7 Best Gym Shoes in 2024

Nicholas Rizzo
Nicholas Rizzo on
7 Best Gym Shoes in 2024
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If you take your workouts seriously, you simply cannot afford to compromise when it comes to your gym shoes. Wearing the wrong shoes not only impedes your performance but also increases your chance of injury.

You need a gym shoe that’s targeted to the type of workout routine you’ll be doing.

Having tested gym shoes from a dozen acclaimed brands, we are here to help you pick the perfect pair for whatever workout routines you have on your calendar. Check out our top picks in seven different categories.

How we test training shoes

Identifying the gym shoes that truly deliver genuine value requires a serious data-driven selection process. That means spending hours of wear testing the shoes for specific workout routines. We also check and analyse the materials or technologies used in the shoes.

To ensure the 100% objectivity of our assessment, we perform the following:

  • Buy the shoes using our own money for wear tests.
  • Make an in-depth review of the shoes that we’ve tested ourselves. We wear the shoes going to the gym and executing actual workouts such as lifting weights, skipping rope, squatting, or running on the treadmill. Okay, you get the idea: we base all our reviews on real-life performance tests that include CrossFit workout sessions.
  • Finally, we subject the shoes to various lab tests for us to bring you the shoes' features and functions that are concluded from the lab results.

In the end, after writing the qualitative descriptions of each shoe, we feature our favourite picks in various categories.

Best gym shoes overall

Reebok Nano X4
84
Good!

What makes it the best?

Balancing comfort and support exceptionally well is the Reebok Nano X4, making it our ultimate gym shoe among trainers we tried and lab-tested. It delivers high performance across the board and seamlessly transitions from lifting to HIIT workouts. Wrapping up a pleasant experience is the immensely breathable Flexweave upper.

On foot, the shoe gives a good feel of the ground for agility and delivers impact protection for repetitive jumps. Our cut-in-half shoe reveals a softer cushioning under the heel for gentler and pain-free landings—its 27.0 HA durometer reading is 10.0% softer than the main midsole. 

The Nano X4 empowered us to tackle any workout, from static lifts to dynamic lunges and burpees, with unparalleled freedom of movement and secure foot containment. Flexible and stiff in the right places, it conforms to natural foot movement while providing essential stability. Lab tests confirmed its impressive stiffness, scoring 4/5 for both heel counter and torsional rigidity.

Keeping intense sessions more bearable is the well-ventilated upper that scored a well-deserved 4/5 on our breathability test. Our feet always remained dry even after heated indoor sessions, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable workout.

However, its versatility means it lacks the extra support needed for Olympic lifting and more serious running. Those in niche training should invest in more supportive shoes for their sport.

Pros

  • Fantastic wear resistance
  • Great balance of cushioning and stability
  • Feels grounded and supportive
  • Secure foot lockdown
  • A fully-gusseted tongue (finally)
  • Nice breathability
  • Lighter than the X3
  • Great grip on gym floors

Cons

  • Not for heavy lifting
  • Not for wide feet
Full review of Reebok Nano X4

Best gym shoes for HIIT

What makes it the best?

As its name suggests, we felt free to move, bend, and twist our feet during our workouts with the Nike Free Metcon 5. It’s impressively lightweight and flexible, giving us the agility to perform various exercises with ease. Backed up by lab tests, it’s our best gym shoe for HIIT.

From planks to lunges, Free Metcon 5 flowed seamlessly with our natural foot flexions. Our bend test reveals it's 54.4% more flexible than the average training shoe! The shoe also features deep cutouts throughout the outsole, giving more room to bend freely. It’s no surprise we felt very versatile in this trainer.

Even for movements and stretches that require twisting the feet, Free Metcon 5 showed no resistance. In our manual assessment, we awarded it the lowest torsional rigidity score of 1/5. Despite this, we still felt planted to the ground due to the shoe’s midsole walls and wide heel boosting our stability.

What also allowed us to pick up our speed while performing exercises is its light weight of 10.5 oz (298g). We jumped and did burpees with ease since this pair didn’t weigh us down at all.

However, we don’t recommend this shoe for long runs because its design feels too clunky.

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

Best gym shoes for Crossfit

Nike Metcon 9
80
Good!

What makes it the best?

We tested the best gym shoes in and out of the lab and found Nike Metcon 9 the best for CrossFit. We repeated bursts of lifts, squats, and jumps AMRAP (as many rounds as possible). Metcon 9 powered through with its supportive base, flexible structure, and reliable traction.

Among all our WOD exercises, we’re most confident in weightlifting. From split jerks to snatches, Metcon's wide and sturdy base keeps us planted to the ground. Upon checking with our calliper, we have a vast 116.9/95.0 mm platform. This large contact area with the surface stabilises our form. Our toes can splay naturally, while the raised sidewalls ensure stability. We can’t help but notice the extra support given by the non-compressible Hyperlift under the heel — giving us the balance we need for all types of lifts.

Metcon 9 shows it's versatile enough as we feel comfortable and stable during box jumps, wall balls, lunges, and other plyometrics. It also delivers excellent traction on our rope climbs and sprints around the box. We remain in control since the midsole is unresisting. Our bend test confirms it’s 15.0% more flexible than the average trainer.

The padded upper feels protective and soft to the touch. Yet, unfortunately, it feels too stuffy for humid indoor sessions. Metcon 9 works best in cool weather.

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

Best gym shoes for weightlifting

Nike Romaleos 4
92
Superb!

What makes it the best?

Out of all the gym shoes that we worked out in, it was the Romaleos 4 from Nike that helped us the most during weightlifting. It had quite a supportive fit care of the thick tongue and its two-strap design. This shoe also had a wide base that surely helped with stability. We were also impressed by the stiffness of the heel counter, making it quite effective in locking down the rear foot.

Compared to the 5.6 mm average, the padding in the tongue of the Romaleos 4 is a bit thicker at 7.4 mm. Together with the two in the midfoot, the thick tongue contributed to a comfortably snug fit.

Our calliper measurements in the lab revealed that the midsole platform is 111.5 mm wide at the forefoot while it is 91.3 mm wide at the heel. Given these figures, the Romaleos 4’s midsole is therefore 4.4 mm and 4.2 mm wider than average.

The heel counter felt quite dependable no matter how heavy the plates that we cleaned and jerked with. We did a manual assessment on it in the lab through squeezing, and the heel counter easily got a perfect 5 for stiffness.

We were a bit disappointed with the results of our smoke test for breathability. We saw how challenging it was for smoke to pass through the upper material. Hence, this shoe only got a 2 out of 5 for ventilation.

Pros

  • Phenomenal stability
  • Sturdy platform and sole
  • Better lockdown with two straps
  • Comfortable for a lifting shoe
  • True to size
  • Efficient traction
  • Appealing looks

Cons

  • Upper lacks durability
  • Not for narrow ankles
  • Not breathable
Full review of Nike Romaleos 4

Best gym shoes for speed

What makes it the best?

We hoist the Nike Zoom Metcon Turbo 2 as the speediest gym shoe in our arsenal simply because of its amazing speed-oriented design. Aside from having a low-to-the-ground profile, this shoe also had a fairly stable platform. We also commend its cushioning system for keeping us pain-free throughout our runs.

Through our calliper measurements, we learned that the midsole is thinner than average by 1.7 mm at the heel and 3.1 mm at the forefoot. Having the midsole this way allowed us to feel the gym floors more, increasing our surefootedness and making it easier to accelerate. 

Stability was another highlight of this shoe. Our calliper showed the platform to be 112.0 mm (ave 109.6 mm) wide at the forefoot and 88.9 mm (ave 87.0 mm) at the heel. This setup afforded our feet more surface area, which was very useful not only when we ran but also when we started lifting light to moderate weights.

Running can be quite harsh on the feet, but we didn’t have to worry because the cushioning was so soft it was able to keep pain at bay all throughout our sessions. Using an HA durometer, we learned that the cushion is indeed softer than average, 22.4 against 27.0. 

It’s just too bad that the Zoom Metcon Turbo 2 is not the sturdiest shoe out there. Quite on the contrary, this shoe only got a 1 out of 5 from us after we performed our standard Dremel test for durability on it.

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 gym shoes

What makes it the best?

Among all the minimalist shoes we’ve tried, the Minimus TR from New Balance was surely the best. Besides its lightness, this trainer also provided a lot of ground feel, which allowed us to be more in control. The shoe’s flexibility which allowed us to move more easily also deserves an honourable mention.

The moment we wore the New Balance Minimus TR, we already admired its lightness. The weighing scale in the lab confirmed our observation when it reported that this shoe weighed only 7.3 ounces or 207 grammes, which is lighter than the 10.83 ounces or 307 grammes average.

Readings from our digital calliper revealed that the shoe’s midsole was thinner than usual. To be more precise, it is 10.7 mm thinner than average at the heel and 7.8 mm thinner at the forefoot. Because we were closer to it, we were much more able to feel the gym surface. We not only gained more control over our movements, we became more agile as well.

Both the heel counter and the base of the NB Minimus TR moved quite smoothly with our feet, especially when we did agility workouts. When we assessed these features in the lab, we learned why. After multiple squeezes, the heel counter got a score of 2 out of 5 for stiffness. The base, for its part, also got a 2 out of 5 for resistance after aggressively twisting it.

While a lot of flexibility was good for athletics, it spelled doom for serious lifting. Gym rats whose regimen is lifting-based should look for a better alternative.

Pros

  • Feels really minimal and light
  • Good for agility training
  • Flexible materials
  • Stable construction
  • Reliably grippy
  • Stylish
  • Lasts long

Cons

  • Poor ventilation
  • Needs to be broken in
  • For the gym only
Full review of New Balance Minimus TR

Best budget gym shoes

What makes it the best?

A good gym shoe should offer enough cushioning and deliver a good deal of breathability. It must also be light. Not only does the Legend Essential 3 excellently deliver all these aspects, it is also sold at such a low price of £70 (average price is £100). There should be no question to it; this amazing gym shoe offers the most value for every cent.

In the lab, our HA durometer readings yielded a 26.3 score for the midsole. This number makes the cushion slightly softer than the 27.0 average. When used in the gym, this shoe gave us just enough cushioning for jumps and other landings.

Breathability is another highlight of this gym shoe. In the lab, we watched in awe as the smoke that we pumped into the shoe easily escaped through the forefoot and tongue. That was a good indicator that the upper is porous enough to let air in and out of the shoe without issue. This shoe got a 4 out of 5 for ventilation from us.

At only 8.78 ounces or 248 grammes, the Legend Essential 3 is a lot lighter than the average trainer (11.18 ounces or 317 grammes). This significant reduction in weight was something we enjoyed so much. It allowed us to persist in several workouts without feeling any pain or fatigue in our feet. 

It’s just sad that the Legend Essential 3 is not made of sturdier stuff. Our 12 seconds of Dremel-drilling already poked a hole in the upper. The heel counter padding is a lot weaker. The upper and heel counter padding got a 2 and 1 out of 5 for durability, respectively.

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

How to choose gym shoes

There are several things you should consider to help you reduce your options and locate the ideal pair of gym shoes for your needs:

  1. Type of shoe (cross-training shoe, lifting shoe, etc.)
  2. Preferred heel height and heel-to-toe drop
  3. Cushioning type and softness
  4. Balance of flex and stability
  5. Level of breathability
  6. Fit of the shoe

reebok-nano-x3-lifting.JPG

Types of gym shoes

The first step is to match your search to the type of training you’ll be doing. Here are the three main types of gym shoes, along with their differentiating features:

  • cross-training shoes
  • Crossfit shoes
  • weightlifting shoes

Cross-training shoes

The most versatile in the bunch, cross-training shoes are designed to be adaptable enough for a wide range of workout types. They provide support and cushioning for various exercises like lifting weights, plyometrics, and running. Most of them can also be worn casually outside the gym.

Cross-training shoes are equipped with:

  • shock-absorbing cushioning
  • support for side-to-side motions
  • flexibility to do lunges and similar moves
  • durability for high-intensity workouts
  • traction for stability while training

Cross-training shoes include the more niche category of Crossfit shoes.

Crossfit shoes

CrossFit shoes are specifically made to accommodate CrossFit training, which is harder on shoes, focuses a lot on lifting, and includes more abrasive exercises like rope climbs.

Shoes made for Crossfit have very similar features to cross-training shoes, such as:

  • flexibility for various exercises
  • lateral assistance for side-to-side motions
  • sturdy design to handle demanding workouts
  • traction to enhance stability for lifting and jumping

But here is what makes Crossfit shoes different:

  • less cushioning
  • lower heel-to-toe drop (0-5 mm) for a more grounded feel
  • added protection for rope climbs

Weightlifting shoes

Weightlifting shoes are made to keep your feet secure and supported when you lift.

They've got the following attributes:

  • elevated heel (15-21 mm) for improved squatting depth and form
  • strong, non-compressible sole for enhanced power transfer and a stable foundation
  • Velcro straps to ensure a snug fit and prevent slippage
  • minimal padding to enhance stable bases
  • robust design to withstand heavy use

Choose the right heel height and heel drop first

Surprised?

It is so easy to overlook this one but the midsole thickness in the heel is one of the crucial characteristics that can make or break your experience with gym shoes.

reebok-nano-x3-heel.JPG

Heel height

The heel heights of gym shoes range from absolutely flat to several inches high. Your personal tastes and the kind of training you do will determine the appropriate heel height for you.

Cross-training shoes/Crossfit shoes
Lower heel (<24 mm) Higher heel (> 24 mm)
creates a more grounded platform for Crossfit or any other exercises that call for a stable basis offers more support and impact protection if you're engaging in lots of jumping or running

Nike Metcon 9 Heel stack

Crossfit shoes like Nike Metcons have about 21-22 mm of heel stack.

Weightlifting shoes
Lower heel (<20 mm) Higher heel (> 20 mm)
creates a more grounded platform for deadlifting translates to a more ergonomic posture and better energy transfer when squatting and lifting heavy

nike-romaleos-4-quality.JPG

Nike Romaleos have some of the highest heel stacks of 33.5 mm.

Heel-to-toe drop (or how flat should your gym shoes be?)

The difference in height between the shoe's heel and forefoot is referred to as the heel-to-toe drop. It has a great impact on the wearer's underfoot experience. Crossfitters will benefit from a 4-6 mm drop as it puts their feet in a flatter position, almost as if it was standing flat on the floor.

A higher heel drop, on the other hand, will add more cushioning under the heel. This will provide better shock absorption on hard landings.

Lower drop (<6 mm) Higher drop (> 6 mm)
more grounded and flexible more cushioned and supportive under the heel

NOTE: Heel drop is NOT the same as heel height

For example, NOBULL Outwork and NOBULL Impact have the same heel-to-toe drop - 4 mm. However, the heel height is different:

Nobull-trainer-cut-in-half

NOBULL Outwork: drop - 4 mm, heel height - 18.6 mm

NOBULL Impact: drop - 4 mm, heel height - 23.6 mm (thicker by 5 mm!)

The added cushioning in the Trainer+ gives more impact protection for jumps and runs as well as comfort for daily wear.

Cushioning softness in gym shoes

Too firm cushioning can make the shoe feel hard and uncomfortable for jumps and sprints. However, an overly plush midsole can make you feel shaky and unstable for lifting. What's the right balance here?

The optimal cushioning softness will vary depending on your taste and the kind of workouts you intend to do.

reebok-nano-x3-cushioning-softness-durometer-heel.JPG

We use a durometer to measure the midsole softness of each gym shoe precisely.

For high-impact activities like cardio, you might want thicker and softer cushioning to absorb the impact on landings. In this case, more cushioning also helps to relieve strain on the joints and lowers the risk of injury.

For strength training with weights, you will definitely want to go with firmer midsoles.

Balance of flex and stability

The sole needs to be flexible and adaptable enough to let your feet naturally move. Additionally, it should bend where your foot naturally flexes to give you the best possible mobility and comfort.

Exercises like lunges, squats, and others call for a full range of motion in your feet. This is provided by a flexible sole.

Weightlifting, on the other hand, calls for a stiffer sole. Too much bending will make you feel shaky under heavy loads.

The midsole needs to offer enough support for your feet to shift laterally or alter course. A sturdy midsole can also help prevent ankle injuries by lessening the possibility of your foot moving inward or outward during exercise.

That's why, in top-rated cross-trainers, you often see the following setup:

  • firm and stable heel
  • supportive sidewalls in the midfoot
  • flexible forefoot

We measure all of these parameters in our lab to offer the most in-depth look into each shoe's flexibility and stability levels.

Notice how more flexible shoes also tend to have less torsional rigidity (lateral stability) and stiffer shoes are also torsionally stiffer.

Consider the heel counter too

The portion of the shoe that wraps around the rear of the foot and offers support and stability is known as the heel counter.

You want a strong, well-constructed heel counter that is snug without being too tight. A good heel counter will help avoid ankle injuries and offer a firmer foundation for workouts requiring balance and lateral motions.

We perform a manual test to rate each shoe's heel counter stiffness on a 1-5 scale

Weightlifting shoes have the sturdiest heel counters, followed by Crossfit shoes, and then more minimalist cross-trainers. Here is the list of gym shoes sorted by the stiffness of their heel counters:

Level of breathability

Look for gym shoes with a breathable upper to keep your feet dry and cool while exercising.

For breathability, knit or mesh uppers are fantastic choices because they enable air to flow freely. A permeable upper also helps lessen bacterial growth and reduce foot odour.

To test breathability, we pump smoke into the shoe's upper and check how easily it passes through.

We also back it up by hovering the shoe's half-cut upper over the light to see the most ventilated areas.

Fit of the shoe

A gym shoe's upper should be comfortable on your foot without being too tight. Look for footwear with a wide toe box and sufficient area for your foot to flex freely. The upper should also provide enough support during lateral movements or changes in direction.

reebok-nano-x1-fit.JPG

The toebox width in training shoes ranges from 96 mm to 106 mm in the widest part of the forefoot. Nike Metcons and Reebok Nanos top this range with their 100+ mm toeboxes.

Nike Metcon 9 Toebox width at the widest part

In addition to measuring the widest part, we also use a calliper to check the narrower part of the toebox, near the big toe. This allows us to compare the tapering of the shoe's forefoot to other trainers.

Nike Metcon 9 Toebox width at the big toe

Here is how different the toebox width can be in different shoes of the same size (men's US 9):

How frequently should you buy new gym shoes?

Gym shoes have different lifespans depending on usage, the intensity of activity, and shoe quality. A reasonable rule of thumb, though, is to switch out your gym shoes every six to twelve months, or if you detect substantial wear and tear, a loss of support, or discomfort.

In our shoe lab, we go hard on gym shoes with our relentless Dremel. Using a sandpaper tip, we drill such high-wear areas as the toebox, the heel padding, and the outsole to see how abrasion-resistant they truly are.

You can see how the two shoes react differently to the exact same Dremel test. One is barely touched while the other is left with a see-through hole!

Sturdy leather uppers of weightlifting shoes obviously top this list.

Can I wear running shoes to the gym?

While gym shoes and running shoes may have a similar appearance, they are made for different forms of activity. We found that about 98% of running shoes do NOT offer the support and stability required for lateral movements or weightlifting because they are designed solely for forward motion.

It is much better (and safer!) to select exercise footwear made specifically for the workout you intend to perform.

The fastest way to explain the difference between the two types of shoes is by showing our lateral stability tests below.

Notice how the training shoe above feels cemented to the floor.

Can I wear my gym shoes outside of the gym?

Yes, as long as they are comfortable and acceptable for the situation, you can wear your gym shoes outside of the gym. Just keep in mind that repeated wear on hard surfaces like concrete will hasten wear and tear.

Some gym shoes might not be appropriate for activities like hiking or trail running. But even that is now being accommodated with trail-ready versions of the Reebok Nano.

reebok-nano-x2-tr-plank.JPG

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.