We earn affiliate commissions at no extra cost to you when you buy through us.
Why trust us
Wearing the right shoes for gym workouts is a game-changer. A running shoe with plenty of cushioning may not be a wise choice for lifting heavier weights or CrossFit training. So be sure to pick the ideal pair of gym shoes that’s more targeted to the type of workout routine you’ll be doing.
Popular gym shoe brands include Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. But we’ve also added to our repertoire pretty good brands that deliver similar high-level performance such as Altra, Under Armour, ASICS, Inov-8, and New Balance.
Whatever types of workout routines you have on your calendar, we have a perfect pair for your gym footwear needs. To help you save time when searching for the right fit, we’ve tested and reviewed 100+ of the best gym shoes available in the market. Check out our top picks.
The Nike Free Metcon 5 takes the seat as the best gym shoe in our arsenal because it was relentless in delivering key advantages during our workout sessions. Its heel-to-toe drop allowed us to perform a variety of exercises with ease. From weightlifting to short sprints, this gym shoe got us covered! We are also floored by its immense flexibility and amazing lightness.
The Free Metcon 5 has a 6.3 mm drop based on our caliper readings. Our data suggest that a drop that falls within the 4-8 mm range provides a nice balance of plushness and firmness. No wonder we were able to enjoy a lot of functional versatility while wearing this shoe.
The average gym shoe needs 22.5N to be bent at a 90-degree angle. Amazingly, the Nike Free Metcon 5 did not even need half of that force. According to our digital gauge in the lab, this Nike trainer needed only 8.8N. Given this much flexibility, the shoe was able to follow the natural flexions of our feet.
Weighing only 10.5 oz or 298g, this shoe is a bit lighter than the average trainer (11.2 oz or 317 g). Because this shoe did not weigh us down at all, we were amazed at how we were able to run faster and jump higher when we wore the Free Metcon 5.
Registering 17.4 (against the 27.0 average) on the HA durometer, the midsole is indeed soft. Because of this, we felt it bottoming quite easily after a few intense uses. This tendency is definitely something to keep in mind when using the Nike Free Metcon 5.
The Metcon series is once again making waves with the Nike Metcon 9. This workout shoe is loved by many gym rats, especially CrossFitters and others who love to incorporate a lot of lifting in their programs. This shoe is also functionally and aesthetically versatile enough to be worn in non-workout settings.
Out of all the gym shoes that we worked out in, it was the Romaleos 4 from Nike that helped us the most during weightlifting. It had quite a supportive fit care of the thick tongue and its two-strap design. This shoe also had a wide base that surely helped with stability. We were also impressed by the stiffness of the heel counter, making it quite effective in locking down the rear foot.
Compared to the 5.6 mm average, the padding in the tongue of the Romaleos 4 is a bit thicker at 7.4 mm. Together with the two in the midfoot, the thick tongue contributed to a comfortably snug fit.
Our caliper measurements in the lab revealed that the midsole platform is 111.5 mm wide at the forefoot while it is 91.3 mm wide at the heel. Given these figures, the Romaleos 4’s midsole is therefore 4.4 mm and 4.2 mm wider than average.
The heel counter felt quite dependable no matter how heavy the plates that we cleaned and jerked with. We did a manual assessment on it in the lab through squeezing, and the heel counter easily got a perfect 5 for stiffness.
We were a bit disappointed with the results of our smoke test for breathability. We saw how challenging it was for smoke to pass through the upper material. Hence, this shoe only got a 2 out of 5 for ventilation.
Among all the gym shoes that we exercised in, it was the Nano X3 from Reebok that gave us the best experience comfort-wise. Not only was its cushioning softer, the whole midsole delivered a good energy return as well. We were able to do more with less effort because of this benefit. Our experience of comfort was completed by the immense breathability of the upper.
We assessed the cushioning system in the lab, and we found that it’s a lot softer than average. Our HA durometer pegged its softness at 20.5 while the average goes as high as 27.0. When used for workouts, the soft midsole kept pain at bay while running and jumping.
Speaking of running, we were able to run faster because of the bounce that we got from the midsole. The technology embedded in it truly worked wonders for us. Because of this, we never had to beat ourselves up just so we could cover more distances or jump higher.
Aside from having such a nice-feeling inner sleeve, the upper also allowed our feet to breathe so well. Our socks were always dry when we took them off after a session, no matter how long it was. In the lab, we gave the shoe a score of 4 out of 5 for ventilation.
We just wish that this shoes were lighter. At 12.4 oz or 352g, this shoe is indeed heavier than average, which weighs only 11.0 oz or 313g.
As the name suggests, the Nike Zoom Metcon Turbo 2 is a speedy addition to the Metcon family. We found it to be more flexible and agile as well as more cushioned for treadmill runs and high-impact cardio sessions. It is also amazing how the shoe manages to remain stable for lifting! Even though it's not as light as we expected from a shoe of this kind, it certainly didn't feel heavy on our feet.
Among all the minimalist shoes that we’ve tried, the minimalist Nike Flex Control 4 is surely the best in its league. Aside from its lightness, this shoe also delivered a lot of ground feel, which allowed us to be more in control of our movements. The shoe’s flexibility, which allowed us to move with much more ease, is also worth an honorable mention here.
The moment we wore the Nike Flex Control 4, we already admired its lightness. The lab confirmed our observation when the weighing scale reported that this shoe weighs only 9.8 ounces or 277 grams, which is lighter than the 11.2 ounces or 317 grams average.
Readings from our digital caliper revealed that the shoe’s midsole is thinner than usual. To be more precise, it is 5.6 mm thinner than average at the heel and 2.7 mm thinner at the forefoot. Because we are closer and much more able to feel the gym surface, not only did we gain more control, we became more agile as well.
Both the heel counter and the base of the shoe moved quite smoothly with our feet, especially when we did agility workouts. When we assessed these features in the lab, we learned why. After multiple squeezes, the heel counter got a score of 2 out of 5 for stiffness. The base, for its part, also got a 2 out of 5 for resistance after aggressively twisting it.
While a lot of flexibility was good for athletics, it spelled doom for serious lifting. Gym rats whose regimen is lifting-based should look for a better alternative.
A good gym shoe should offer enough cushioning and deliver a good deal of breathability. It must also be light. Not only does the Legend Essential 3 excellently deliver all these aspects, it is also sold at such a low price of $65 (average price is $91). There should be no question to it; this amazing gym shoe offers the most value for every cent.
In the lab, our HA durometer readings yielded a 26.3 score for the midsole. This number makes the cushion slightly softer than the 27.0 average. When used in the gym, this shoe gave us just enough cushioning for jumps and other landings.
Breathability is another highlight of this gym shoe. In the lab, we watched in awe as the smoke that we pumped into the shoe easily escaped through the forefoot and tongue. That was a good indicator that the upper is porous enough to let air in and out of the shoe without issue. This shoe got a 4 out of 5 for ventilation from us.
At only 8.78 ounces or 248 grams, the Legend Essential 3 is a lot lighter than the average trainer (11.18 ounces or 317 grams). This significant reduction in weight was something we enjoyed so much. It allowed us to persist in several workouts without feeling any pain or fatigue in our feet.
It’s just sad that the Legend Essential 3 is not made of sturdier stuff. Our 12 seconds of Dremel-drilling already poked a hole in the upper. The heel counter padding is a lot weaker. The upper and heel counter padding got a 2 and 1 out of 5 for durability, respectively.
If you take your workouts seriously, you simply cannot afford to compromise when it comes to your gym shoes. Wearing the wrong shoes not only impedes your performance but also increases your chance of injury.
With so many brands and models, though, finding the right gym shoe for you can be a pretty daunting task. That’s why we’ve broken down everything you need to know to make the smartest buying decision. Read on for your complete guide to buying gym shoes.
What are gym shoes?
The gym shoe category is an all-encompassing one that covers a range of different types of athletic shoes. They offer the support, cushioning, and stability needed for a variety of activities.
The following specific types of training shoes come under the gym shoe umbrella:
Cross-training shoes: Also referred to as cross-trainers, are made for all-day wear and are appropriate for a variety of workouts, including aerobic, weightlifting, and cross-training. Their enhanced level of cushioning, support, and traction allows you to carry out a variety of workouts comfortably and safely.
Weightlifting shoes: Weightlifting shoes offer a firm, steady foundation because they are made exclusively for weightlifting. Common features include a raised heel, a hard sole, and straps that tightly secure your feet are common features. These features can help improve your lifting technique and lower the chance of injury.
Crossfit shoes: Crossfit shoes are created for workouts that combine weightlifting, cardio, and gymnastics-type movements. They offer the stability and support needed for lifting, as well as flexibility and cushioning for plyometric and agility training.
Factors to consider before buying gym shoes
With the abundance of choices on the market, finding the ideal gym shoe for your workouts can be quite overwhelming. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can take into account to help you reduce your options and locate the ideal pair of gym shoes for your needs:
Type of shoe
Preferred heel height
Amount of cushioning
Balance of flex and stability
Level of breathability
Fit of the shoe
Types of gym shoes
The first step is to match your search to the type of training you’ll be doing. Here are the four main types of gym shoes, along with their differentiating features:
The most versatile in the bunch, cross-training shoes are designed to be adaptable enough for a wide range of workout types. They provide support and cushioning for various exercises like lifting weights, plyometrics, and running.
Cross-training shoes are equipped with:
support for side-to-side motions
flexibility to do lunges and similar moves
durability for high-intensity workouts
traction for stability while training
Cross-training shoes include Crossfit shoes.
CrossFit shoes are specifically made to accommodate CrossFit training, which may encompass lifting, running, jumping, and more.
Shoes made for Crossfit have very similar features to cross-training shoes, such as:
flexibility for various exercises
lateral assistance for side-to-side motions
sturdy design to handle demanding workouts
traction to enhance stability for lifting and jumping
Here is what makes Crossfit shoes different:
lower heel-to-toe drop (0-5 mm) for a more grounded feel
added protection for rope climbs
Weightlifting shoes are made to keep your feet secure and supported when you lift.
They've got the following attributes:
elevated heel (15-21 mm) for improved squatting depth and form
strong, non-compressible sole for enhanced power transfer and a stable foundation
velcro straps to ensure a snug fit and prevent slippage
minimal padding to enhance stable bases
robust design to withstand heavy use
Heel height in gym shoes
The heel of your gym shoes is a crucial factor to take into account when making your purchase because it can influence your overall comfort and workout performance.
Here are the key considerations to take into account:
The heel heights of gym shoes range from absolutely flat to several inches high. Your personal tastes and the kind of training you do will determine the appropriate heel height for you.
creates a more grounded platform for Crossfit, deadlifting, or any other exercises that call for a stable basis
offers more support and impact protection if you're engaging in lots of jumping or running
in lifting shoes translates to a more efficient posture when squatting and lifting heavy
beginners choose lower heels
higher heels are favored by seasoned athletes
The distance between the heel and the toe of a shoe is referred to as the heel-to-toe drop. A shoe with a higher drop may feel more sturdy and supportive, whereas one with a lesser drop may feel more flexible and natural.
The added cushioning in the Trainer+ gives more impact protection for jumps and runs as well as comfort for daily wear.
The portion of the shoe that wraps around the rear of the foot and offers support and stability is known as the heel counter. You want a strong, well-constructed heel counter that is snug without being too tight. A good heel counter will help avoid ankle injuries and offer a firmer foundation for workouts requiring balance and lateral motions.
Amount of cushioning
The amount of cushioning in the midsole can influence how comfortable a shoe is.
Too little cushioning can make the shoe feel stiff and uncomfortable. Excessive cushioning can make the sole seem shaky and make it difficult to feel the ground or other objects beneath your feet, which will impair your balance and stability.
The optimal amount of cushioning will vary depending on your own tastes and the kind of workouts you intend to do.
You might want a shoe with greater padding to absorb shock if you're doing high-impact exercises like jogging or leaping. More cushioning also helps to relieve strain on the joints and lowers the risk of injury.
Balance of flex and stability
The sole needs to be flexible and adaptable enough to let your feet naturally move. Additionally, it should bend where your foot naturally flexes to give you the best possible mobility and comfort.
Exercises like lunges, squats, and others call for a full range of motion in your feet. This is provided by a flexible sole.
Weightlifting, on the other hand, calls for a stiffer sole. Too much bending will make you feel shaky under heavy loads.
The midsole needs to offer enough support for your feet to shift laterally or alter course. A sturdy midsole can also help prevent ankle injuries by lessening the possibility of your foot moving inward or outward during exercise.
That's why, in top-rated cross-trainers, you often see the following setup:
firm and stable heel
supportive sidewalls in the midfoot
Level of breathability
Look for gym shoes with a breathable upper to keep your feet dry and cool while exercising.
For breathability, knit or mesh uppers are fantastic choices because they enable air to flow freely. A permeable upper also helps lessen bacterial growth and reduce foot odor.
Fit of the shoe
A gym shoe's upper should be comfortable on your foot without being too tight. Look for footwear with a wide toe box and sufficient area for your foot to flex freely. The upper should also provide enough support during lateral movements or changes in direction.
The toebox width in training shoes ranges from 96 mm to 106 mm in the widest part of the forefoot. Nike Metcons and Reebok Nanos top this range with their 100+ mm toeboxes.
Frequently asked questions about gym shoes
How frequently should I buy new gym shoes?
Gym shoes have different lifespans depending on usage, the intensity of activity, and shoe quality. A reasonable rule of thumb, though, is to switch out your gym shoes every six to twelve months, or if you detect substantial wear and tear, a loss of support, or discomfort.
Can I work out at the gym in running shoes?
While gym shoes and running shoes may have a similar appearance, they are made for different forms of activity. Running shoes may not offer the support and stability required for lateral movements or weightlifting because they are designed solely for forward motion.
It is much better (and safer!) to select exercise footwear made specifically for the workout you intend to perform.
Can I wear my gym shoes outside of the gym?
Yes, as long as they are comfortable and acceptable for the situation, you can wear your gym shoes outside of the gym. Just keep in mind that repeated wear on hard surfaces like concrete will hasten wear and tear. Some gym shoes might not be appropriate for activities like hiking or trail running.
How we test training shoes
Identifying the gym shoes that truly deliver genuine value requires a serious data-driven selection process. That means spending hours of wear testing the shoes for specific workout routines. We also check and analyze the materials or technologies used in the shoes.
To ensure the 100% objectivity of our assessment, we perform the following:
Buy the shoes using our own money for wear tests.
Make an in-depth review of the shoes that we’ve tested ourselves. We wear the shoes going to the gym and executing actual workouts such as lifting weights, jumping rope, squatting, or running on the treadmill. Okay, you get the idea: we base all our reviews on real-life performance tests that include CrossFit workout sessions.
Finally, we subject the shoes to various lab tests for us to bring you the shoes' features and functions that are concluded from the lab results.
In the end, after writing the qualitative descriptions of each shoe, we feature our favorite picks in various categories.
Nick combines 10+ years of experience in the health and fitness industry and a background in the sciences in his role as the Fitness Research Director. During his competitive powerlifting years his PRs have him sitting in the top 2% of bench presses (395 lbs), top 3% of squats (485 lbs) and top 6% of deadlifts (515 lbs) for his weight and age.
His work has been featured on Bodybuilding.com, LiveStrong, Healthline, WebMD, WashingtonPost, and many more. Along the way, collaborating with industry leaders like Michael Yessis, Mark Rippetoe, Carlo Buzzichelli, Dave Tate, Ray Williams, and Joel Seedman.