance of picking the right level of cushioning for you. "Not all cushioned shoes offer softer landings for all runners, and this is because not everyone runs with the same form," Dr. Austin explains. "Not everyone needs increased shock absorption. Some runners have learned to use their own natural biomechanics to lighten their steps."
Dr. Austin also warns against claims of increased support or extra cushioned shoes. "Soft, foamy, malleable material is accommodative, but not supportive," he adds. "In fact, there are several studies that show that increased cushioning makes no significant difference in relation to support and injury in runners." (Related: The Best Running Leggings)
So, who can truly benefit from cushioned running shoes? Dr. Austin recommends these types of running shoes for heel-first and mid-foot runners because more of their foot makes contact with the ground than forefoot runners. "You don't need all the extra cushioning if you're only making impact with the ground using the balls of your feet," he advises.
In addition, he suggests cushioned running shoes for anyone dealing with the loss of natural fat pads, i.e. seasoned runners whose fat pads have slightly atrophied over time, especially in the balls of their feet. "Extra cushioning in the shoe can certainly help redistribute pressure and make walking and running more comfortable on those bony surfaces," according to Dr. Austin.
How to Choose the Best Cushioned Running Shoes for Women
A reasonable amount of cushioning can benefit all runners — but you want to make sure it also comes with support. When shopping for a cushioned shoe, Dr. Austin recommends that you place one hand on the heel of the shoe and the other hand at the opposite end, then try to fold the shoe in half at the arch. If the shoe bends, put it back on its display. A shoe still needs to be stiff and dense enough to supply support.
Of course, this test works better for in-person buyers. Online shoppers can keep an eye out for a slight rocker bottom, which adds to the shoe's arch support, softens the heel-strike, and supplements propulsion. And whether you buy in person or online, it's important to try on both shoes fully tied up and to complete a slow jog or walk before committing.
Still unsure where to start? Scroll on to discover the best cushioned running shoes for women, selected using Dr. Austin's guidelines for cushioning and support, as well as thousands of rave customer reviews from runners.