Are New Balance 550s Good for Running?

The New Balance 550 is one of the brand’s most iconic retro sneakers, known for its chunky dad shoe aesthetic. With its thick midsole and leather/suede upper, the 550 makes a style statement but how does it perform for running?

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the key features of the New Balance 550 and evaluate if it’s a suitable shoe for runners.

Outsole Traction

The outsole of the New Balance 550 features a rugged, high-traction pattern that provides decent grip on most surfaces. It uses a combination of solid rubber lugs and deep flex grooves that allow the shoe to flex naturally with the foot during toe-off motions. This multidirectional traction pattern gives reliable footing during activity.

However, the 550’s outsole rubber is quite stiff and dense compared to performance running shoes. So there’s some trade-off in flexibility and ground feel for improved durability. The prominent lugs also pick up small stones easily that you’ll need to pause to remove during runs.

Overall, the outsole provides sufficient traction for straightforward runs but racers and trail runners may find the grip limiting on tricky terrain.

Midsole Cushioning

The highlight of the New Balance 550 is its chunky ENCAP midsole that provides soft, generous cushioning underfoot. This technology combines a firm polyurethane rim on the lateral edges with an EVA foam core that gives both stability and shock absorption.

The dual-density cushioning ensures comfortable landings and smooth transitions for moderate pace running up to 5 miles. However, there is some weight to the shoe with its thick midsole construction. You’ll notice your feet getting fatigued quicker compared to lighter trainers over long distances.

The 550’s midsole also lacks the breathable quality and bounce of newer performance foams, so your feet are likely to get warmer the longer your run. The firmer rim support though offers a touch of stability for mild overpronators.

Upper Comfort & Breathability

The pig suede and leather upper of the New Balance 550 provides a retro look but feels stiff straight out of the box. Expect a decent break-in period to soften the materials to conform naturally to your feet. Wide-footers may also find the fit quite narrow at first.

Once broken in, the premium upper materials offer good foot lockdown and support. However, the shoe lacks ventilated mesh panels, so airflow is limited inside, especially on hot runs. Your socks and feet will be quite sweaty by the end!

The padded foam ankle collar does stop heel slippage reasonably well though to prevent blisters. There are also extra lace eyelets allowing you to experiment with the lacing tightness to find your sweet spot.


The New Balance 550 is noticeably weighty, tipping the scales around 16 oz based on a men’s US size 9. The beefy midsole and leather upper construction adds heft that leads to leg fatigue faster, the longer or quicker you run. Lighter neutral trainers weigh 10-12 oz in comparison.

While the 550 offers cushioning and support benefits, runners focused on speedwork, tempo sessions or racing would want a much lighter shoe in their rotation. The 550 is realistically only suitable for easy paced training miles up to 5K/5 miles maximum at a time.


On the plus side, the New Balance 550 is built like a tank and will rack up the miles without quickly breaking down. The sturdy leather/suede upper withstands abrasions well from asphalt and the thick rubber outsole shows minimal wear over time.

You’ll likely retire these shoes from smell and compression rather than actually blowing them out! So while the 550 isn’t optimized for performance running, it’s a great lifestyle sneaker that can still hold up to regular, casual runs.

Pros & Cons

Here’s a quick summary of the advantages and disadvantages of using the NB 550 for running:


  • Plush ENCAP midsole provides all-day cushioning
  • Grippy rubber outsole with good surface traction
  • Supportive leather/suede upper after break-in
  • Durable construction built to last


  • Heavy and clunky with no energy return
  • Stiffness requires break-in for comfort
  • Poor ventilation leads to hot feet
  • Lack flexibility for faster paced runs


The retro-styled New Balance 550 is cushioned and supportive enough for short, easy runs but ultimately lacks the nimble performance for anything faster paced or longer than 5K. Its heavy and stiff construction isn’t best suited for true training although casual runners will appreciate the durable comfort.

Prioritize the 550 in your rotation for lifestyle wear and short fitness jogs rather than your main mileage kicker. New Balance does offer quality lightweight trainers better equipped for race days like the FuelCell RC Elite and Rebel v3 if you want a fast NB option.

Ultimately there are better old-school inspired kicks specifically made for running such as the Nike Waffle One or Adidas Forum 84 Low if you want comparable vintage vibes. But if you love the standout design of the 550, it can still work for slow daily miles, just don’t expect snappy speedwork in these tanks!


Still have some questions about using the New Balance 550 for running? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Is the New Balance 550 good for long distance running?

No, the NB 550 is too heavy and stiff making it impractical for regular long distance training. Better to choose light, flexible shoes with breathable uppers for marathon training and races.

Can you use the 550 for gym training?

Yes, the supportive cushioning of the New Balance 550 works reasonably well for basic cardio machines like the treadmill, cross trainer and exercise bike. The traction is also grippy enough for floor exercises.

How does the sizing of the 550 compare to other New Balances?

The NB 550 fits slightly short and narrow straight out of the box. Consider going up half a size and wearing thin socks while breaking them in if you have wider feet. The upper does stretch over time.

Is the 550 suitable for HIIT workouts?

No, you’ll want a more flexible trainer with less bulk for quick lateral movements involved in most HIIT classes. The 550’s stiffness and weight makes it harder to transition smoothly between intense intervals.

Can you play sports in the New Balance 550?

Casual use for sports like volleyball or light basketball is fine. But the 550 isn’t designed for competitive team sports which demand flexibility, court grip and breathability that this shoe lacks.

Leave a comment