Most people run on treadmills only if they have to. Maybe you’re a business traveler trying to catch a quick workout between meetings. Or you live in one of these cities where the polluted air will turn the lungs black.
Perhaps it’s a snowy winter, or there are no sidewalks or parks nearby. Or it could be the opposite, with the temperatures outside high enough to fry an egg.
Whatever the reason, you’ve finally decided to embrace treadmill running, and guess what, you need a pair of running shoes. Finding one sounds easy, right? Not exactly.
There are two important differences between road and treadmill runs.
We’ll begin by stating the very, very obvious:
On the road, if you stop running, you stop. On the treadmill, if you stop running, you don’t. Also, people tend to run slightly faster on treadmills as compared to road running. This makes sense; considering how boring it is to run on a treadmill, you want to get it over with as soon as possible.
To account for both of these factors, a treadmill-friendly running shoe needs to be firm, stable, and grip well. Unless you’re walking on a treadmill (why on earth, though?), an ultra-soft shoe is a big no. There’s a good reason why the Nike ZoomX Invincible Run doesn’t get a mention.
Most treadmills are located inside a gym, so pre/post-run stretching with some lightweight training is likely a part of the workout. Under the circumstances, a stable shoe that isn’t overly soft is effective. Also, a shoe that’s suitable for treadmill runs works very well on the open road.
Here’s our list of the top 13 running shoes for treadmill use. We’ve prefixed the shoe name by its category so that you know what you’re getting into.
1) Lightweight trainer/racer: Adidas adizero Adios 5
Though the adizero Adios 5 is the most changed version to date, it remains a great pick for treadmill runs. The Boost and Lightstrike EVA foam midsole is cushioned, lightweight (8-ounces), and speed-friendly. The flat outsole design grips very well over the rubber belts.
The upper fits snug as befits a tempo/race shoe; this narrowness keeps the foot locked down during runs. The adios 5 has an inner sleeve now – this puts an end to the scratchy tongue of the older adios.
2) Lightweight trainer/racer: New Balance 1400V6
The 1400V6 has a forgiving upper fit for a racing shoe. It is reasonably priced too – the $100 MSRP doesn’t break the bank.
The lightweight Revlite foam midsole provides excellent feedback, and the rubber lugs have a great bite. There’s enough cushioning to see you through treadmill runs of 10K and beyond.
This happens to be one of the few road-racers that’s also available in a wide.
Also see: The New Balance 1500V6.
3) Lightweight trainer/racer: Mizuno Wave Shadow V3
This ultra-grippy and stable racer by Mizuno is in its third iteration now. The Wave Shadow 3’s breathable mesh upper has a snug fit that keeps the foot locked down during high-paced treadmill sessions.
The combination of the heel Wave Plate and firm forefoot makes the loading efficient and supportive. The small lugs provide excellent traction over the treadmill belt.
4) Lightweight cushioned trainer: Skechers GoRun Razor 3
The Skechers GoRun Razor 3 invariably shows up on one buyer’s guide or the other, and there’s always a good reason why. In this context, the GoRun Razor is a good fit for motorized running surfaces due to its hyper-lightweight and cushioned ride.
Here, the cushioning doesn’t equate to mushy. The Hyperburst foam has a rebound quality that is tinged with firmness so there’s plenty of stability for speedy runs. The snug upper keeps the foot securely held in place.
5) Lightweight cushioned trainer: Brooks Hyperion Tempo
During our detailed testing, we found the Brooks Hyperion Tempo to be extremely versatile.
Just like the Skechers Razor, the Brooks Hyperion Tempo uses a similarly-formulated midsole foam (DNA Flash) to deliver a hyper-lightweight yet cushioned ride that benefits the transition quality.
Bringing everything together is a rubber outsole that delivers superlative traction over most surfaces, including treadmill belts.
Speed shoes typically have a very narrow upper, but that isn’t the case here. The Hyperion Tempo’s soft upper is accommodating without feeling sloppy.
6) Carbon-plated cushioned racer: Asics Metaracer
Don’t let the word ‘racer’ in the shoe’s name scare you. Unlike most speed shoes, the Asics Metaracer doesn’t have a harsh ride.
If anything, the Metaracer is one of the softest racers we’ve had the pleasure to review. By soft, we mean a cushy layer of foam above the Carbon fiber plate – a design that makes high-paced runs comfortable yet blazing quick. The internal plate adds stiffness to the ride, and in doing so, it makes the turnovers quick and connected.
The outsole may have an unusual tire-like design with a lug-less geometry, but it has an excellent grip over the road and treadmill.
The upper fit and comfort also belies the standard expectation of a ‘racer’ design. The interiors are soft, seamless, and breathable – and that makes the fit very comfortable. The collapsible heel is a bonus.
7) Low-profile cushioned trainer: adidas adizero Boston 9
The Boston is a running shoe with better long-distance comfort over the road racers listed above. It’s long been our pick as a lightweight neutral trainer, the kind that also works great on human conveyor belts and gym floors.
Except for the minor updates in the upper fit, the Boston 9 retains all the traits that have made the series successful so far. Except for the ‘Lightstrike’ branding, the midsole is shared with the Boston 8.
The Boost midsole has all the responsive cushioning you need; components like the Torsion shank and Continental outsole provide reliable stability and traction. The upper is snug yet packs creature comforts like a padded tongue and heel.
8) Lightweight cushioned trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo
The Fresh Foam Tempo sounds like a new shoe with no history, but names can be deceptive.
For all practical purposes, this 6 mm drop shoe is Zante reincarnated; it carries forward most of the physical attributes that made the original 2014 Zante a success.
The midsole cushioning delivers the sweet spot between firm and soft, and the overall ride experience feels very smooth. Though the Tempo lacks the responsiveness of newer Balance models, this isn’t a negative when running on motorized surfaces.
The seamless upper fits true to size and has a soft exterior that wraps the foot securely in comfort.
9) Lightweight trainer: Asics Hyper Speed
The Asics Hyperspeed is an affordable version of the plate-equipped Metaracer. This version also marks the reset of the synonymous shoe series – this model bears no resemblance – functional or otherwise – to the Hyperspeed 6 or 7.
It may not have an internal plate, but it has several qualities that make it suitable for treadmill runs. The EVA-foam midsole has sufficient cushioning for extended treadmills workouts, all while delivering a transition-friendly ride character.
The well-defined lugs of rubber outsole deliver a satisfactory bite over the motorized belt. Most of the outsole is covered with a single piece of rubber, thus making the transition process smoother.
With a design that’s inspired by the Metaracer, the well-ventilated upper comes with plenty of interior comfort and fit security.
And did we mention that the Asics Hyperspeed retails below $100?
10) Lightweight trainer: Brooks Launch 8
The Brooks Launch 8 stays true to its brief as a lightweight daily trainer, but takes a different path than its predecessors. We’re not talking about its attractive retail price; that, thankfully, stays the same.
What’s new is the ride quality that changes from noticeably firm (the Launch 7) to a more compliant and softer midsole.
Owing to the reformulated midsole, the Launch 8 feels noticeable softer under the foot. Runners who found the past Launch models to be too stiff will appreciate the increased ride comfort of the V8. The lightweight upper is soft and very airy – attributes that work well within an indoor setting.
Despite the updates, the Launch 8 is no slouch. The low-profile midsole adds agility to the runs, and the rubber outsole provides ample traction over the treadmill.
11) Lightweight cushioned trainer: Saucony Kinvara 12
The Kinvara has always been an excellent low offset and lightweight trainer to do it all, including in-gym runs. However, our view is that the Kinvara 12 performs better on the treadmill than the 10 and 11.
The midsole acquires a refreshed geometry that includes a flared – and therefore more supportive – heel and forefoot.
The midsole also feels a mite firmer than the last version while retaining enough cushioning for high-mileage treadmill sessions. Grip-wise, the updated outsole texture is an improvement.
What’s also new about the K-12 is the smooth and well-ventilated upper that creates a secure fit environment.
12) Daily neutral trainer: Mizuno Wave Rider 24
The thermoplastic ‘Wave’ plate is what makes a Mizuno a ‘Mizuno’. The Wave Rider 24 is softer than the 23 due to the new lower-density foam, but one thing hasn’t changed. A Wave plate is still part of the midsole, and with it comes a familiar and supportive ride character.
The level of ride stability makes the Rider 24 an excellent candidate for a treadmill-friendly shoe. The rigid insert keeps the softer midsole in check and makes the transitions smooth. At the same time, the flat outsole geometry helps create a better connection with the treadmill belt.
The spacious and smooth upper keeps the insides comfortable during indoor runs.
Also see: The Mizuno Wave Inspire 17 – a slightly more supportive version of the Rider 24.
13) Daily neutral trainer: Saucony Ride 14
The Saucony Ride has always been the firmest running shoe within the mid-priced neutral trainer category. Guess what; that’s just perfect for treadmill runs.
While there’s step-in comfort in the form of the insole and ‘Topsole’, the midsole is firmer than the likes of the Asics Cumulus, Brooks Ghost, and New Balance 880.
The said firmness makes running on motorized surfaces less of a chore. The single-density firmness feels efficient when clocking higher speeds while providing enough comfort – should your runs be longer than 10 km.
The Saucony Ride 13 and 14 share the same midsole and outsole, and only the upper has been refreshed for 2021. The Ride 14’s upper is exactly what it needs to be – comfortable, conforming, and near seamless.
Since both versions are equal from a ride perspective, it makes little difference if one gets the Ride 13 at a bargain instead.
Also see: Consider the Saucony Guide 14 if a firmer ride is preferable.