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”.
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. That’s why workout shoes are engineered with versatility in mind.
These shoes are also meant to increase physical performance and lessen the risk of injuries through the improvement of muscle strength and flexibility. 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 dedicated workout shoes is a must.
Best uses of workout shoes
The versatility of cross-trainers makes them a good match for a wide variety of fitness exercises. Below are some of the most common activities that can be handled by these shoes.
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 “Jacks-of-all-trades” for daily workout routines. However, not all workout shoes are capable of withstanding the rigors of a CrossFit workout. So, if you’re getting serious about doing WODs, you might want to take a look at more specialized CrossFit shoes.
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 or 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.
What to expect from the best workout shoes
Just like any other training footwear, workout shoes are constructed with certain types of activities in mind which determines their design and characteristics. These trainers are typically recognized by their lightweight demeanor, a breathable upper, a sturdy yet flexible midsole, and a grippy outsole.
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 but, for the most part, they do not exceed 300 grams per shoe. It should be noted that the weight is directly 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 trainers can go as low as 150 grams per shoe.
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.
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.
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.
Running shoes vs. workout shoes
It is quite common for people to confuse workout footwear with running shoes. Even though these types of shoes may seem to have a lot of physical similarities, there are stark differences between the two.
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. 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.
Running shoes are created to be 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 firmer sole to provide support for multi-directional motions and transitions that are involved in training activities.
Workout shoes are also meant to keep you steady while lifting weights. They feature a sturdier midsole to prevent the unwanted wobbling of the foot when a heavy weight is being pushed up. Using cushioned running shoes for weightlifting is not only uncomfortable, but it can also result in all sorts of injuries. The slender design of the running-specific underfoot platform is also the reason why it is inappropriate for weightlifting.
Things to look for in men's and women's workout shoes
With such 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.
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 them 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.
A training session involves numerous directional changes and quick movements which challenge your footwear to be very responsive to your decisions. A perfect trainer should be able to provide 360-degree support to your foot without having you notice that you wear something on your feet.
To accommodate sudden cuts and lateral movements, the shoe should have 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 ample cushioning to absorb the shock. At the same time, the shoe’s platform should not feel too plush, making your feet wobble during side-to-side movements or absorbing all the energy you generate before lifting heavy weights. The right level of firmness will provide you with a balance of cushioning and stability. You may also choose a trainer with a lower heel-to-toe drop to feel more grounded and in control of your movement or shoes with a higher drop for more heel padding.
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.
A well-fitting pair of workout shoes should be snug at the midfoot and the 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 the right fit is the shoe’s sturdiness which lessens the risk of wobbling and painfully bending your ankles.
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. If most of the Medium-width trainers fail to accommodate the dimensions of your foot, there is a good chance that you need a pair of Wide or Extra Wide workout shoes.
Our feet will grow even beyond adulthood. Foot size fluctuates when we lose or gain weight, during pregnancy, and with age. Other factors such as heredity or general health also affect our potential choices regarding shoe-size. So, it is important to never 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 one foot tends to be longer than the other. Thus, it is best to base your shoe size on your larger foot.
Even though all workout shoes share the same basic features, they still vary in some of their attributes. Here are a few tips on how to tell which ones will benefit you in your training regimen.
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.
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.
Frequently asked questions
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 or 80 - 100 hours of training sessions, 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
What else can I use workout shoes for?
Because workout shoes are 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:
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 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.
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.
15 best workout shoes
Puma Tazon 6 FM
New Balance 517
Nike Free TR V8
Skechers Flex Advantage 2.0 - The Happs
Puma Ignite Flash evoKNIT
Nike Free TR 8
Skechers Stamina - Cutback
New Balance 608 v5
Nike Air Max Alpha Trainer
Nike Zoom Domination TR 2
Puma Cell Surin 2 FM
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Trainer
Nike Lunar Fingertrap TR
Nike Air Monarch IV
Nick is a powerlifter who believes cardio comes in the form of more heavy ass squats. Based on over 1.5 million lifts done at competitions, his PRs place him as an elite level powerlifter. 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 Forbes, Bodybuilding.com, Elite Daily and the like. Collaborating along the way with industry leaders like Michael Yessis, Mark Rippetoe, Carlo Buzzichelli, Dave Tate, Ray Williams, and Joel Seedman.
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