7 Best Workout Shoes in 2024

Nicholas Rizzo
Nicholas Rizzo on
7 Best Workout Shoes in 2024
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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

What makes it the best?

Calling the Free Metcon 5 the best workout shoe is still not praising it well enough! After working out in it many times and testing it in the lab, we can say that the Free Metcon 5 has versatility at its core. It is exceptionally flexible, so exercises like box jumps and planks are a piece of cake. It provided us with immense stability, so we were never at a loss when we did squats and overhead snatches. And it was able to compress quite well, especially under the heel, so we never felt any pain even if we prolonged our workouts. 

The digital force gauge in our lab showed that the Nike Free Metcon 5 only needed 8.8N to do a 90-degree bend. This is not even half of the 22.5N that a typical trainer would need. Given these numbers, saying that this shoe is insanely flexible still sounds like an understatement.

The base of this shoe was fairly wide, especially in the heel area. Compared to the 87.0 mm average, the heel area of the Free Metcon 5 is much wider at 95.1 mm. Even if we were fidgety, there was just no way that our feet would ever slip off the footbed.

Impact protection was also an aspect that this shoe aced. Using an HA durometer, we learned that the midsole is much softer than average, 17.4 against 27.0. No wonder our landings were never painful, no matter how harsh or aggressive our vertical movements had been.

It’s just too regretful that the upper did not make such a good impression on us when we performed the standard Dremel test on it. Twelve seconds of drilling, unfortunately, left considerable damage.

Pros

  • Impressively stable
  • Noteworthy ankle support
  • Awesomely close-fitting
  • Roomy toebox
  • Nice and airy upper
  • Comfortable for all-day wear
  • Quite cushiony
  • Notably lightweight
  • Exceptionally flexible
  • Stylish design and overall look

Cons

  • Not for long runs (2-3 miles max)
  • Upper lacks durability
Full review of Nike Free Metcon 5

Workout shoes with the best comfort

Reebok Nano X3
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What makes it the best?

The Reebok Nano X3 is our best pick for comfort because it delivered a good deal of breathability and a soft feeling underfoot during our test workouts. What makes this shoe even more amazing is that it is effectively resistant to abrasion!

Smoke that was pumped into the shoe escaped through the upper material easily and quickly when we did our breathability test in the lab. In the gym, this shoe’s airiness kept our feet dry and comfortable. We scored this shoe a 4 out of 5 for ventilation.

The midsole tooling right under the heel felt really soft. When we assessed it using an HA durometer, we learned that the heel cushion is actually 24% softer than the average. No wonder we felt like walking on clouds when we wore the Nano X3 in the gym.

Aside from going through a breathability assessment, the upper was also subjected to a Dremel test for durability. After 12 seconds of high-pressure drilling, our tool did not even make a significant mark on the upper. Clearly, the upper’s breathability did not in any way compromise its sturdiness.

A downside of the Reebok Nano X3 is its weight. At 12.4 oz or 352g, this workout shoe is heavier than the 11.2 oz or 317g average. Gym rats who want shoes with a ‘barely there’ feel won’t be too excited about this one.

Pros

  • Awesome fit
  • Extremely comfortable upper
  • Cloud-like cushioning
  • Good stability for moderate lifting
  • Nice bounce for jumps
  • Great for rope climbing
  • Scene-stealing appearance

Cons

  • Break-in needed
  • Heavier than average
  • Not for heavier weightlifting
Full review of Reebok Nano X3

Best workout shoes for speed

What makes it the best?

The Nike Zoom Metcon Turbo 2 is our pick for the best workout shoe for speed, with its responsive and bouncy midsole adding some much-needed pop. And upon testing the shoe in the gym and the lab, we still found the shoe to be plenty stable and durable enough to withstand speed workouts with ease.

The Metcon Turbo 2 has the enjoyable springiness that is notably absent in workout shoes. The Zoom Air unit in the forefoot is responsible for bringing that bounce to our step, which sure comes in handy when we want to go for all-out speed.

This shoe doesn't sacrifice speed for stability, either. It is 2.2 mm and 2.6 mm wider than average in the forefoot and heel, respectively, which provides a wide and secure landing platform for sprints and other fast runs.

And the outsole is more than capable of withstanding a heavy pounding during our speed-oriented workouts, whether it’s in the gym or even outdoors. Our durometer measured it as being 2.5% harder than the average training shoe, and it is also 17.5% thicker.

Unfortunately, the shoe's upper is not quite as tough. We found its toebox durability, in particular, to be wanting as the Dremel did enough destruction to warrant the lowest score of 1 out of 5 in our durability test.

Pros

  • Bouncy Zoom Air in the forefoot
  • Good for short runs
  • Perfect for jumps and aerobics
  • Stable for moderate lifting
  • Excellent flexibility
  • Amazingly breathable
  • Durable outsole

Cons

  • Upper is not durable rope climbing
  • Heavy for a "speed-oriented" trainer
Full review of Nike Zoom Metcon Turbo 2

Best minimalist workout shoes

What makes it the best?

The Nike Flex Control 4 is “less is more” in every respect. That’s why it truly deserves to be hailed as the best minimalist among all workout shoes. Of particular note are: its pretty light structure, minimal tongue, and low-profile midsole that offers just the right amount of the important stuff.

Weighing only 9.8 oz or 277g, this shoe is considerably lighter than the typical workout shoe that weighs 11.2 oz or 317g based on our data. Because it doesn’t feel like a brick on our feet, we were able to run faster and jump higher while wearing the Flex Control 4.

The insides of the shoe are padded just enough to ensure a comfortable fit. We particularly mention the tongue, which our lab caliper measured to be only 4.3 mm thick when the average is 5.8 mm. It was just enough to get rid of pressure and chafing, and it never felt too much on top of the foot.

The Flex Control 4 had one of the most low-to-the-ground midsoles we’ve ever tried. With stack heights of 19.0 mm at the heel and 15.6 at the forefoot, this whole structure is thinner by a whooping 5.6 mm and 2.7 mm than the average. Mind you, this cushion delivered so much quick-footedness and was still enough to provide impact protection whenever needed.

We noticed, however, that this shoe isn’t for heavier weightlifting. We observed that our toes got pushed forward during heavy lifts, and it was to the point that the friction with the forefoot became too uncomfortable and distracting.

Pros

  • Comfortable in-shoe feel
  • Lighter than average
  • Very flexible
  • Foot feels planted
  • Budget-friendly
  • Good grip
  • Simple aesthetics
  • True to size

Cons

  • Durability issues
  • Not for serious workouts
Full review of Nike Flex Control 4

Best outdoor workout shoes

What makes it the best?

We consider the Reebok Nano X2 TR Adventure as the best for outdoor workouts simply because outdoor use is in its DNA. Besides having an impressively durable upper, its outsole sports a lugged design that made it suitable for uneven outdoor surfaces. Both the outsole and midsole are firmer than average, giving the shoe a bit of advantage when it comes to not letting us feel the tiny abrasiveness of the debris that we stepped on.

We liked it so much that our Dremel test ended up just like a joke for the Nano X2 TR Adventure. Twelve seconds of abrasive drilling only left a scratch where other shoes would already suffer a serious hole. 

The lugged design of the outsole surely helped us maintain balance and grip when there were pebbles and other debris on the surface that we were working out on. Not only were we able to focus more on our exercises, but we also felt safe wearing this shoe because of how the outsole is configured.

Our lab assessments confirmed the firmness that we felt when touching the outsole. Our HC durometer revealed an 85.5 when the average is only 84.4. We couldn’t feel the roughness of some outdoor surfaces because of the firmness of the outsole and that of the midsole. The lab’s HA durometer scored the midsole a solid 32.0 when the average is only 27.0.

The shoe’s upper, however, only got a score of 2 out 5 for ventilation from us. It didn’t do well in both of our breathability assessments. Both light and smoke couldn’t pass through the upper material.

Pros

  • Extremely durable for the outdoors
  • Dependable outdoor traction
  • Comfortable upper
  • Reliably protective
  • Functional versatility
  • Great support
  • True-to-size fit
  • Has reflective components

Cons

  • Not for niche exercises
  • Clunky and heavy
Full review of Reebok Nano X2 TR Adventure

Best budget workout shoes

What makes it the best?

The Nike Legend Essential 3 is yours for only $65, which is 28.5% lower than the $91 average price of workout shoes in the market today. But price is not the only thing that’s low with this trainer. The Legend Essential 3 from Nike weighs only 8.78 oz or 249g, which is a lot lighter than the 11.18 oz or 317g average. Shedding that much weight is already an amazing feat, but this shoe gained the most value among all workout shoes in our eyes because it delivered a good deal of breathability and a lot of space to accommodate wide feet.

In the lab, we saw that the smoke that we pumped into the shoe escaped quite easily through the upper material. In terms of ventilation, the Legend Essential 3 got a score of 4 out of 5 from us. 

We also loved the fact that the toebox offered a lot of space that the wide-footers among us never had an issue with fit. Using a caliper, we learned that the toebox is 104.1 mm wide, and this is way higher than the 100.5 mm average.

After our test workouts, we also manually squeezed and pulled on the heel counter to test its stiffness. On a five-point scale where 5 means the stiffest, we gave this shoe a 2. Because of the flimsiness of the heel counter, we do not recommend the Legend Essential 3 to gym addicts who lift heavy and are in need of immense support.

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Super lightweight
  • Breathable upper
  • Enough cushioning for jumps
  • Wide platform
  • Flexible
  • Good grip

Cons

  • Lacks durability
  • Not for heavy lifting
Full review of Nike Legend Essential 3

Best workout shoes for weightlifting

Nike Metcon 9
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What makes it the best?

We worked out using over a hundred trainers in search of the best weightlifting shoe, and it’s none other than the Nike Metcon 9. Our lab results reassure it provides steady footing, good lockdown, and reliable grip to handle our repetitive lifts. It's a solid foundation that helps us power through punishing workouts.

While doing our lifts, we don’t find ourselves looking for the typical raised heel that weightlifting shoes have. We feel the platform is wide and supportive enough to handle heavy squats, snatches, and Olympic lifts. Our caliper shows a wider-than-average 116.9/95.0 mm forefoot and heel. The 108.0 mm toebox gives a lot of room for natural toe splay, maintaining our balance with every rep.

The steady platform is supported by rigid sidewalls that dominate a strong foothold, ensuring we’re always centered and planted to the ground. When lifting heavier loads, we’re confident with the base since the non-compressible Hyperlift plastic under the heel offers extra support.

Further enhancing stability is the outsole’s reliable traction that grips onto mats and glossy gym floors. All these improve our control to strengthen the right muscle groups and avoid injuries.

Unfortunately, wearing the Metcon 9 feels like having weights on our feet too. At 13.3 oz (378g), it’s significantly heavier than the 11.2 oz (318g) average.

Pros

  • Exceptionally stable for weightlifting
  • One of the most durable cross-trainers
  • The best shoe for rope climbs
  • Reliable foot containment
  • Very comfortable in-shoe feel
  • Nice grip on gym floors
  • Accommodates wide feet (finally!)
  • Surprisingly flexible

Cons

  • Heavier than average (and previous Metcons)
  • Not great for cardio workouts and rope jumps
  • So-so breathability
Full review of Nike Metcon 9

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.

reebok-nano-x3-lifting.JPG

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.

nike-free-metcon-5-heel-stack.JPG

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.

New Balance Minimus TR Heel stack

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.

Nike Zoom SuperRep 4 Heel Stack

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.

reebok-nano-x3-inside.JPG

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.

Nike Metcon 9 Drop

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.

Nobull-trainer-cut-in-half

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.

nike-free-metcon-5-plank.JPG

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.

nike-free-metcon-5-heel-width.JPG

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.

Adidas Dropset 2 microscope

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.

Nike Metcon 9 laces

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.

Nike Metcon 9 Toebox width at the widest part

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.

Nike Metcon 9 Toebox width at the big toe

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.

New Balance Minimus TR heel stack

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.

nike-free-metcon-5-cushioning-softness-durometer-inner-foam.JPG

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:

Author
Nicholas Rizzo
Nicholas Rizzo
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.