7 Best Workout Shoes in 2024
Workout shoes, also called cross-training shoes or cross-trainers, are engineered to accommodate a wide range of training activities. This guide will present the best workout shoes we have tried and tested and what to look for when buying a pair of workout shoes.
Some shoes come with a wider, more stable platform to accommodate weightlifting. Others are much lighter and help you feel more nimble for agility training. Depending on your priorities, we have selected the number one in different categories through meticulous testing, so you can successfully bag your perfect gym shoe.
How we test training shoes
We are very particular about the things we demand from workout shoes. For cardio or running, we say yes to exquisite cushioning. For strength training, a stability shoe gets our motor running. We consider specific characteristics depending on the shoe category.
To make sure we stay on top of our game when offering reviews, we do the following:
- purchase all the workout shoes ourselves to ensure that we spit facts, and facts only
- jump, lift, squat, and run in the shoes in our workouts
- conduct thorough lab tests, dissect the shoes, collect data, and interpret the results
Best workout shoes overall
Workout shoes with the best comfort
Best workout shoes for speed
Best minimalist workout shoes
Best outdoor workout shoes
Best budget workout shoes
Best workout shoes for weightlifting
Do workout shoes matter?
If you work out at least two times per week, they do.
Proper workout shoes help you to maximize performance and avoid injuries by providing the following:
- a secure foothold for repeated multi-directional movements
- a firm, wide, and stable platform for lifting and lateral movements
Lateral stability test in a workout shoe
Regular running shoes or casual sneakers do not have these two essential characteristics. From the ground up, they are designed with forward foot motion in mind.
Lateral stability test in a running shoe
If you do use running shoes for the gym, make sure they have a firm, wide, and torsionally stiff platform. Find out what running shoes are okay for working out at the bottom of this guide.
Where to start: choose the right platform
Most workout shoes are designed to be all-in-one trainers.
That means they can support you in any activity your coach throws at you: from a warm-up run on a treadmill to a series of deadlifts with a barbell.
And yet, the seemingly subtle differences in platform thickness and heel-to-toe drop can make a big difference in your athletic performance.
Heel stack: minimalist or cushioned?
Heel stack refers to the amount of material between the wearer's heel and the ground.
Regular heel stack
Ranging from the minimal 18 mm to the highly elevated 36 mm, it averages 24 mm across workout shoes.
We recommend that beginners choose workout shoes with a moderate stack height of 20-30 mm. It offers a great balance of underfoot support and ground feel.
Some seasoned gym buffs prefer a more natural experience provided by minimalist workout shoes. This footwear is significantly lighter, more flexible, and of course, lower to the ground. But keep in mind that these shoes demand more muscle activation and offer less cushioning than regular trainers.
Low/minimal heel stack
Workout shoes with a heel stack above 30 mm are a rare occurrence. These trainers tend to have unusual technologies and experiential designs, often coming across as fashion statements.
Heel-to-toe drop: flat or elevated?
The incline of the shoe's midsole from the heel to the toes is referred to as the drop.
Some workout shoes feel flatter (0-5 mm drop), while others have a rather tangibly elevated heel (8-12 mm drop). On average, gym shoes hover around 5-8 mm in their heel-to-toe difference.
7.6 mm drop of the Reebok Nano X3
Most athletes prefer shoes with a drop between 5 and 8 mm as it creates a very stable and grounded platform. Also, there is a small elevation under the heel to ease the strain on the Achilles tendon.
5.5 mm drop of the Nike Metcon 9
On the other hand, if you want to achieve better ankle mobility and muscle activation, you will appreciate a 0-5 mm drop instead.
3.7 mm drop of the NOBULL Trainer
Stability vs. flexibility in workout shoes
Given the variety of exercises performed at the gym, you need a true Swiss army knife on your feet to accommodate them all.
Your workout shoe must have enough rigidity and firmness to keep you stable for lifting and squatting.
But your trainers also need a good amount of flexibility to feel comfortable on planks, lunges, and jumps.
We test both parameters thoroughly to let you know which workout shoes are both steady and pliable and which are more inclined towards one or the other.
We use a gauge to measure how much force it takes to bend each shoe to a 90-degree angle.
We also assess torsional rigidity on a 1-5 scale in our manual test.
Platform width plays a huge part in a workout shoe's stability. We use a caliper to measure the widest areas in both the heel and the forefoot.
Here is the overview of well-rounded workout shoes that we can highly recommend to beginners and most athletes for that matter.
Torsional rigidity: 5 stands for the stiffest. Stiffness: the lower N measurement means higher flexibility.
And if you need shoes for agile workouts and maneuverable footwork, you will appreciate the flexibility offered by the following options:
Make sure your workout shoes breathe
A workout wouldn't be complete without breaking some good sweat.
We treat fresh feet seriously and put each workout shoe through a series of lab tests to assess its level of breathability.
We use a smoke-pumping machine to check the shoe's ventilation capacity.
A transparency test helps us see the shoe's ventilation holes better.
A closer look through our microscope also helps to understand the nature of the shoe's upper material.
Considering all of the above, we come up with a list of the most breathable workout shoes that never let the feet suffocate:
Some workout shoes go as far as having perforated soles for airflow management.
How to find the right size and fit in workout shoes
If it's been a while since you last purchased a pair of athletic shoes, we strongly recommend measuring your foot length first. You might be surprised!
Even if you always get the same size in all shoes, chances are that you may need to size up or down in certain training shoes. Knowing your exact foot length and checking it with the brand's official size chart gives you a higher chance of ordering the right size.
But getting the right size (length) is only part of the problem. You should also consider the shoe's fit and toebox space.
We are here to help you by measuring the dimensions of each workout shoe in our lab.
We apply the caliper to both the shoe's widest part of the toebox and the area around the big toe. That way, we can see how spacious the trainer's forefoot actually is.
Compared to other footwear categories, workout shoes tend to have wider toeboxes. This design is essential for stability as it allows the wearer's toes to splay and take up space when balancing the rest of the body.
Our measurements allow us to filter out shoes with the most spacious toeboxes for athletes with wide feet and bunions.
What running shoes are OK for working out?
If a major part of your workout session comprises running on a treadmill mixed with some bodyweight exercises and moderate lifting, then it’s okay to use running shoes.
But to keep you safe, these shoes must have wide, firm, and supportive platforms. They should be torsionally stiff and have a high rigidity score of 4-5, where 5 is the stiffest.
We perform this manual test to assess a shoe's torsional rigidity
Are shoes necessary for working out?
This question becomes ever so common with the rise of home-based workouts.
It depends on the type of workout you do. Some people enjoy exercising barefoot or in socks. It certainly improves sensory feedback and control while helping you build foot and toe strength.
But sometimes it can be dangerous to work out barefoot:
- lack of impact protection can take a toll on your feet and knees
- lack of grip can cause slips and falls
- dropping or hitting equipment is a punishment of its own
If you’re looking for a barefoot experience, you can try minimalist workout shoes that come with a low or even zero heel drop, very minimal cushioning, and thin sock-like uppers.
Example of a minimalist workout shoe
What shoes are best for cardio?
If cardio and high-impact exercises are at the core of your workouts, we recommend getting a training shoe that:
- is lightweight (less than 12 oz/340g)
- has at least 20 mm of heel stack and moderately soft cushioning for impact protection
- flexes well under the ball of the foot for jumps, planks, burpees, etc.
We use an HA durometer to measure midsole softness.
We measure all of these parameters in the lab to let you know which workout shoes are most suitable for high-impact cardio sessions: