Best running shoes for heavy runners

by Solereview editors
Published: Last Updated on

The Brooks Glycerin 20 in a park.

This article has been updated with current models for October 2022. The Asics Kayano Lite 2 has been replaced with its updated version.

You’re probably reading this guide because you weigh more than 200 lbs/90 kilos. However, the term ‘heavy’ is loaded with context. For example, we could be talking about a large-framed runner with the feet to match. Also, low or flat arches may not necessarily be a part of the discussion – many heavy runners have a regular arch.

When searching for suitable running shoes, you’ll likely hear the following shopping advice:

“Buy a running shoe with the softest cushioning. They’re the best for heavy runners.” Or, “You can’t go wrong with a stability shoe for overpronators.”

Wrong. That’s not great advice at all.

We understand why most people recommend max-soft or motion-control shoes. The underlying (and misinformed) logic is that a softer ride equals better shock absorption. However, that simply isn’t true; there is no scientific evidence behind this theory.

A running shoe that’s excessively soft can do more harm than good when it concerns a high bodyweight. Here’s why:

An uber-soft running shoe is unstable for high bodyweight.

A shoe that feels supportive for a 150 lb runner might end up throwing a heavier individual around. If the midsole isn’t supportive, then that translates into a higher workload for the body.

During each phase of the gait cycle, the body has to work harder to compensate for the unstable shoe. This increases the chances of injuries.

Excessive midsole softness can cause the shoe to bottom out.

The Asics Nimbus 17 was a perfect example of this in action. Its midsole was so mushy that it bottomed out even if you were a 150-pounder, and parts of the outsole were felt during runs.

An extremely soft shoe will lead to significant variance between the static and dynamic heel drop.

An often overlooked aspect is that there can be a huge difference between the published heel drop and the dynamic offset of ultra-soft running shoes.

The heel-to-toe offset is the difference between the heel and forefoot midsole heights, and brands often advertise this number. For many shoe geeks, this number is an influencing factor when buying running shoes.

However, the static heel drop should be taken with a huge grain of salt. When fully loaded, the real heel offset of a shoe can vary a lot from the static drop. A shoe with a firm midsole keeps this variance low.

Running in a very soft shoe will result in a lower heel gradient than expected; more so when the foot-strike load is in multiples of 200 lbs.

Depending on how soft a midsole is, a ’10 mm’ drop could turn into a 4 mm offset during running. This could strain the Achilles or Calf muscle if you’re not used to running in footwear with a low heel drop.

Super-soft cushioning has lower durability.

Except for newer materials like adidas Boost, Saucony Pwrrun PB, or Nike ZoomX, EVA foam-based midsoles tend to lose their cushioning after a few hundred miles. A heavy runner using a shoe made of a soft EVA foam compound is likely to fatigue it sooner than a lighter runner.

So far, we’ve painted super-soft running shoes in a poor light, but there are exceptions. Certain shoes made from new-gen foams can be very soft, yet durable with acceptable levels of stability.

That is why the Nike ZoomX Invincible is featured on this list. It’s a very soft shoe, but its ultra-wide PEBA foam midsole will last longer than comparable EVA foam parts. Having said that, the Invincible works best only for easy cruising.

In short, firm and stable running shoes are a better fit for heavy runners.

Traditional ‘stability’ shoes can end up achieving the opposite effect

Conventional stability shoes have a firm inner midsole and a softer outer sidewall. While this design reduces the inwards rolling of the foot, it comes at the cost of midsole bias. The body weight will follow the path of least resistance and lean laterally.

Not all ‘stability’ shoes are necessarily stable. That is why the Asics Kayano Lite 3 features here, rather than medially-posted Kayano 29.

If very soft shoes and laterally-leaning stability models are off the menu, then what’s left to buy?

Softness and cushioning are often used interchangeably. But cushioning – which is loosely defined as the ability to protect the foot from the impact forces – also exists in firmer shoes. So it is important to buy a shoe that is cushioned yet supportive; the kind that can safely manage a 200+ lb body weight over hundreds of miles.

Many cushioned and supportive running shoes exist, but it is a challenge to sift through the confusing assortment of products.

To help narrow the search, we’ve curated over a dozen running shoes. This buyer’s guide is far from exhaustive but a good place to start. Included here are regular trainers, heavy stability shoes, trail running shoes, and racing flats.

Category: Supportive neutrals without a medial post

1) Brooks Glycerin 20

Brooks often exaggerates the cushioning softness of its shoes, so pay no heed when Brooks claims that the Glycerin 20 is ‘super soft.’

Despite the brand new ‘DNA Loft V3’ (which is similar to the DNA Flash) midsole, the Glycerin 20’s cushioning strikes an excellent balance between ride comfort and stability.

The heel bevel of the Brooks Glycerin 20.

The Brooks Glycerin 20 is nowhere close to super-soft, and that’s good news for the ride stability.

The Brooks Glycerin 20 in the outdoor.

Despite its thick midsole, the firm and resilient foam cushioning makes the shoe ideal for heavy runners.

Rather than the advertised ‘super soft’ cushioning, the new midsole has a medium-soft ride that’s topped with a cushy removable insole. Our detailed review breaks down the Glycerin 20’s ride character.

In the context of this guide, that’s an ideal trait. The full-length DNA Loft V3 midsole isn’t mushy, so that translates into a supportive ride. The Glycerin 20 also has a wide heel and forefoot footprint, thus creating a planted ride experience for heavy runners.

The Nitrogen injected DNA Loft V3 of the Brooks Glycerin 20.

The DNA Loft V3 appears to be an EVA blend foam that is blown with Nitrogen. That’s what the tiny bubbles are.

The single-density midsole has a smooth ride, and the grippy outsole rubber provides plenty of traction.

Despite the absence of an inner sleeve, we prefer the standard Glycerin 20’s upper fit over the Glycerin 20 GTS or Stealthfit variant.

Also see: The Nike Zoom Structure 24 – though its midsole lacks a medial post, the ride is sufficiently stable for heavy runners.

2) Asics Kayano Lite 3

Here’s an Asics shoe that works for heavy runners – the Kayano Lite 3. Despite the shared name with the Kayano 29, the two shoes are nothing alike.

The Kayano Lite 3 owes its supportive ride not to a firmer medial post or midfoot shank, but to a wide and stable midsole.

The full-length Flytefoam stack has a wide base that creates a cushioned and stable foundation. The lack of a bias makes the Kayano Lite very neutral; a characteristic that works for runners across different weight classes. The soft midsole is also ideal for long-distance comfort, and yet doesn’t feel lazy.

The engineered mesh upper blends interior smoothness with a plush and secure grip.

3) adidas Ultraboost 22

A year ago, the Ultraboost 21 turned into a brand new product that bore only a faint resemblance to the previous model. The midsole was significantly wider than before, and the reconfigured outsole made the ride firmer.

The supportive heel of the adidas Ultraboost 22.

The rearfoot looks unusually thick, but the functional midsole height is only half of what you see.

A large plastic heel clip and the raised midsole walls cupped the foot securely over the Boost foam midsole. The comprehensive redesign created a firmer shoe with a higher level of stability than the earlier versions.

The thick midsole of the adidas Ultraboost 22.

The Ultraboost 22’s thick midsole is supportive, and so are the high sidewalls.

The adidas Ultraboost 22 versus adidas Ultraboost 21.

Both the Ultraboost 22 (left) and Ultraboost 21(right) share an identical sole and similar upper fit.

The Ultraboost 22 is based on the same midsole and outsole as the 21, so the ride hasn’t changed at all. While the Ultraboost 22 is a very cushioned shoe because of the high-volume Boost midsole, its inherent stability makes it suitable for heavy runners.

The elastic mesh upper and molded midfoot cage creates a conforming fit with a shallow toe-box. Except for the first lacing row that now uses loops, the Ultraboost 22’s fit quality is the same as the 21. According to adidas, the upper yarn contains at least 50% recycled content from Parley Ocean plastic, with the rest being recycled Polyester.

The UB-22 weighs nearly 12-ounces for a US 9, so it’s best used for easy runs at slower paces. Our in-depth write-up of the Ultraboost 22 can be read here.

4) Asics Gel Nimbus Lite 3

Very few running shoes grew on us the way the Nimbus Lite 2 did.

The Nimbus Lite had the cushy essence of the standard Nimbus, but without the soft and somewhat mushy ride. The single-density Flytefoam midsole was smoother, supportive, and more efficient than the Nimbus 23.

The business-like demeanor of the Nimbus Lite V2 was the result of a distraction-free midsole that did not rely on visible Gel, plastic shank, or multiple foam densities.

Outsole of Asics Nimbus Lite 2

Both the Nimbus Lite 3 and 2 use an identical supportive and cushioned Flytefoam midsole.

We’re happy to see that Asics hasn’t changed the Nimbus Lite 3’s midsole, so it has an identical ride quality as the outgoing version. The wide midsole flare under the rearfoot and forefoot adds stability to the comfortable ride. The snug upper no longer has the EVA-foam tongue of the Nimbus Lite 2, but locks in the foot securely over the midsole.

The optimal balance between ride comfort and stability makes the Nimbus Lite 3 a good fit for heavy runners.

5) adidas SolarGlide 5

The Solarglide 5 makes its first appearance on this list, because it’s nothing like the Solarglide 4. Our detailed review explained why.

The newest Solarglide (our review is here) has a much higher level of stability, thanks to a redesigned midsole that’s not only wider, but stiffer as well.

The LEP shank of the adidas Solarglide 5.

The supportive LEP shank of the adidas Solarglide 5.

The adidas Solarglide 5 on the road.

Even though the SG5 has more Boost than the outgoing model, the forefoot and heel have a wide flare. The adidas LEP shank (previously called Torsion) also moves closer to the foot and supports the midsole.

This markedly changed placement makes the Solarglide 5 a much stiffer – and supportive – running shoe. The EVA rim above the Boost foam core also serves as a stabilizing feature.

The Boost foam midsole of the adidas Solarglide 5.

All these updates make the Solarglide 5 an excellent running shoe for heavy runners. Its 13-ounce weight is on the heavier side, so its versatility is somewhat limited; it’s best used as a high-mileage cruiser or for everyday runs at easy speeds.

6) Saucony Ride 15

Saucony loyalists are very familiar with this model’s firm and supportive ride. The kind of ride that is transition-friendly and protective enough for most runs, long or short.

Even though the Saucony Ride 15 is a top-to-bottom design refresh, it is still a firm running shoe with plenty of support for heavier runners. Our ultra-detailed review covers various aspects of the Ride 15.

The transition groove of the Saucony Ride 15.

The deep transition channel helps center the weight to make the loading process smooth.

It also helps that the newest model has a deep transition groove that helps center the bodyweight during the gait cycle.

The Pwrrun foam midsole on the Ride 14 contributes to the shoe’s do-it-all versatility and supportive nature.

The removable Pwrrun+ footbed of the Saucony Ride 15.

The removable insole is made of Pwrrun+, an expanded PU foam that’s similar to adidas Boost.

The inner sleeve of the Saucony Ride 15.

Though fully-sleeved, the Ride 15’s upper has an accommodating fit.

The firm foundation is stable enough for weighty runners while providing the cushioning that most runs require.

The removable insole made of Pwrrun+ (expanded PU foam) provides step-in comfort. It’s also thick enough to be replaced with a custom orthotic.

The Saucony Ride 15 on the boardwalk.

The fully-sleeved upper is breathable and accommodating for wider feet. There’s an optional 2E size as well. Our full review is here.

7) Saucony Echelon 8

There are many reasons why the Echelon 8 features in this article.

Saucony uses the firm Pwrrun midsole foam here, thus imparting the Echelon with high levels of inherent stability. If that wasn’t enough, the outsole has an ultra-broad footprint for more contact surface.

Together, the material and geometry create a ride that is cushioned but also solid-footed. And of course, the Echelon 8 weighs more than 12-ounces; what did you expect?

This shoe has a thick insole that can be swapped with an aftermarket orthotic. There’s more upper space available in the optional wide and extra-wide sizes.

The upper is very old school; the spacer mesh exterior is covered with a maze of stitched overlays. The snug fit is comfortable and true to size.

8) Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit V2

Here is an exception to our ‘no soft shoe’ criteria, and we’ll explain why in a moment.

We stand by what we said in our detailed review – the Nike ZoomX Invincible V2 is the cushiest running shoe we’ve ever reviewed. However, the high-volume ZoomX midsole has a design that is unlike any other.

The Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit 3 in a park.

The plastic heel clip of the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit 2.

The midsole is ultra-wide across the heel and forefoot. Nike also uses additional stability-aiding components like the plastic heel clip.

These design features allow the midsole to load a higher bodyweight without unsettling the runner. Due to its raised sides, the V2’s redesigned heel clip gives the 2022 model a small upside in the stability department.

The toe-box of the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit 2.

The forefoot fit is more accommodating than the V1.

There’s plenty of room inside the plush upper, so the Invincible Run V2 will accommodate most foot shapes.

It’s worth noting that the updated model (V2) uses a new mesh with a wider spacing between the lacing, so the forefoot fit is more relaxed than the V1.

The Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit 3 on the road.

Also, what we said in the comprehensive review also applies here – the soft ride is only good for leisurely cruising. Faster runs are going to be a struggle considering how soft the shoe is.

Category: Lightweight and stable road racer

1) Saucony Type A9

As a road racer, the Saucony Type A9 is a great fit for most runners, heavy or not.

It’s lightweight, very stable, and relatively affordable. The aggressive lugs of the Pwrrtrac provide plenty of bite during speed runs, whereas the snug upper keeps the foot planted.

The SSL EVA foam midsole is very firm and low profile, thus making it supportive enough for heavier runners.

Category: Supportive trail running shoe

1) Saucony Peregrine 12

The Saucony Peregrine 12 is an under-rated trail running shoe.

The upper fit is protective, secure, and possesses helpful features like gaiter attachment points. It also comes in a wide, and the interiors are very comfortable for the longer trail runs. We heaped praise on the latest Peregrine in our ultra-detailed review.

The stable ride makes the Peregrine 12 an excellent choice for large-framed runners. Though the new Peregrine has been redesigned from the ground up, the midsole retains its firm cushioning.

The Saucony Peregrine 12 on the trail.

The Peregrine 12 is excellent on technical trails.

The rock shield of the Saucony Peregrine 12.

The Peregrine’s rock plate isn’t a ‘plate’ per se, but a woven layer that’s also flexible and protective.

The firm midsole has inherent stability over uneven surfaces, and the rock plate adds forefoot protection and stiffness. The 4 mm heel-to-toe offset makes the transitions smoother.

We love what Saucony has done with the insole. Rather than having a Pwrrun+ topsole under an EVA footbed (that the Peregrine 11 and Xodus have), the Peregrine 12 has a removable insole made of the bouncy Polyurethane.

The Pwrrun+ footbed of the Saucony Peregrine 12.

Everun, Pwrrun+ – call it whatever you will. The unique insole is no longer EVA foam, but steam-expanded Polyurethane.

This adds a cushy and responsive layer without negatively affecting the stability.

The outsole combines an aggressive lug geometry with the sticky ‘Pwrtrac’ rubber to deliver a confidence-inspiring grip on the trails.

Also see: For a higher level of ride comfort, consider the Brooks Cascadia 16.

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