Tennis shoes vs trainers. What is the difference?

The difference between tennis shoes and regular trainers

Chances are if you have played tennis before you will know just how physical a game it is. Movement is a key component of successful tennis play should that be singles or doubles.  Being able to move quickly and effectively, changing direction on a dime, charging down a short ball. Your feet get put through the ringer on court and you need to protect them as best you can. I would recommend tennis shoes to all tennis players regardless of standard. There are many positives about tennis shoes the main one is preventing injury.  You can buy tennis shoes at the cheaper end of the scale from 30 GBP/40USD up to £160GBP over 200USD. But many of us just plump for regular trainers. Why?

Why you need Tennis Shoes anyway?

Tennis shoes differ from regular trainers/runners because they offer protection for the foot and ankle. Regular trainers support the foot when moving linearly, ie in a straight line but tennis shoes protect the foot from multi directional movement and impact . Regular trainers simply do not give the foot the protection it needs on the tennis court.

New Balance 1080 and Adidas Barricade

Like purchasing the perfect tennis racket, buying your perfect tennis shoes is a very personal  choice and there is so much choice out there. It is a shame that Tennis shoe libraries don’t exist as they would be really handy in trying out different types of shoes aimed at different players.  All tennis shoes are heavier than regular runners, they also  require a longer break in period before you can use them on court.

Lets take a look at these two shoes . The Adidas Barricade and the New Balance 1080. Both are top of the range shoes from different brands. Why is it worth investing in the tennis shoes? Will recreational players really notice the difference? Should price sway your decision to purchase over how they actually feel? It probably shouldn’t but it is probable that it does.

Durability.

A big reason we play with tennis shoes above runners is durability. Runners are simply torn apart by the abrasive surfaces on a tennis court. The fairest test of comparing these shoes would be to try on identical players over the same time to measure wear rate.  The tennis shoes are reinforced in the high abrasion areas like the toe whereas there is no such protection on the trainer. The trainer would show visible signs of wear a lot quicker than the tennis shoe. I have seen many socks pop through to say hello on court. Regardless of what surface you play on the footwear you wear will take a beating. Less abrasive surfaces like astro turf and clay will extend the life span of shoes relative to say a hard court. Nevertheless trainers do not stand up the challenge.

Support & Stability

It is personal choice to have a well protected ankle , a shoe that encases the ankle and supports the whole joint. Take a look at the Barricade below, it has robust ankle protection designed to lock the foot in the shoe. Many of the most expensive shoes have the sock type liner which moves with the foot on court. These require little break in period as the materials used are soft and wrap around the foot. Regular runners simply do not have any protection in this area. The protection offered by the 1080s relatively speaking is minimal. Given this logic you are way more likely to cause yourself an injury in regular trainers than tennis shoes.

The ankle protection in the tennis shoe is noticeable compared to flimsy support in the trainers

The other common tennis player injury from inappropriate shoes is linked to achilles and calf injuries. A tennis shoe will lock the foot and ankle quite securely into the shoe. It does not allow for much movement which keeps the player protected. Regular trainers do not offer such protection and as such over rotation of the ankle or achilles strains etc are common. Runners usually have 0 drop ( difference between the heel portion of the foot and the front toe box) This can put more pressure on the aforementioned areas and will not hold the foot as securely at all. Tennis shoes have a drop of between 8-15 degrees depending on the model. This creates less stress on the heel and achilles area.

Lightweight.

Until recently it had been somewhat of a dichotomy to have a lightweight yet durable tennis shoe. History shows that heavier bulkier tennis shoes seemed to have much better durability than lightweight shoes. Recent shoe technology has shown that you can have great durability without being penalised by weight. At the top end of the market, tennis shoes are lighter than ever before yet still robust enough to take the court abuse. Many players chose to play in trainers as they are lighter than an equivalent priced tennis shoe. We recently reviewed a pair of ASICS Solution Speed FF 2 shoes recently and were amazed at the all round package on offer. Lightweight yet delivering the ankle protection and stability needed to play the game.

Flexibility.

Some trainers are so flexible you can bend in half. I suppose if you are running this suppleness is a nice feature, you can feel the ground a little more with every stride. When you take off on a tennis shoe you want that shoe to support your foot at all times and as a result tend to be quite stiff. This stiffness in the sole helps with stability and injury prevention. This stiffness in he sole unit and also in the chassis of the shoe gives a feeling of rigidity and hence durability.

Sole

Tennis shoes have different soles depending on the surface you play on. The top of the range will have the latest most durable tech in them and hence probably be the most durable. I have been a lifelong fan of the Adidas Barricade since their inception in 2000. The Barricade always had the best sole of all the Adidas shoes, the Adiwear outsole used to be only available on the top of the range Adidas. All tennis shoes will have reinforced soles with good traction for those quick direction changes. Runners on the other hand have a different type of sole which wont be anywhere near as durable or offer as much traction. Remember also that clay court soles will have air inlets on the base of the foot which allow air to circulate around the foot. If you play on wet courts beware!

The tennis shoes (on top) feature a herringbone sole designed for grip and traction. The trainers on the other hand have cushioned soles and are not focused to the same extent on having great traction.

Comfort

For many comfort will be the number one priority in purchasing tennis shoes. Plush comfortable soles or minimalistic skinny soles. Comfort in a shoe is more than just the sole, the inner liner, the padding around the ankle area, the lacing all these contribute to the comfort of the shoe unit.  Comfort is all about the whole package available in each shoe. Some shoes go all out for comfort, others try and get their shoe as light as possible, others will aim for stability and support. One of my favourite shoes and that feels to me the most comfortable is the latest edition of the Wilson Kaos 3.0. I wear these shoes casually such is the incredible comfort in this model. Generally speaking if you want the most comfortable tennis shoes then you may have to forfeit having really light shoes. Comfortable shoes with plush insoles and padding around the tongue and the ankle will add to the weight of the shoe.

Trainers or Tennis Shoes

There is no magic bullet for shoes and to my knowledge there are no shoes that tick every box. Manufacturers produce ranges of shoes which focus on a different feature. Lightweight range, the durable range, the comfort range.  I would strongly recommend you invest in a good pair of tennis shoes on tennis court. Tennis shoes are comfortable, protective, supportive and stable and come in cool colours.

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