If you’re on the market for new gym shoes, then you’ve likely realized how many shoe options there are. There are training shoes, cross-training shoes, CrossFit shoes, running shoes, and you might be wondering, aren’t they all the same?
While, yes, all of these shoes are designed for tackling different forms of training, their individual construction makes them very different and more or less useful in certain settings.
The goal of this article is to cut through the confusing nature of finding the perfect pair of gym shoes for your training needs. Every day, I field countless questions from beginners on my YouTube channel and this site asking questions like, “Which model should I use for this style of training?”
I think the best place to start is to identify the different types of shoes and discuss their construction briefly. This will then equip you with the knowledge to navigate and make more educated gym shoe buying decisions.
What Shoes Should I Wear to the Gym?
When deciding what shoes to wear to the gym, it’s a good idea to first identify how you train and plan to use the shoes. If you can identify how you plan to use your gym shoes, then you can select a pair that will suit your needs best.
For the purpose of helping you bucket gym shoes accordingly, I’m going to define four popular types of gym shoes and place them into their respective umbrellas.
- Running Shoes
- Training Shoes
- Cross-Training Shoes
- CrossFit Shoes
- Cross-Training Shoes
The above may seem confusing, but I’m going to elaborate below. Basically, I think it’s easiest to define gym shoes into two core buckets: running shoes and training shoes.
Then, I like to differentiate between training shoes based on their niche construction aspects. This is HUGE because it can help you make more educated decisions and so you don’t buy something like a super stable cross-training shoe for something like HIIT and class workouts.
Running shoes come in a variety of options and their construction features will reflect the type of running you’re doing in them. For example, two major running shoe categories include trail running shoes and road running shoes. For the sake of this article, we’ll use road running shoes for our examples below.
- Running shoe examples include the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38, On Cloudswift, and Adizeo Boston 10s.
Running shoes will typically have much thicker midsole constructions compared to training shoes to promote a more comfortable and cushioned ride when running. This is also why running shoes are poor choices for lifting weights.
Wear Running Shoes If: You’re running! Limit their use for their respective activities and avoid using them as training or gym shoes if you can as they can impact overall stability when lifting weights and workout performance.
Training shoes are the broadest type of gym shoe. These are shoes that are designed for a broad range of activities and daily wear, but not specialized for more serious training like lifting heavy weights or tackling really tough HIIT workouts.
- Training shoe examples include the New Balance 623 V3, Adidas Fluidflow 2.0, and Nike Renew Retaliation TR 3.
Generally, training shoes will have thicker midsoles and non-specialized upper constructions. Both of these construction elements provide them with a cushioned and comfortable ride for general wear and training, however, they limit their potential to perform well in niche training settings and that brings us to our next bucket of training.
Wear Training Shoes If: You’re not super specific with your training and want a pair of shoes for very casual workouts, an occasional shorter run, and daily wear.
Under training shoes, we’ll then have cross-training shoes. Cross-training shoes are training shoes designed with specific construction characteristics to boost their performance in a wider range of training settings.
More specifically, cross-training shoes can typically be top-performers in a wide range of activities whereas general training shoes will be capped with their performance due to their non-specific construction.
- Cross-training shoe examples include Under Armour HOVR Rise 3, On Cloud X, and Reebok Speed TR.
Generally, cross-training shoes will have medium to high-density midsoles that will provide more stability when lifting weights and will have upper constructions that are a bit more durable in nature for diverse training.
Wear Cross-Training Shoes If: You’re varying your training on a weekly basis. This could include things like lifting weights, tacking HIIT workouts, doing athletic-focused work, and classes.
Within cross-training shoes, we’ll have CrossFit shoes. These are cross-training shoes specifically designed to tackle and withstand the task demands of CrossFit workouts.
The best way to conceptualize this is to understand that CrossFit shoes will have key construction traits designed to promote long-term durability and stability when training heavy. So while, yes they are cross-training shoes, they’re a hyper-specific type of cross-training shoe.
- CrossFit shoe examples include Nike Metcon 7, Reebok Nano X, and Inov-8 F-Lite G 300.
CrossFit shoes will have increased upper durability, features to support things like rope climbs and handstand push-ups, and will also have medium to high-density midsoles for supporting heavy training.
Wear CrossFit Shoes If: You’re tackling CrossFit workouts and classes. This style of footwear’s long-term durability will fair much better than a more general pair training or cross-training shoe.
Which Gym Shoes Should I Buy?
Now that we defined the different types of shoes that you can wear in the gym, let’s dive into which models you should buy for the types of training you do on a weekly basis.
If you’re a beginner or new to working out, then a good pair of training or cross-training shoes would be a really good call for your needs. For beginners who plan to lift a lot of weight, then I would suggest looking into cross-training shoes that provide a bit more stability with this midsole and outsole construction.
Great Beginner Training and Cross-Training Shoe Options
- Nike Free Metcon 4: Great for classes, HIIT, and lighter lifting
- Reebok Nano X1: Good for lifting, classes, and versatile training
- Under Armour HOVR Apex 3: Great for classes, casual lifting, and versatile training
- Nike Metcon 7: Good for lifting, CrossFit, and classes
- On Cloud X: Good for lighter runs, light lifting, and classes
- Inov-8 F-Lite 260 V2: Great for lifting, CrossFit, and HIIT
There are a ton of other shoe options on the market to look into, but here’s a handful of models that I’ve personally reviewed, tested, and recommend often for beginners looking into great gym shoes.
If you’re a CrossFit athlete or an intermediate or advanced lifter, then you’ll want to find a pair of good cross-training or CrossFit shoes. Basically, you’ll want a shoe that can provide adequate stability and versatility if you’re lifting heavier loads or training really hard in your shoes on a regular basis.
Great Cross-Training and CrossFit Shoe Options for Intermediate/Advanced Lifters and CrossFitters
- Nike Metcon 6: Great for heavy lifting and CrossFit
- STR/KE MVMNT Haze Trainer: Good for lifting, CrossFit, and versatile training
- Reebok Nano X: Great for Heavy lifting and CrossFit
- Under Armour TriBase Reign 3: Good for versatile training, CrossFit, and lifting
- Inov-8 F-Lite G 300: Good for CrossFit and lifting
These five options are a fantastic start for the more serious lifters, athletes, and CrossFitters looking for a great pair of gym shoes that will perform well and last a while.
How to Wash Gym Shoes
Whether you’re using running shoes, training shoes, cross-training shoes, or CrossFit shoes there are ways to properly clean your shoes to both make them last longer and look better.
Trust me when I say this, do not put gym shoes in the washer and dryer. That is a sure-fire way to have your shoes break down quickly. Different glues, adhesives, and polyurethanes used in gym shoes can break down quickly when soaked in a washing machine, then put into extreme heat in a drying machine.
How to Properly Clean Gym Shoes
Do the following three steps when cleaning gym shoes. This three-step process will take a bit longer and will require more elbow grease, but your gym shoes and wallet will both thank you.
- Step 1: Grab a washcloth and a mild clear soap that is void of harsh fragrances and colours.
- Step 2: Apply a little soap to the washcloth and dip it in lukewarm water. Do not soak the washcloth.
- Step 3: Spot clean areas on your shoes that need attention and repeat.
This process is fantastic because you won’t be soaking your shoes and depleting their materials and construction and the soft soap won’t stain your shoes or disfigure their colourway.
This way of cleaning gym shoes is basically a safe bet to ensure your shoes go the distance and they don’t break down too quickly from washing and drying machines.
How Should Gym Shoes Fit?
Fun fact, when companies create shoes there are over hundreds of lasts that they can select for their model. A last is a shoe’s mold and is basically what gives each shoe its unique fit and feel.
Now, factor in the vast differences between everyone’s foot anatomy. Not every shoe’s last will work for your foot’s anatomy and that’s important to understand because as you look for gym shoes, you’ll likely find and gravitate towards pairs that “naturally” seem to fit better.
That all being said, I’m going to provide some thoughts on how gym shoes should fit below. However, I like to talk in ranges and give goal post ideas because there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” answer due to the differences discussed above.
How Tight Should Gym Shoes Be?
As a general rule of thumb, your shoes should be tight enough to where your feet are not sliding around in them when you’re working out, but also loose enough to wear you can still wiggle your toes and not feel super uncomfortable.
For example, if you can’t wear your gym shoes for more than 30-min to an hour without your feet screaming and feeling cramped, then your shoes are likely too tight. Conversely, if your heel is sliding out of your shoe with every movement, then your shoes are probably not tight enough.
How Much Room Should Be In Front of Gym Shoes?
For gym shoes, I like to recommend having .2″-.6″ of room at the end of the toe box. This is usually a good range to allow some maneuverability and comfort, but not too much to where your toes are jamming when running, lifting, and jumping.
If you have a wider foot, then you may want to stay on the larger end of the .2″-.6″ scale as you’ll likely gravitate towards having a bit more room in the toe box of your shoe for comfort purposes.
How Are Gym Shoes Supposed to Fit?
When feeling the toe box, gym shoes should ideally have between .2″-.6″ of room in the toe box, and the width of the shoe should reciprocate one’s foot width. If the sides of the foot on the lateral or medial side are hanging over the sole or you can see it bulging through the upper construction, then the shoe is likely too narrow.
When jumping, walking, and lifting, the shoe should not be sliding up and down the heel. Additionally, the shoe should be tight enough to provide a secure fit without overly squeezing the foot and causing discomfort.
If you’re trying on shoes in the store or debating if you need to return a pair, try this in-home test and perform:
- 5 bodyweight lunges
- 5 squat jumps
- 5 skater strides
- 15-second jog in place
If you notice the gym shoe sliding at any point or feeling loose, then you may want to find a tighter fitting shoe or size down a half size. Conversely, if you feel like your feet are screaming or if your toes are jamming at the end of the shoe, then you may want to size up a half size or find a better-fitting gym shoe.
I like this quick test because it easily allows us to check for things like heel slip, toe jamming and if the shoe is too narrow for our foot.
When to Replace Gym Shoes
When it comes to replacing gym shoes, there isn’t really a “one-size-fits-all” approach. With running shoes, we have mile references for replacing shoes, but with gym shoes, we don’t really have a system in place, so I built one.
To provide insights into replacing gym shoes, I created a system called “OMU”, which stands for outsole, midsole, and upper. When assessing your gym shoes for damage, you’ll look at their outsole, midsole, and upper in that order as this is a hierarchy of importance for performance.
If your gym shoe’s outsole or midsole is broken down, then you’ll want to replace your gym shoes. However, let’s say you just have a small ripper in the upper. In this case, then you can probably rock your gym shoes a bit longer since there is no glaring midsole or outsole damage which could cause stability issues.
OMU In Practice
The above would be an example of someone going through the OMU checklist. In this example, their training shoes have a somewhat broken down outsole, a broken down midsole, and their shoe’s upper construction is fine.
In this case, they’ll likely want to replace their shoes sooner than later as they may have a shoe with compromised stability, grip, and responsiveness.
When looking into buying new gym shoes, the process can feel overwhelming at times especially with how many shoe options there are. However, if you identify how exactly you intend to work out and train with your shoes, then you can start to identify the types of gym shoes that will be best for your needs.
There may be a small learning curve at the start, but once you navigate that initial process, then you’ll be smooth sailing towards always having the best gym shoes for your training needs.
If you have any questions about gym shoes, drop a comment below or reach out to me via Instagram (@jake_boly) and I’ll help accordingly!