The Best Workout Shoes for Serious Cross-Training

·14 min read
Photo credit: Staff, Courtesy of Under Armour, Ryka, Nike, On Cloud
Photo credit: Staff, Courtesy of Under Armour, Ryka, Nike, On Cloud


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As a runner, what you do off the track, road, or trail often has just as big an impact on your race performance as what you do on it. Research shows that regular cross-training—plyo circuits, power lifting sessions, bootcamp-style workout classes, or even cycling—can help make you fitter, stronger, and faster. But first, to really boost those benefits and reduce your risk of injury, you need to swap your regular running shoes for a training-specific style, like the ones below. Keep reading to learn why and how these workout shoes give you the stability, bounce, and support you need—and why your high-mileage pairs probably don’t.

Why You Should Do More Than Just Run

A recent study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science revealed that runners who completed plyometric workouts twice a week improved their performance—and their power—in just six weeks (or 12 sessions total). And another study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, showed that even well-trained ultramarathon runners had room for improvement: After 12 weeks of incorporating explosive plyo workouts into their routines, they saw a boost in their running economy, or their ability to run faster and longer, while using less energy. For most runners, cross-training adds variability to an all too often monotonous routine. When you log miles without doing anything else, your muscles adapt to the work and, because they’re never pushed beyond the limit they’ve already reached, your strength gains begin to taper. Your progress plateaus. Your risk for overuse injuries increases. But building regular cross-training into your running schedule (especially when it’s done strategically, under the guidance of a coach or trainer) can improve strength, power, speed, and even aid in your recovery.

How We Chose

We looked for shoes with design elements that help support multi-directional movements, explosive workouts, cardio/strength circuits, and heavy lifting sessions. These features include flexible uppers, cushioned (yet firm where you need it) midsoles, minimal heel-to-toe drops, reinforced heels, extra grip, and protective overlays. Many of these styles are built on lasts that are similar to your favorite running shoes; however, they will also give you the added stability and flexibility necessary to knock out all your cross-training needs.

Head here for the most comfortable shoes you’ll ever run in. 🏃♀️ 🏃

—BEST FOR OUTDOORS—

Reebok Nano X1 Adventure

Created as a smart solution for exercisers who are opting for outdoor workouts rather than studio sessions these days, this shoe basically provides all the benefits and comfort of the Nano X1, but with a more rugged exterior. It’s low to the ground, lightweight, flexible, and just cushioned enough underfoot for executing both strength and speed-building moves. It also has sturdy rubber lugs on the outsole that offer good grip while performing lunges on your driveway, strides on the trail, or lateral drills in the park. Its upper is covered with a breathable yet durable ripstop fabric that conforms to your foot and helps protect you from rocks and other debris you may encounter mid-sweat. Plus, an anti-microbial lining leaves your feet smelling fresh throughout.

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—BEST FOR CROSSFIT—

Reebok Nano X1

If you’re looking for something to help you rock all those WODs (that’s Workout of the Day for you CrossFit newbies), this newest iteration of the beloved Nano is everything you need and more. Its wide base, lightweight heel clip and low-to-the-ground (aka, minimal heel-to-toe-drop) design provides extra stability for heavy weight days, a super responsive foam midsole adds some protective cushioning for plyo circuits. A soft, flexible, yet tightly woven upper keeps your feet cool and comfy, no matter how intense (or sweaty) your session gets. Strategically placed grooves on the rubber outsole improve grip both when you’re standing still and moving fast in multiple directions, too.

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—BEST CIRCUIT BREAKER—

Under Armour Project Rock 3

With the most recent update to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s multi-purpose Project Rock training shoe, there is no battle between man versus machine. This increasingly versatile trainer smartly showcases several of UA’s best technologies, making it an ideal partner for both high intensity interval training and hitting the weight machines. The HOVR foam midsole is wrapped with a tight mesh web for a springier and more responsive feel underfoot. The outsole features UA’s Tribase design: triangle-shaped grooves that anchor your heel and toes while allowing multi-directional flex and solid traction. For added stability, a slimmed-down TPU counter firms up the once-naked heel. Finally, the compression-fit bootie upper, with quarter panel overlays incorporated into the lacing, hugs your foot while you work out. Wear these when you need a stable base for strength training, but you’re also bouncing around between other activities.

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—BEST FOR HIIT—

Nike Air Zoom SuperRep 2 Next Nature

These fresh, funky kicks will help you amp up the energy for any workout, whether you’re exercising at home or at the gym. With a new and improved design, this more sustainable style contains at least 20 percent recycled material by weight. It now features a fully adjustable tongue and a roomier forefoot to help accommodate a wider range of foot types. Designed specifically for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, they have two Nike Zoom Air units in the forefoot that absorb impact when you’re going all-out jumping, lunging or sprinting, and provide extra cushioning while you actively recover between sets. There’s also a plate that runs from the heel to forefoot, keeping your foot properly positioned for action, and a split sole to support multi-planar movement. A breathable, mesh upper allows you to stay flexible, while a wide, stable heel maintains balance and a cool, speckled rubber tread provides extra traction.

—BEST MINIMALIST TRAINER—

Altra Solstice XT

The Altra Solstice XT will feel especially familiar for runners. Cozy, even. That’s because its design was inspired by (and actually built off of) one of the brand’s minimalist cushioned running shoe lasts. New quarter panel overlays on the upper use liquid rubber, instead of the typical polyurethane, for greater flexibility and abrasion resistance when doing things like rope climbs. The outsole takes advantage of the same segmented design that gives the shoe its forefoot flex, but swaps the original Solstice’s exposed EVA foam (critiqued for its short life) out with a tough, sticky, gym floor-gripping rubber. The zero-drop midsole—offering 23mm of consistent cushioning from heel to forefoot— still caters to minimalist runners, but with this cross-trainer’s added support and durability, it could truly serve as a stable go-to shoe for any gym-goer.

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Full Review

—BEST BALANCE BUILDER—

Mizuno TF-01 Training Shoe

The Mizuno TF-01 aims to enhance performance by using an innovative technology to boost your balance. A flexible grid on the shoe’s outsole corresponds to a layer of pea-sized round pods in its soft, poly-foam midsole. The raised texture from the pods against the bottom of your foot makes you feel more connected to the ground and sends more feedback to your body with every step. An intricate diamond design on the outsole provides greater grip and lateral support for agility training. This lightweight pair also has a soft, woven mesh upper and a reinforced heel, so you feel stable and comfortable, no matter what kind of workout you’re doing—or how fast you’re doing it.

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—BEST DRILL MASTER—

Inov-8 F-Lite G 300

This brand new style from Inov-8 feels like a running shoe but performs like a trainer. Its outsole and midsole are infused with Graphene, a wicked-strong, high-tech material that adds unparalleled durability, stability, and grip for lifting, while a breathable, knit upper and responsive cushioning throughout means extra comfort for jumping and other explosive drills. With a 6mm drop from heel to toe, it offers a little more support than some other more low-profile styles (which can be good or bad, depending on who you ask!), and it features 360-degree protection for rope climbs.

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—BEST FOR LIFTING—

Reebok Legacy Lifter II

A favorite among elite athletes for a reason, the Legacy Lifter II is dialed in just right to help keep your weight balanced under heavy loads. It has a stiff outsole with a raised heel and heel clip for added stability, a breathable textile upper, and a durable rubber outsole that allows you to maintain grip while you lift. Plus, its laces-strap combo locks down your midfoot, making sure everything is well positioned throughout your workout.

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—BEST FOR SPRINTERVALS—

Nike Air ZoomX SuperRep Surge

Regardless of how you like to squeeze in your cardio bursts, the Surge is ready to deliver. It’s super-comfy, with a super-light, super-cushy (yes, it’s called “super” for a reason) foam midsole that helps put a spring in your step no matter what activity’s moving you forward. Plus, extra arch support gives you plenty of stability when you switch back to strength training. This multi-functional shoe has a heel that’s designed specifically to gently clip into rowing machines (which is an incredible at-home workout tool, BTW) and a breathable, reinforced mesh upper that won’t break down against any machine’s straps. A smart rubber tread on the outsole provides the perfect amount of traction for both the treadmill and the studio floor, too.

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—BEST STABILITY—

Puma Fuse

An innovative new style from PUMA, the Fuse has a lot to offer in the functional training space. It’s low to the ground, with a 4mm heel-to-toe drop and extra stability in the heel, giving you a solid base for strength training, has a toe box that’s just wide enough for your toes to splay out for additional stability without letting them get lost in there, and a shock-absorbing midsole for landing the perfect jumps and sprints. The durable, yet flexible rubber grip on the outsole helps keep you on your feet without limiting movement. And mesh overlays and reinforced rubber are strategically placed in high-wear areas around the shoe to provide extra traction, support and durability for moves like rope and wall climbs, rowing, and heavy lifts. This shoe is available in unisex-sizing, only.

—BEST IN-STUDIO—

Rykä Dynamic Pro Training Shoe

Whether you’re busting a move on the dance floor or simply jumping and lunging around your at-home fitness studio, the Dynamic Pro Training Shoe provides the support you need to stay comfortable while you sweat. A well-cushioned foam midsole adds bounce and reduces impact on landing, while a soft, narrow heel cup helps keep you steady on your feet. A wider toe box gives your digits room to breathe. Strategically placed flex grooves on the outsole allow your foot to move smoothly in all directions, and a unique pivot point makes it easier to turn on a dime.

—BEST MULTI-TASKER—

Nike Metcon 6

The Nike Metcon 6 makes it easier for you to break a sweat without getting too hot underfoot. This updated style features an all-mesh upper that touts an 18 percent increase in breathability from its last version. The shoe, already popular among the CrossFit community for the stability it offers during weight-focused workouts and the freedom of movement it provides during dynamic exercises, also has a wide platform and improved flexibility. It has fine-tuned cushioning that’s firmer in the back and just plush enough in the front to help maximize your mobility with every move. A durable, ridged outsole does an amazing job at gripping the floor (and ropes!) while you do it, too. And with both a wider toe box and heel, you’ve got plenty of room for your toes to move naturally while you work out—and for your feet to remain planted firmly on the ground when performing lifts. If your cross-training leverages variety in the gym, the new Metcon 6 might be the one-shoe-fits-all solution you need. Also available in a more accessible FlyEase version (with a collapsible, slip-on heel).

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—BEST FOR WEIGHT-HEAVY DAYS—

New Balance Minimus Prevail

The Minimus Prevail takes gym-ready details and wraps them around a true minimalist design. The drop-in midsole, made from New Balance’s lightweight Revlite foam, is thin and snappy, and, when paired with its flat Vibram outsole, offers an ideal combo of comfort and ground-feel for an adaptive trainer. And, while many other gym shoes’ rope-ready sidewalls are climbing higher and their heel counters are wrapping fatter, the Minimus Prevail moves in the opposite direction, incorporating both super-effective features into a slim, unobtrusive profile. Instead of relying on a TPU overlay for durability, its woven knit upper simply incorporates poly plastic into its fibers. It’s a little less flexible as a result, but still super breathable and supportive. Unlike other minimalist trainers, the Prevail has a relatively narrow forefoot and toe box that will work great for some and not so much for others.

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—BEST FLEXIBILITY—

Inov-8 F-Lite 235 V3

The F-Lite 235 V3 packs quite a bit of performance into a relatively streamlined shoe—with a plush feel (especially for a shoe with a minimal 4mm heel-to-toe drop) and a midsole that provides good cushioning under the heel and returns a solid amount of energy in the forefoot. The upper also takes advantage of two different types of mesh: a finer, firmer mesh adds rigidity along the outside of the shoe and, along the inside, a more loosely woven mesh adds breathability and flexibility so your foot can move around freely and comfortably. The gum rubber outsole also allows for natural foot movement with its segmented, metatarsal-like channels that run heel to toe. The abundance of durable synthetic overlays will speak directly to CrossFitters looking for extra protection for intense activities, like rope climbs and box jumps, but these lightweight, free-moving trainers should interest anyone looking for something that feels a little more natural (er, barely there) underfoot.

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—BEST POWER BOOSTER—

On Cloud X

Whether you’re doing a quick plyo workout, sprints on the track, or a combination of the two, the Cloud X could definitely be the right shoe for you. On, a Swiss running company with smart, strategically designed running gear, created this lightweight, no-sew style as a potential solution to all of their runners’ cross-training needs. The adaptive design leverages On’s unique CloudTec outsole, a flexible grid of hollow Zero-Gravity Foam pods that work together to cushion the blow of all the forces joints are subjected to during explosive workouts that incorporate running (forward), jumping (up-down), and lateral (side-to-side) movements. A cushioned, dual-density midsole offers support and flexibility for gym sessions, while also delivering a crisp, responsive ride when you still need it.

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—BEST GRIP—

Under Armour TriBase Reign 3

Flexible where you need movement and firm where you don’t, the TriBase Reign 3 is as functional as the types of workouts—CrossFit, HIIT and Olympic lifting, etc.—it is designed to support. It’s low to the ground (with just a 2mm heel-to-toe drop), has a built-in heel counter that keeps your foot locked in place while you lift, and gives your toes plenty of space to move around in its breathable knit upper. In addition to providing excellent flex in the forefoot to help you perform functional movements and responsive cushioning for high-impact activities, this shoe also features TPU and rubber overlays that add extra grip, protection and stability during rope climbs, burpees, overhead lifts and other box-friendly activities.

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—BEST FOR GIVING 110 PERCENT —

Nobull Gum Trainer

This take on the CrossFit-friendly brand’s classic Trainer, which comes in a variety of colors, features a tight-fitting mesh upper wrapped in SuperFabric, a lightweight, breathable abrasion- and slash-resistant material. The rugged construction is less flexible at first, but once you break them in a little, they become much more comfortable. The grippy, flexible rubber outsole is patterned for multi-directional movements, and a short, 4mm heel-to-toe drop makes the shoe capable of transitioning from weights to running with ease. It also features a medial rope grip for when you’re really going after it.

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