There are sneakers to go out in and sneakers to wear to the gym. Workout shoes have to strike the right balance of technology, support, and strength. Wear the wrong ones, and your entire cardio routine is thrown off. And though it might seem intuitive to wear running shoes for all your workouts, you should avoid them as often as possible because most running shoes are built specifically for forward motion.
Good workout shoes, on the other hand, provide stability for lateral movements, too, like when you’re playing tennis or volleyball. We asked fitness-minded expert women about their favourites
What we’re looking for
- Support: We’re looking for a variety of features that lend support, some of which include: flat, supportive soles to push off from; reinforcements around the forefoot to keep everything locked in place during lateral movements; secure lacing systems; and upper constructions that provide stability during aerobic activities.
- Cushion: The majority of the shoes on this list have a flat, semi-cushioned sole, which is the ideal base for most workouts, but the sneakers all vary slightly.
- Some options: built for weight lifting will have a thinner cushion for a more grounded feeling, while other, more aerobic sneakers will have more bounce and plushy foam in the midsole. We’ll call out the level of cushion in each shoe, from low to high, and the material, wherever it’s relevant.
- Outsole: We’re looking for shoes that have a solid grip on all surfaces, like rubbery gym floors, smooth wood studio spaces, and grittier roads and pavement. A shoe with good traction adds to a secure fit while keeping you focused on your workout. Below, we’ve specified what kind of grip you’ll get in each shoe.
Nike Metcon 7 Training Shoes
For cross-training, yoga teacher and author Shona Vertue likes shoes that are “varied in flexibility and stability” to adapt to the types of motions required by workouts.
The Nike Metcons — which she calls her “go-to all-around shoe” for working out— fulfil both requirements because “they’re flexible at the front of the foot, which allows for good movement through things like lunges or running,” while also having a “stiff heel, which creates stability in movements like heavy deadlifts and squats.”
Melanie Miracolo, the former head of retail at yoga studio Y7, loves the Metcons because they have a “sleek design, incredible fit, perform great, and stabilize your foot when doing any cross-training workout.”
Jen Romanelli, the co-founder of Trooper Fitness, agrees the Metcons create stability but says they also allow lateral movement, precisely what she needs for HIIT classes: “It’s a sturdy shoe, yet light enough to change directions and sprint.” (Vertue, Miracolo, and Romanelli initially recommended the Metcon 6 AMP, but the newer Metcon 7 offers the same stability and versatility in a slightly new design.) We think the Metcon is a solid gym companion, so we also picked it as the best workout shoes for men.
Reebok HIIT 2
The Reebok HIIT 2 isn’t the flashiest shoe, but it does have everything you could ask for in an all-purpose workout shoe: simple construction and breathable mesh upper that keeps your forefoot secure, plus a foam midsole for comfort. Melissa Boyd, head of fitness at Tempo, considers cross-training and HIIT the same — including weighted and cardio movements.
For these exercises, a shoe “should be flexible enough for speed work, structured enough for weighted movements, and responsive enough for jumping,” she says. These cross-trainers heck off all her boxes, handling intense training sessions just as well as compound lifts.
Nike Free TR8
Two women we talked to mentioned the Nike Free TR8. “I am a minimalist when it comes to running,” says Romanelli, who prefers less arch support in her running sneakers. “I have flat feet, and people swear by ‘arch support’ — I don’t. I’d rather have less support when doing more cardio-intensive activities because it forces ankle stability and strengthens my foot.”
With a simple, lightweight shoe like this, she can engage more muscles and doesn’t feel like she’s being held back with each stride. Boyd recommends them for short runs but doesn’t like them for long runs, as there’s not enough cushioning for her. But she does count these as her favourite all-around sneakers — supportive and flexible enough for weight lifting and HIIT, respectively.
Nobull Training Shoes
Fitness director and personal trainer Bari Lieberman loves the “versatile and durable” Nobull training shoes, which she had initially told us about when we investigated the next status gym sneakers for women. Lieberman explains that the Nobull shoes have a flatter sole, which allows you to stay more “grounded and stable during heavy lifts.”
Well+Good senior beauty editor Zoë Weiner agrees: “I fell in love with these shoes before I put them on because of how sleek and minimalist they looked, so I was thrilled to discover that they are also the most comfortable shoes my foot has ever become acquainted with.” She adds that they have excellent traction and support during workouts: “It feels like I’m standing on a cloud.”
Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Core Hi
These classic Converse also have a flat bottom, and two of our experts wear them during weight lifting. Our men’s fitness experts also love their Chucks for weight lifting; they made our list of the best workout shoes for men. “When you are powerlifting, you need to feel the ground beneath your toes,” says Romanelli. “This helps to engage your feet, calves, glutes, etc.
Thus the flatter the sole, the less the cushion, the better because your feet are connected to the ground, allowing you to become planted.” Denajha Phillips, a NASM-certified personal trainer, says she feels a “greater and more secure impact on the ground” when wearing them. She’s partial to the traditional colourways, while Romanelli likes to spice it up with an animal-print pair.
Feiyue Fe Lo 1920
Strategist UK contributor Anna Fielding spotted these sleek and (very) affordable sneakers from Feiyue and decided to do some digging. “The trainers originated in 1920s Shanghai, where they were adopted by martial arts practitioners,” she wrote.
“These days parkour enthusiasts use them too, as do Chinese schoolchildren during PE lessons and Shaolin monks. They are lightweight plimsolls, with a canvas body and a cushioned sole. They have bounced. They have a grip. And unlike other plimsolls, they’re actually supportive.”
As we mentioned in our roundup of the best men’s workout shoes, the Fe Lo sneakers have the features of a solid weight-lifting shoe: a flat, cushioned sole and a supportive canvas upper construction. “You can easily wear them without socks, and — good for the sockless to know — I’ve also found they stand up to repeat washing machine cycles,” Fielding continues.
“They stay looking fresh, whites stay white, and colours sharp, longer than any pair of Converse. They don’t fall to pieces, as Keds can, even if you treat them badly and kick them off without bothering to undo the laces.”
Asics Gel Resolution 8 Women’s Tennis Shoes
Tennis shoes make great workout sneakers because the sport requires lots of lateral movement and quick bursts of speed. Plus, sliding around on a court calls for durability under your feet. Former Strategist junior writer Sanibel Chai picked the Asics Gel Resolution 8 as the best women’s overall tennis shoe.
“The Asics Gel Resolution came highly recommended by four of our experts and is a safe bet if you’re unsure where to get started,” she wrote. Claire Ann Pollard, head coach of Northwestern University’s women’s tennis team, calls the Asics Gel Resolution her favourite, and Karen Moriarty, co-owner of the Tennis Professionals — Sportech in Rye Brook, New York, says they are consistently a top pick for her customers.
Tiem Slipstream Cycle Sneaker
“Although I spin multiple times a week, investing in spin shoes always felt like a huge waste of money because you can’t actually wear them on the street,” says Weiner. She loves these Tiem sneakers because you can “hop straight from the street onto the spin bike without having to change your shoes.” If you prefer your workout sneakers to pop, the shoes come in nine other colours, including bright pink, red, and blue.
Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38
As we mentioned above, you shouldn’t use your running shoes for workouts that require lateral activities, but if you’re looking for a primary gym trainer with running in mind, look to the Pegasus. In her guide to picking the best running shoes, former Strategist senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson recommended the Air Zoom Pegasus if “you’d rather not think too much about your running shoes,” she wrote.
“The Pegasus has been a dependable part of Nike’s running lineup ever since it was introduced nearly four decades ago. Its cushioning comes from a generous layer of Nike’s proprietary React foam in the midsole.”