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High-intensity interval training isn't for the faint-hearted. It's truly high-intensity, and you will surely sweat it out. To do well in this program, you need the support of good training shoes that are attuned to the unique demands of HIIT.
Of course, brands like Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and Under Armour would like you to believe that their offers are versatile enough to support the many types of exercises in a HIIT program. They may be telling the truth. But we want you to be sure, so we present our top HIIT shoe picks.
We scrutinized every inch of these shoes to see which really is the number one. We didn't leave any details, may they be big or small. Upon actually wearing them and running tests on them in the lab, we then reviewed and evaluated which category they fit the most and excel the best.
We treat the Free Metcon 5 from Nike as our best pick for HIIT because of its snug fit, amazing ankle support, and its HIIT-friendly drop. These benefits allowed us to intensely execute a wide variety of exercises without having to worry about slipping and losing balance.
In the lab, we learned that the Free Metcon 5 has a heel-to-toe drop of 6.4 mm. This figure is well within the 4 mm to 8 mm range, which covers all measurements that we deem most suitable for HIIT and other workout regimens that rely on the intensity and versatility of exercises.
This Nike trainer contained our feet well through various mechanisms. We immediately noticed and appreciated how its gusseted tongue optimally locked down our feet while giving a sock-like fit at the same time.
The heel and ankle support provided by the rear part of the shoe deserves a special mention from us. The thick padding and the high side walls really did their job in not only keeping our feet in place but also ensuring comfort.
It’s just unfortunate that those with narrow feet won’t be able to enjoy this shoe to the fullest. At its widest point, our caliper measured the toe box to be 107.9 mm. This number dwarfs the average by a staggering 7.4 mm! Narrow-footers should look for better alternatives.
The Adidas Dropset Trainer is a well-rounded option for both plyometric exercises and moderate weightlifting. We are happy that Adidas finally came up with a cross-trainer that doesn't feel like a running shoe, offering plenty of stability for various gym activities. If it wasn't for its bulky setup and frail upper, we believe that it could compete with the big-boy Crossfit shoes.
We consider this shoe as the most able to deliver comfort among all the HIIT shoes because several of its qualities were just geared toward pampering our feet. The midsole of the Reebok Nano X3 offers a great balance of speed-orientedness and softness, allowing us to accelerate with less effort and without sacrificing impact protection. Also, the upper’s breathability kept our feet dry (thank goodness!) so we were able to continue with our workouts without ever feeling the need to change socks.
The forefoot of the Nano X3 felt a bit firm. Our HA durometer in the lab revealed that the forefoot has a firmness score of 27.6, which is a notch higher than the 26.6 average. The setup gave us more speed and control, pretty much what we needed when executing many HIIT exercises.
The heel, for its part, compressed quite well. It registered 20.5 on the HA durometer while the average is as high (or firm) as 27.0. The softness that the heel delivered neutralized the impact of our sprints, jumps, and other nimble movements.
It’s the upper’s breathability that completes the experience of comfort for us. We felt air going through the upper material quite easily. We confirmed this when we subjected the X3 to a smoke test and it got a score of 4 out of 5 when smoke pumped through the collar escaped quite easily through the toe box and sidewall materials.
It’s just too unfortunate that this shoe does not really suit gym rats with wide feet. The toe box is 100.2 mm, which is not any higher than the 100.5 mm average.
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.
The SuperRep has got to be Nike’s most flashy training shoe series. The third iteration receives some design tweaks to give you the right balance of cushioning for jumps, flexibility for planks, and support for side-to-side and other movements involved in HIIT. The shoe’s unusual design is not only there for looks, it enhances performance when it comes to high-impact exercises.
Doing HIIT exercises outdoors presents a lot of challenges to a shoe; good thing the Reebok Nano X2 TR Adventure is ready for all of them. Its firm outsole was able to resist minor scrapes. Its midsole felt a lot firmer than usual, and it allowed us to be quicker on our feet. Finally, the tongue felt so thick next to your skin, not only enhancing fit but also delivering comfort. Given all these benefits, we consider this Reebok shoe as the best for outdoors among all the HIIT shoes that we tried.
Using an HC durometer, we discovered that the outsole of this shoe has a rating of 85.5, which is higher than the 84.4 average. The firmness of the sole allowed it to resist punctures caused by pebbles and other debris that are commonly seen on outdoor surfaces.
The average midsole softness score is 27.0, but the Reebok Nano X2 TR Adventure went as high as 32.0 when we measured it using our HA durometer. The resulting rigidity allowed the sole to have some sort of springback effect that fueled our steps.
We were thrilled when we saw the tongue because it really looked full and thick. True enough, when we measured it using our caliper, it had a thickness of 9.9 mm. This figure is far higher than the 5.8 mm average.
We didn’t like that this shoe is a bit on the heavier side. Weighing 12.17 oz or 435g, it is heavier than the 11.18 oz or 317g. The almost 1-ounce difference was enough to make us feel clunky.
In addition to being incredibly cheap, the Legend Essential 3 from Nike also delivers a HIIT-friendly heel drop and a truly non-restrictive clasp on our feet. Because of these benefits, we declare it as the most bang-for-the-buck pick among all HIIT shoes in our record
At only $65 per pair, this training shoe is a lot cheaper than the $90 average price of HIIT shoes. Of course, this price cut is not at the detriment of the shoe’s quality and overall performance. Based on our experience, this shoe was quite a bomb during our HIIT workouts.
Based on our data, having a heel-to-toe drop of 4 mm to 8 mm is what makes a shoe truly suitable for HIIT. The Legend Essential 3 delivers exactly just that. In the lab, our caliper showed that the forefoot and heel stack heights had a 4.5 mm difference. This allowed us to feel the ground well as we performed a lot of fine footwork.
When we were at the gym, we truly appreciated the amount of give that this shoe offered. Sprints, jumps, and even simple jogs in place were a lot easier to execute because the shoe just followed the natural flexions of our feet. After manually twisting the shoe in the lab, this shoe got a score of 1 out of 5 for torsional rigidity.
We recommend the Nike Legend Essential 3 for all except for those who want to lift heavy. The midsole that has an HA durometer rating of 26.3 (the average is 27.0) might be too soft for them.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a workout protocol that involves alternating between short bursts of intense work with brief recovery periods. The actual exercise you’re doing can vary from running on a treadmill to doing burpees or even lifting weights. That variety makes getting a pair of shoes to meet every possible HIIT workout quite a challenge.
There are, however, some key attributes that all HIIT workouts share, and that a HIIT shoe needs to cater for:
They involve intense, short bursts of energy
They are high impact
They involve multiple rounds of the same movement
They will have you working at your upper limit of aerobic capacity
Here are six things to look for when shopping for a HIIT workout shoe:
1. Cross-training functionality
2. Shock absorbency
5. Responsive midsole
6. Breathable upper
Your HIIT workouts from day to day might look very different. On one day, you could be doing a Tabata sprint HIIT session on the treadmill, while the next day sees you alternating sets of burpees and then, on the third day doing a circuit weights session.
Within a single HIIT workout, you might also find yourself switching from running to plyometrics and weight training.
Your shoes need to be able to handle all of that variety. If you turn up to the gym in a pair of running shoes, you’re not going to have the stability you need when lifting, while a workout shoe is going to lack the cushioning required for those intense sprint sessions.
The high stacks and plush foams of running shoes are never a good idea for HIIT.
Most shoe manufacturers do not have a separate HIIT shoe category. But they will have a cross-training shoe category. Cross-training shoes are designed to meet that middle ground between a weight training shoe and a running shoe to meet the versatile needs of the average gymgoer.
To meet the diverse needs of the average gym goer a cross-training shoe is designed to promote:
The intensity of HIIT training means that you’re putting a lot of stress on the lower body joints. Whether you are sprinting on a treadmill, doing box jumps, or repping out with burpees, your ankles, knees, and hips are going to take a beating. To minimize that impact you need a pair of shoes with a good level of shock absorbency.
A shoe with high shock absorbency will dissipate the amount of kinetic energy that transfers from the ground to your foot as you land. Shock-absorbing shoes typically have added foam, gel, or air bubbles in the areas where the highest impact occurs.
Nike SupreRep 3 uses a pair of bouncy Zoom Air units under the ball of the foot. It protects the wearer's legs without making the platform too plush or unstable.
When it comes to shock absorbency, don’t go for a shoe with too much padding, especially in the heel. Some running shoes have so much heel padding that it feels as if you’re standing on a pillow. That will rob you of the stability you need and cause energy and power leaks that will prevent you from performing at your best.
Traction refers to the friction between the sole of your shoe and the ground that allows you to move with agility and prevents you from sliding or otherwise losing momentum.
If your HIIT workout involves jumping to the sides, such as when doing lateral jumping lunges, the traction of your sole is going to determine whether you perform the action fluidly or whether you end up sliding, and potentially twisting an ankle.
You want a shoe that has plenty of rubber traction in the forefoot and the heel. Basically, the more rubber underfoot, the greater your sole traction will be.
With HIIT training, you are going to be pushing yourself to the limit. When you’re working at that level, you can’t afford to be unstable on your feet. A key factor when it comes to stability is the amount of heel-to-toe drop.
Heel drop is the distance between the height of the heel and the height of the toe. The baseline heel drop would be if you were working out in bare feet. In that case, your heel drop would be zero as the heel and the toes are the same distance from the floor. Most running shoes have a heel drop of around 10 mm. This higher heel position allows for cushioning under the heel and encourages a heel-to-toe strike running action.
Running shoe with a 12-mm drop
Weight training shoes, especially those designed for squats, have a much higher heel-to-toe drop than a running shoe. A typical weightlifting shoe drop is 17 mm. A higher heel supports an upright torso position, helps prevent back bending, and allows for a greater range of motion when squatting.
When you’re doing a HIIT workout, you do not want as much heel-to-toe drop as a weightlifting, or even a running, shoe. The forward angle will instantly detract from your stability. To ensure that your weight remains centered and your foot stable, look for a shoe with a heel-to-toe drop of around 4-6 mm (but no more than 8 mm).
HIIT training shoe with a 6-mm drop
A responsive midsole is a key requirement for a functional HIIT shoe. While you need a stable shoe, you also don’t want your foot to feel trapped and uncomfortable. The midsole, then, needs to be able to find a balance between stability and responsiveness.
Each manufacturer uses its own unique technology to provide midsole responsiveness. The vast majority of midsoles are constructed of some type of foam. The variable elements of foam are softness, responsiveness, durability, and lightness.
By their very nature, HIIT workouts are short and intense. If you aren’t dripping buckets of sweat at the end of it, you’re probably not pushing hard enough. That means that your feet are going to get very hot, wet, and sticky at the end of a decent HIIT session. The more breathable and lightweight the upper material of the shoe is, the more comfortable your workout will be.
The more breathable the upper material of your shoe, the lighter the shoe will be. This creates less resistance and promotes workout efficiency. The best upper materials to look out for to promote breathability are mesh and knit.
What is HIIT and Why do it?
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) was ‘invented’ by Japanese Olympic Speed Skating Coach Azumi Tabata in the mid-2000s. Tabata had his athletes perform eight rounds of a workout that involved twenty seconds of sprint work followed by a ten-second recovery on a stationary cycle. When the athletes were tested after 8 weeks on this program, it was found that all of their health parameters had significantly improved. Take a look at the key findings:
Using HIIT workouts, athletes were able to burn more calories in 4 minutes than they had previously been doing in 30 minutes.
Athletes were training close to their VO2 max during high-intensity periods.
The participants increased their VO2 max, a great measure of cardiovascular fitness, by 28% - that is a huge increase, especially in top athletes.
The HIIT workout plan turned on an ‘afterburn effect’, which increased athletes’ post-training metabolism. This allowed them to burn more calories for the next 24 hours.
Overall aerobic fitness improved by 28%.
When these findings were published, trainers all over the world began to take notice. Over the last decade, there has been an explosion of interest in HIIT workout training. The promise of a more efficient and effective way to meet one’s fitness goals is very attractive.
Tabata’s original protocol has morphed in many directions. Yet, at its core, the HIIT program involves alternating short periods of high-intensity, all-out exercise with short intervals of rest or active recovery.
Who is HIIT for?
HIIT will help anyone to lose body fat and improve their aerobic fitness. But that doesn’t mean that it should be used by everyone. As you may have already deduced, HIIT is hard work. It is an intense, demanding fitness protocol that is not suitable for some people.
If you have a history of cardiovascular issues, suffer from joint problems, or are prone to lower back pain, HIIT may be too intense for you. If you’re over 50, we suggest consulting your doctor before beginning a HIIT program.
Frequently asked questions about HIIT shoes
Can I wear running shoes for my HIIT workouts?
Yes, you can do your HIIT workout in a running shoe, However, depending on the type of HIIT training you’re doing, it may not be a good idea. If you’re doing a high-intensity sprint workout, either on a treadmill or a running track, running shoes are the obvious choice. However, wearing running shoes for a HIIT session that involves lateral movement will not provide the agility and responsiveness that you need.
Running shoes may also provide too much cushioning so that you don’t get the stability that you need during your HIIT workout. Running shoes may also have a heel-to-toe drop that is too high for optimum foot stability and center of gravity.
Cushioning on a running shoe
Cushioning on an HIIT shoe
Should I choose a cross-training shoe for my HIIT workouts?
Yes, you should choose a cross-training shoe for your HIIT workouts. Cross-training shoes are a hybrid of a running shoe and a weightlifting shoe, They are designed for general-purpose gym workouts that range from running to jumping and lifting weights.
In comparison to running shoes, cross trainers tend to have less cushioning in the heel and more in the midsole region. The toe box in a cross-training shoe is roomier than in a running shoe. Cross trainers also have a lower heel-to-toe drop than either a running or a weightlifting shoe.
Average heel-to-toe drop
Road running shoes
Should HIIT shoes fit tightly?
Yes, you want a relatively tight-fitting HIIT shoe. A tight fit will prevent your heel lifting when you’re doing plyometric jumping movements. However, there should be a few millimeters of clearance between the tips of your toes and the upper material to allow for natural toe splay when you are pressing into the floor.
How we test hiit shoes
A HIIT program is composed of different types of exercises. We really have to go through it in order to fully assess the versatility and durability of each shoe that we review. You can rest assured that our claims are all based on actual experience in the gym.
Aside from making sure that we test the shoe in actual HIIT workouts, we also do the following to ensure the validity and reliability of our reviews:
Remain bias-free by buying the shoes using our own funds.
Strive for comprehensiveness by taking into account the science behind every shoe. We slice the shoes in half in our lab and we measure every possible parameter.
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.