23 best Nike workout shoes

Based on reviews from 20 experts and 8,672 users. Learn how our rankings work or see our guide to Nike workout shoes. Updated Dec 2018.

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Nike workout shoes are crafted with versatility in mind. They cater to the men and women who are looking for a do-it-all training companion. These trainers are meant to cope with:

  • high-impact workouts
  • gym sessions
  • studio fitness classes

That’s why they are constructed to be lightweight and flexible, render lateral stability, have a low-profile midsole, and employ a grippy outsole.

The origins of Nike workout shoes

best Nike workout shoes

Best Nike workout shoes - November 2018

The leading sportswear manufacturers have always kept their ear to the ground in order to keep up with the newest trends in training and fitness regimens. In the 1980s, Nike became the first brand to address the rapidly growing popularity of aerobic classes, full-body workouts, and cross-training. 

The idea of creating one pair of Nike workout shoes which would combine the functionality of several trainers belongs to Tinker Hatfield, a Nike footwear designer and a former architect. He noticed that athletes at the time had to carry up to five pairs of shoes to accommodate their sessions in aerobics, basketball, racquet sports, weightlifting, and jogging. Another problem was that some people used running shoes for the activities they were never intended for, risking to have pain and injuries.

In 1987, the company introduced the first pair of Nike workout shoes, the Air Trainer 1. Designed by Hatfield, it was ready to serve as an all-in-one trainer for playing, running, and lifting weights. It also featured the brand’s renowned Air Sole cushioning unit. The shoe was enthusiastically acclaimed by tennis star John McEnroe, baseball and American football player Bo Jackson, among many other sports celebrities. In 2018, Nike released an update to pay tribute to the retro version while offering the best of its performance, the Nike Air Max Trainer 1

Ever since the success of the original Air Trainer 1 in the late 1980s, the company continued to experiment with designs and technologies to provide athletes with the best possible training footwear. Today, you can benefit from a wide choice of Nike workout shoes for various tastes and demands.

What to consider when buying a pair of Nike workout shoes

Cushioning system

The layer of padding between your foot and the ground has a considerable influence on your training experience. Its density, responsiveness, weight, and flexibility must resonate with your specific needs and preferences. Nike workout shoes have gone through several decades of transformation and are now offered in a range of different cushioning systems. Each of them is explained in the sections below.

Nike Air - “an air pocket inside the sole”

This technology is comprised of resilient PU (polyurethane) capsules filled with special inert gas. Depending on the model, these capsules are located under the heel, the forefoot, or make up a full-length unit.

Such Air Soles help in reducing the weight of the shoe while still providing a durable and responsive cushioning. The airbags compress upon impact but quickly return to their original shape, ready for the next step.   

The creation of this technology revolutionized the way people imagined what shoe cushioning should be like. It was the brainchild of an American aerospace technology specialist Frank Rudy. He came to Nike in 1977 with a seemingly bizarre idea: to insert a pocket filled with gas into a shoe sole. But the company management was open-minded enough to give it a go, which resulted in a whole Nike Air line of footwear. It was originally used to make running shoes for competitive track athletes but was carried over to Nike workout shoes at the end of 1980s.  

Example: Nike Air Monarch IV (a full-length Air Sole unit)

 

Nike Air Max - “an even bigger air pocket inside the sole which you can see”

The Air Max unit is based on the same principle as the original Air. It still features sturdy gas-filled PU bags but increases their volume in place of heavier midsole materials. Instead of covering separate parts of a shoe, it forms a full-length cushioning unit. This alteration makes the shoe sole even more lightweight but still abrasion-resistant and capable of attenuating shock from repetitive landings.

Another novelty of the Air Max is that the air pocket has become visible in the heel section. This eye-catching update adds a stylish and futuristic touch to a pair of Nike workout shoes.

Examples: Nike Air Max Full Ride TR 1.5, Nike Air Bella TR, Nike Air Max Trainer 1, Nike Air Max Alpha Trainer

 

Nike Zoom - “thinner air pockets with springy fibers”

The Nike Zoom cushioning belongs to the Air family and inherits its predecessors’ tough airbags. It is still designed to be lightweight and durable but its air units have been made significantly thinner. The manufacturer also placed tightly stretched fibers inside the Zoom air capsules. These fibers squeeze and bounce back immediately to ensure a responsive ride. 

Such construction delivers a closer-to-the-ground underfoot experience which provides enhanced surface contact and maneuverability. That’s why this technology is so widely used in Nike basketball shoes and basketball-inspired Nike sneakers.

Plenty of Nike workout shoes also benefit from the way Zoom allows to make quick multi-directional movements and doesn’t weigh the foot down. The low-to-the-ground positioning also contributes to the platform stability.

Examples: Nike Zoom Train Command, Nike Air Zoom Fearless Flyknit 2, Jordan Trainer 3, Nike Air Zoom Elevate

 

Nike Free - “soles for barefoot-like experience”

First introduced in 2004, the Nike Free technology fuses the midsole and the outsole into a single lightweight and highly flexible unit. It features deeply segmented flex grooves which were designed based on a few years of studying the way athletes train barefoot.

Nike workout shoes with the Free sole have minimal cushioning and induce the muscles of the foot to perform in a more natural way. This type of shoes is popular among minimalist training aficionados who want to receive the benefits of barefoot training while keeping their feet protected from the hazards.

Examples: Nike Free TR 8, Nike Free TR V8, Nike Flex TR 8, Nike Free TR Flyknit 3

 

Lunarlon - “pillowy-soft yet rubber-ball bouncy”

Inspired by the bouncy walk of astronauts in space, Nike designers wanted to recreate this motion in a plush yet responsive shoe midsole. As a result, the Lunarlon saw the world in 2005, featuring a soft yet bouncy foam encapsulated inside a firmer, supportive Phylon foam.

Nike workout shoes with the Lunarlon are 30 percent more lightweight than the ones with a Phylon of EVA foam. This compound also distributes the impact more evenly throughout the platform, protecting the foot and lower extremities from excessive shock.

Examples: Nike Lunar Fingertrap TR, Nike Lunar Prime Iron II

Outsole

Nike workout shoes can be roughly divided into two categories: those with rubber lining and the Nike Free soles.

Rubber lining

  • The bottom of most Nike workout shoes is lined with durable rubber. Its grippy nature ensures that the platform receives traction on gym floors.
  • The rubber is claimed to be non-marking which means that it doesn’t scuff or mark polished surfaces.
  • Some of the models also feature a pivot point on the ball of the foot. It accommodates quick twists and turns on indoor surfaces.
  • These Nike workouts shoes employ various patterns of flex grooves, using both vertical and horizontal ones. They are strategically placed throughout the outsole to allow natural foot bending.

Nike Free soles

  • The midsole unit of these Nike workout shoes doubles as the outsole. Their bottom has deep triangular cuts which form the proprietary Tri-Star pattern. It allows the unit to expand in any direction, providing the foot with enhanced freedom of movement.
  • The rubber pods are usually added in the forefoot and the heel sections of the Nike Free outsole. They help in keeping the platform safe from abrasion and contribute to its traction capability.

Upper

Nike workout shoes are offered in a wide range of materials and different combinations of these materials. As a rule, one model uses multiple components to create a comfortable and functional foot coverage.

Leather

It is the least pliable yet most supportive material which gives the foot a snug embrace. It usually has perforations to keep the insides aerated.

Mesh

This fabric is more lightweight and breathable than leather and comes in a wide array of styles. It can be tightly-woven or have large ventilation pores. It also differs in thickness and softness. Finally, some mesh uppers are designed with the help of 3D printing. But they all basically aim to give a sock-like foothold.

Flyknit

So far, it is considered Nike’s most lightweight and form-fitting upper material. Its one-piece, seamless construction is meant to create the feeling of a second skin. According to the brand, yarn and knit structures of the Flyknit are placed with careful precision, only where they are most needed to reduce excessive weight and bulk of the Nike workout shoes.

Reinforcements

  • Flywire. This patented technology, either embedded or visible, is found on nearly all Nike workout shoes. It is comprised of multiple thin yet robust Vectran fiber filaments that stretch from the outsole to the instep. They lock the foot securely in place, eliminating unwanted foot sliding during side-to-side movements. Being five times stronger than steel, the Flywire cables are barely noticeable on foot.
  • PU overlays. Polyurethane overlays are often found on Nike workout shoes with mesh uppers. They protect the material on the toe box, at the heel, and around the eyelets where abrasion is most likely to occur.
  • TPU side panels. A few trainers make use of lightweight yet sturdy thermoplastic polyurethane panels on the lateral and medial sides. They contribute to the foot stability as the wearer makes quick transitions throughout the workout.

Size and fit

Nike workout shoes come in a broad array of full and half-sizes to suit individual length measurements of each athlete. The official Nike website offers a Size Guide tool to help online purchasers in choosing the correct size. It features a step-by-step instruction on measuring your foot length and converting the inches or centimeters into the corresponding shoe size.

Widthwise, all Nike workout shoes are available in a standard D - Medium profile for men and in a B - Medium width for women. However, some of the models also cater to people with wider foot dimensions.

Price

The majority of Nike workout shoes are offered within the range of $80 to $120 per pair. These trainers feature the brand’s acclaimed technologies and generally prove themselves to be well-crafted, comfortable, supportive, and long-lasting.   

But keep in mind, that a few months after their release, Nike workout shoes can be found at a discounted price in many online retail shops. Here at RunRepeat we keep an eye on the sales from more than 200 retailers to help you find the best shoe at the best price. Just click on the model that interests you and check out the list of discounted prices on the right.

Frequently asked questions

Can I run in Nike workout shoes?

Typically, workout shoes from Nike are made with the same cushioning technologies as their running shoes. That’s why they can be used for jogging and short-distance running. However, they are not recommended as dedicated running shoes because they are constructed for a different type of movement. Nike workout shoes typically have firmer and more low-profile midsoles than running shoes to help the foot stay stable during multi-directional movements and weight training. That’s why its cushioning is not meant to withstand constant impact of heel striking.

Can I do CrossFit in Nike workout shoes?

If your main workout regimen is CrossFit, we recommend that you take a look at the dedicated Nike CrossFit shoes or similar shoes from other brands. Regular Nike workout shoes are not designed with sufficient sole stability for weightlifting or protection for rope climbs. They are also not meant for serious weightlifting sessions; so, a shoe like Nike Romaleos 3 or analogous weightlifting trainers will be a better option for squats, snatches, and other lifting exercises.  

What are the most popular Nike workout shoes?

One of the most well-liked and iconic models is the unisex Nike Air Monarch IV, which was praised extensively for its comfortable fit. It was also lauded as a well-built and durable all-around trainer. The fact that it came in an Extra Wide (4E) option also pleased the wearers.

Another acclaimed pair of Nike workout shoes is the men’s Nike Free Trainer v7. It was loved for its comfortable, lightweight and flexible construction as well as a snug and supportive fit.

Among women’s models, the Nike Free TR 8 is one of the favorites. Its versatility, comfortable fit and lightweight nature helped many female athletes achieve their training goals.

Do Nike workout shoes come with a warranty?

As one of the leading sportswear companies, Nike guarantees the quality of its products. However, in an undesirable case of material or workmanship flaw, they recommend directly contacting the place where the pair was purchased. Also, check the label or the warranty card on your specific pair of Nike workout shoes to find the guidelines for return.

How to take care of Nike workout shoes?

Even though Nike workout shoes are generally used indoors, there is still a chance of getting them dirty. Here are a few simple rules that you can follow to help you trainers serve longer:

  • Clean the shoes as soon as they get exposed to dirt; use a soft-bristled brush first.
  • Prepare a mixture of warm water and a handful of laundry detergent; apply it to the trainer with the help of a soft brush, a piece of cloth, or a sponge.
  • Use another brush, cloth, or sponge to remove the excess detergent with warm water.
  • Let the shoes get dry naturally at room temperature.
  • If the trainer has a removable insole, take it out and wash it the same way; let it dry completely before putting it back.
  • Do NOT use a washing machine or a dryer to wash your Nike workout shoes as they can easily damage the components which hold parts of the footwear together.
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