55 best workout shoes

Updated July 2018

Based on 17,621 reviews

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A workout shoe is a type of footwear that is engineered to accommodate a wide range of training activities.

Be it a cross-training session, a circuit training, or a fitness routine, workout shoes are meant to keep the foot supported for multi-directional movements and protected during high-impact activities.

Because of their versatile nature, they are also referred to as “cross-training shoes” or “cross-trainers”.

Typical workout shoes

best workout shoes

Best workout shoes - June 2018

Workout shoes are characterized by their lightweight demeanor, a breathable upper, a sturdy yet flexible midsole, and a textured outsole.

  • Lightweight. Every person has their own idea of what is considered a lightweight shoe. On average, workout shoes weigh between 250 and 400 grams per shoe. It should be noted that the weight is influenced by the materials and technologies used as well as by the size and width of the model. Women’s versions also tend to weigh lighter than the men’s. In addition, the weight of minimalist workout shoes can go as low as 150 grams per shoe.
  • Breathable. The upper unit of a workout shoe is typically made of a breathable mesh to ensure that the foot chamber stays ventilated during an intensive workout. The midfoot is often covered by synthetic leather overlays for structure and support. Such high-wear areas as the toe box and the heel also receive extra layers of protection.
  • Low to medium drop. Workout shoes typically have a low or moderate heel-to-toe drop, or the height difference between the heel and the ball of the foot. The drop ranges from 2 to 12 mm depending on the type of activities a particular trainer caters to.
  • Firm midsole. The level of cushioning also varies from shoe to shoe. But in most cases, it is more likely to be firm than soft. Workout shoes can’t afford to have plenty of cushioning as they need to provide a stable base for side-to-side movements and weight training. But despite its firmness, the midsole of these shoes is designed to be flexible to accommodate multi-directional bending of the foot during workout sessions.
  • Grippy outsole. Workout shoes need to perform on a wide range of surfaces. Some shoes are made for indoor or studio use only while others can be worn on both indoor and outdoor surfaces. Depending on this factor, cross-trainers will offer different types of rubber and tread design on the outsole unit.

With a huge variety of workout shoes on the market, there is bound to be a pair or two that will perfectly fit the requirements of your foot and your training. While most of these shoes are versatile, some pairs are more geared for high-impact activities while others are more suitable for low-impact exercises.

Activities for which workout shoes are efficient

The versatility of workout shoes makes them a good match for a variety of fitness activities.

  • Cross training. Workout shoes are often referred to as cross-training shoes due to their capability to accommodate short-distance running, plyometrics, weight training, cycling and other types of exercises. With their moderate cushioning, lateral support, breathability, and flexibility, they serve as “Jack of all trades” for daily workout routines.
  • Gym sessions. The platform of a workout shoe is often made firm enough to keep the heel steady when it comes to lifting light and medium weights. However, it is advisable to consider weightlifting shoes if your regimen includes some serious powerlifting of Olympic lifting exercises.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT). The flex grooves and the outsole’s textured tread provides the flexibility and traction required for multi-directional movements such as rapid transitions, jumping, and cutting. The upper of a workout shoe often features a synthetic saddle or overlays or other reinforcements to keep the foot in place during lateral movements.
  • Studio fitness classes. Some workout shoes are created for indoor or studio use only. They employ a smooth rubber outsole with minimal or no treads and often a pivot point. This construction allows for easier twists and turns that are often part of a dance, cardio or aerobics class.

Why you should buy a pair of workout shoes

During a training session, you are anticipated to undertake a dynamic range of physical activities: from static movements to powerful jumps, cuts, sprints, and transitions.

Since cross-training has a diverse nature, workout shoes are engineered with versatility in mind. This footwear is potent to meet the demands of a broad range of physical activities. They can be used for gym exercises, sports practice sessions, and aerobic classes, among other athletic endeavors.

These shoes are also meant to increase physical performance and lessen the risk of injuries through the improvement of muscle strength and flexibility. Moreover, training the body aids in weight loss. On the flip side, these undertakings put a lot of stress on the lower extremities, particularly the feet. To protect yourself and avoid getting injured, wearing workout shoes is a must.

Running shoes vs. workout shoes

Don’t confuse workout shoes with running shoes. Workout shoes may seem to have a lot of physical similarities with running shoes, but there are stark differences between the two.

Running shoes are more cushioned in order to absorb shock from each footfall and support the forward heel-to-toe movements of running. On the other hand, workout shoes have a more rigid upper and firm heel to provide support for multi-directional motion and transitions that are involved in training activities.

Workout shoes are also meant to keep you sturdy while lifting weights. They feature a sturdier midsole to prevent the unwanted wobbling of the foot when pushing heavy weight up. Not only it is uncomfortable to lift in cushioned running shoes, but it can also result in all sorts of injuries.

Wearing improper shoes for training may have adverse effects. Running shoes only support forward movements, so if you use them for activities that require lateral support, you are at risk of ankle sprains. Their soft cushioning makes landing during plyometric workouts a challenging feat, increasing the possibility of ankle or knee injuries. The slender design of the running-specific underfoot platform is also the reason why it is inappropriate for weightlifting.

Conversely, workout shoes make for unsuitable apparel for long periods of running. They don’t have the necessary cushioning and heel drop to protect the foot from impact and to maintain a proper running form, putting you at risk of stress fractures and plantar fasciitis.

Things to look for in your future workout shoes

Comfort

Comfort is the number one thing that anyone looks for when it comes to any item of clothing or footwear. It is undoubtedly no different with workout shoes. During your exercise, you are expected to perform exceptional physical feats, so you would want your footwear to be the least of your worries while you’re huffing and puffing away at the gym.

  • Discomfort is not a good sign when it comes to the fit and feel of your shoes. Workout shoes are supposed to feel comfortable and sturdy the instant you put it on. If a break-in period is necessary, then it shouldn’t take too long before achieving the balance of security and comfort.
  • If it feels uncomfortable, then it might mean that the shoe doesn’t suit your size, arch, or training needs. Such occurrences can cause calluses, joint and heel pain, blisters, foot deformities, and even injuries. Working out is already challenging enough as it is. Don’t make it even more unbearable by wearing uncomfortable workout shoes. 

Durability

Workout shoes have to be durable because they undergo a massive beating during the exercise regimen. They absorb various degrees of stress throughout the entire activity, so it is only right that when you buy a pair, you have to make sure that they are built to last.

While going too cheap is a surefire way to have a shoe break down on you quickly, an expensive price tag doesn’t guarantee a shoe’s durability either. Some workout shoes are expensively priced as they were produced through partnerships with certain celebrities or higher-end brands. There are reasonably priced shoes available that are just as durable. When shopping for a new pair, find one that is made from quality materials and construction. It also might be helpful to read consumer reviews to get unbiased recommendations.

  • When shopping, you need to look out for features that make the shoe durable: overlays in the upper, sewn-in seams, and carbon or blown rubber outsole.
  • The durability of your workout shoes also depends on how you take care of them and how much you use them. To extend the shelf life of your workout shoes, keep them dry and ventilated. Avoid using them for errands and walking on pavements. It will also benefit you to have an alternate pair or two that you can use in rotation to avoid overuse.

Arch support

One of the most overlooked yet essential features of a workout shoe is the arch support. While all workout shoes provide varying degrees of lateral and heel steadiness, only select pairs can give the arch support that you need, mainly if you have unnaturally high, flat, or low arches.

High arches cause underpronation, the excessive outward rolling movement when the foot strikes the ground. The muscles and joints overcompensate to correct this which can result in discomfort or injury.

Low and flat arches cause overpronation, the extreme inward rolling motion of the foot upon landing. It lessens the foot’s natural ability to absorb shock and puts all the stress on the inner toes and knees, thus leading to bunions, calluses, runner’s knee, Achilles tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis.

  • According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, you can find out what kind of arch you have by dipping your foot in water and stepping on paper. You have a high arch if your footprint has a thin strip connecting your heel and the ball of your foot. If your footmark has an unnaturally thick shape, then most likely you have a flat or low arch. If your arch fills up half of your footprint, you’re in luck because it’s the regular shape.
  • You can also find out by checking the wear pattern on your old shoes. If the scuffing is mostly on the outer edges of the shoe, it means that you have high arches. You have low or flat arches if the worn-out areas are in the heel and the ball of the foot up to the big toe.
  • Workout shoes with stability or medial posts are recommended for those with low and flat arches. Some shoe models accommodate custom orthotics as well. As for those with high ones, they can buy workout shoes that are meant for those who have a neutral gait.

Fit

A good-fitting pair of workout shoes should be snug at the midfoot and ankle to prevent accidental shoe removals. It should also be roomy in the toe box to accommodate natural toe splaying and swelling during exercise.

Another sign of good-fitting workout shoes is their sturdiness to lessen the risk of wobbling and painfully bending your ankles. A sturdy cross-training shoe should have a broad heel section that extends past the upper to ensure that you are firmly planted on the ground. An uncomfortably narrow heel can make you feel restricted and unstable.

  • Improperly fitted workout shoes can open you up to a variety of painful toe conditions such as bunions, corns, hammer or crossover toes, ingrown toenails, sores, and blisters.
  • If you can personally test the fit of a shoe, walk across the room while wearing it. The longest of your toes and the end of the shoe should have a thumb-wide space in between them. If you can walk without your foot feeling cramped or swimming in the shoes, then it is the right fit length-wise. You also have to make sure that the workout shoes’ width is sufficient by ensuring that your toes have enough room to spread out and wiggle.

Sizing

Our feet will grow even beyond adulthood. Foot size fluctuates during the losing or gaining of weight, pregnancy (for women), and age. Other factors such as heredity or general health also affect our potential choices regarding shoe-size. So, it is important never to assume your shoe size, regardless of how long you’ve had the same measurements.

  • Each brand has a different sizing standard, so one shouldn’t expect two pairs of workout shoes of the same size from different brands to fit the same.
  • The sizing is also affected by the features that are included. If a shoe is super-cushioned or has a narrow width, it would then be snugger than usual and would require you to adjust the choice of size.
  • You also have to take into account that your feet have different sizes from one another. When buying a pair of workout shoes, it is best to base your shoe size on your larger foot.

Specific shoe technologies

Various shoe technologies are designed to support different physical activities. Research them to find out which ones will benefit you in your training regimen.

  • Be careful as some features have adverse effects on foot conditions. In particular, extra cushioned midsoles are not advised for those with overpronation because they need a mechanism that would stabilize the foot. If you have foot problems, consult with a podiatrist first to find out your requirements.
  • For those whose training regimens involve a lot of high-impact movements such as jumping, sprinting, and calisthenics, they would fare well with midsoles that have responsive and shock-absorbing attributes, foot-conforming uppers, a secure lacing system, and flex grooves.
  • Those who lift weights should look for workout shoes that have flat and dense heels and low and firm heel counters.
  • Workout shoes also have a variety of tread constructions, textures, and patterns to facilitate natural movements while still maintaining a firm grip on the ground. An example of this is the pivot point, which enables easy turning and twisting during aerobics classes and tennis matches.

Security

Due to the quick movements of cross-training exercises, workout shoes should have a textured tread made of heavy-duty rubber to enable a solid grip on the ground to avoid accidental slips and falls.

  • To accommodate sudden cuts and lateral movements, the shoe should have a solid support in the side panels and heels to prevent getting off-balance and turning your ankle too much. You can find out if a shoe has enough lateral support by holding the toe-end of the shoe firmly and twisting the heel part. If it doesn’t give, then the shoe has sufficient torsional sturdiness.
  • Loose workout shoes may hinder performance or even cause accidents. You should find a snug-fitting shoe that has a form-fitting upper, a secure lacing system, and padded tongue and collar.
  • Since your foot will be pounding the ground when running, sprinting, and jumping, your workout shoes would need a good cushioning to absorb the shock. For that reason, your shoe should have a midsole made of EVA or foam to lessen the impact and to help you propel forward and upward.

Other uses of workout shoes

Because workout shoes are extremely comfortable to wear for long periods and designed for a diverse range of activities, people sometimes choose to use them for other purposes, aside from working out.

Here are other occasions where it is normal to wear workout shoes:

Various sports

Workout shoes are also capable of keeping up with a variety of sports such as baseball, volleyball, tennis, and basketball due to the multi-directional support and traction that they provide. Although they are not specialized shoes for these activities, they are safe enough to be used from time to time.

Short runs and sprints

While workout shoes are not recommended for use during long runs, the forefoot support and flexibility of some models make them ideal for short jogging sessions.

Dancing

Since workout shoes could be used for aerobic exercises, they are also safe for similar activities such as dancing. The footwear’s cushioning, traction, and flexible forefoot grooves make them appropriate for the dance floor.

Casual walking

The more lightweight and cushioned pairs can be worn for casual walking and errand running. However, it is not the main purpose of workout shoes and prolonged contact with concrete pavement might shorten their performance and lifespan. Thus, a pair of trendy sneakers or dedicated walking shoes might be a better option for this use.

Fashion statement

Due to their trendy colorways and sleek and fashion-forward aesthetics, some workout shoes are used as part of their day-to-day fashion wardrobe, particularly those whose fashion senses lean towards the ‘athleisure’ or the mixture of athletic and lounge style.

Work shoes

Those whose professions involve being on their feet the whole day (such as nurses and sales attendants) also have a penchant for using workout shoes while on duty due to their steadiness and lightweight comfort.

Popular workout shoes

Adidas CrazyTrain Elite

The Adidas CrazyTrain Elite stands out from its competition due to the boost midsole installed in the entire length of the shoe. Previously limited to running shoes, the boost technology has been repurposed into a denser and incompressible midsole that delivers the same responsive cushioning for which it is originally known. The foam component is then concealed in a TPU bar and casing for rigid support.

Nike Air Monarch IV

As Nike’s best-selling training shoe, the Air Monarch IV is loved by fitness aficionados and sneakerheads alike. Not only is it inexpensive and stylish, but it is also a high-performance workout shoe that delivers flexibility, lightweight cushioning, and durable support.

Asics Gel Craze TR 4

The Asics Gel Craze TR 4 is an all-around workout shoe that ticks all the boxes in the list of features you’ll need in a good training shoe. Shock absorption, responsiveness, durability, and cushioning are features that are all packaged into this lightweight shoe.

FAQs

How often should workout shoes be replaced?

There is no specific shelf life for workout shoes, but it is usually recommended to get replacements every six months, especially if you’re an avid training enthusiast.  Longevity is also affected by the activity for which it is used, as well as the level of care the person gives to the shoes. You may need to replace them earlier than the prescribed period if you regularly use them for strenuous physical activities that require a lot of footwork. The time-frame may even be much sooner if you use it outside of the gym, such as running errands and walking around.

Once signs of advanced or extreme wear and tear show, it is advised that you replace your pair immediately as it means that they are no longer providing the support and protection that your feet need during training. Aside from visible breakdown signs (such as tears and holes on the upper), you should also pay close attention to the following:

  • Worn out tread
  • Cracked or uneven heels
  • Compressed midsole and diminished cushioning

Can I work out barefoot?

It is normal to be barefoot when practicing yoga or Pilates. What is out of the ordinary is seeing people lifting weights and working out sans shoes, but there are some who do that.

Barefoot exercising is believed to strengthen lower extremities as they are forced to work harder as opposed to training while wearing shoes. Years of wearing shoes have made our feet more tolerant of cushioning systems, so most of us have developed a dependence on the support of underfoot platforms.

Being barefoot is a way of going back to our original roots. This practice allows for better proprioception which enhances weightlifting form and performance.

Although it has a lot of benefits, barefoot exercising also has a lot of negative aspects. You can’t exactly jump into it immediately if you’ve been wearing training shoes for years. You have to start by wearing flat-heeled shoes first, such as minimalist workout shoes.

It is also unhygienic and unsafe to go barefoot in a gym. Some gyms require its members to wear proper footwear while working out. There is also the risk of getting weights dropped on your feet, so wearing shoes can certainly lessen the impact of such an occurrence. So if you must go barefoot, it should be while working out at home or during yoga or Pilates classes in the gym.

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