As a full-time strength coach and shoe reviewer I spend a ton of time answering questions about which shoes are best for the gym. The Nike Air Max shoes are models that I constantly receive questions on.
From a maximal performance output point of view, I would never recommend the Nike Air Max shoes. However, I did want to test and review a pair of Air Maxes for myself to share context with my community when they ask.
If you’ve been thinking about wearing your Nike Air Maxes for training, I’d suggest passing on them, and instead, looking for a stronger pair of training shoes. On that note, I cut my Air Maxes in half to show why they fall short when training.
Quick Thought 1 — There Are Better Options
When someone asks me about Nike Air Max shoes for training my first thought is always “why”. There are so many stronger options compared to most Air Max shoes.
If you’re looking into Nike shoes specifically, then I’d suggest looking into the following models depending on your training needs.
Quick Thought 2 — Stability Is Lacking for Lifting
For lifting, Nike Air Max shoes will typically be lacking in stability due to their thick foam midsoles and air cushioning system. Both of these elements will compress when loaded.
Even when deadlifting 315 lbs in my Nike Air Max shoes I noticed my midsole compress. You notice this more after you try denser training shoes that are better built for strength training.
Quick Thought 3 — Too Much Toe Spring
Most Nike Air Max shoes are built for daily wear and walking which isn’t always clear per Nike’s product pages. A prime example of this being confusing is the language Nike uses for models like the Air Max Alpha Trainer 5.
For daily wear, toe spring is typically fine, but for training, there’s a point of diminishing returns. Too much toe spring can pitch you forward when lifting and moving, and it can take away from your ground feedback.
Can Nike Air Max Be Used for Training?
In short, you’ll want to pass on using your Nike Air Max shoes for training. Most of the Air Max models lack stability for heavier strength work and their toe spring can pitch you forward in power exercises. Below I’ll share a deeper explanation as to why.
Reason 1: Their Midsoles Compress Easily
The Nike Air Max shoe line is known for its air cushioning system which is designed to absorb impact and provide additional comfort for daily wear and when working out.
For daily wear, the air cushioning system can be a nice touch for giving you a more plush ride, however, for training it compromises performance. Most Air Max models have thicker foam midsoles with the additional air system built-in to them.
When strength training, the Air Max’s foam material will compress and “squish” which will compromise your stability when lifting. This squish can also throw off your balance when doing things like squats and deadlifts.
On top of the foam compressing, the air cushioning system will also compress, and yes, I tested this in my model. Even when deadlifting 315 lbs I noticed my Air Max Alpha Trainer 5s compressing pretty easily.
Think about squatting and lifting on a piece of foam versus a more rigid surface. This is essentially what you’re doing when strength training with Air Max shoes. Sure, they can be great for beginners, but past that timeframe, they’re a sub-optimal shoe.
Need help finding new training shoes that are BETTER than Nike Air Maxes? Try my Cross-Training Shoe Finder. I built this calculator to match you with shoes I’ve personally reviewed that fit your needs best.
Reason 2: They Limit Your Ground Feedback
Another lesser talked about reason regarding why you want to pass on Nike Air Maxes for training is how they can negatively impact your ground feedback and proprioception.
Proprioception is your body’s ability to sense its position through space and time. The feet have countless nerve endings to help our body understand where it’s at, what it’s doing, and how to navigate the tasks we’re placing on them.
In the context of footwear and training, we hear “ground feedback” thrown around a lot, especially when talking about cross-training shoes and barefoot shoes. Ground feedback is our feet’s ability to “feel” the ground below them to produce better performance outcomes.
When we wear thick shoes like Nike Air Max models we’re limiting our ability to feel the ground with our feet. This can then hinder our body’s ability to produce better stability up the chain.
If our feet can better feel the ground then generally you’ll see a positive outcome regarding stability at different joints up the body. Think of the feet as a house’s foundation and Air Maxes as muddy ground in this example.
You’d never want to build a house on a muddy foundation. Similarly, you’ll want to explore training shoes with better means of giving you ground feedback. If you’re looking at Nike, then exploring options like the Metcon 8 and 9 would be a good bet.
Reason 3: Excessive Toe Spring Hinders Balance
Toe spring is another construction feature that gets overlooked in training shoes. In the context of performance, not all toe spring is bad and how you’re training can influence if it’s beneficial or holding you back.
However, when talking about Nike Air Max shoes and how most use them, the toe spring in them is less than ideal. For example, in my Nike Air Max Alpha Trainer 5s the toe spring is super excessive which negatively impacted my performance in many ways.
For starters, if you’re trying to do exercises like deadlifts or RDLs then excessive toe spring can shift you forward which will make it tougher to focus on your hip hinge mechanics and bias your ability to focus on the posterior chain.
In squats, excessive toe spring can shift you forward which can put more weight on the toes especially as you’re standing up with weight. This is why you’ll generally see weightlifting shoes built with less toe spring.
When cross-training, some toe spring can be okay, but if it’s excessive like in Nike Air Max shoes then you’ll likely find yourself “feeling forward” in exercises like kettlebell snatches and swings, box jumps, and dumbbell split squats and lunges.
For daily wear, toe spring isn’t always the biggest deal if your goal is using your shoes for walking, but again, we need to apply context here and for training excessive toe spring can be less than optimal.
Reason 4: Lateral Performance Is Lacking
When cross-training, you’ll want shoes that have good lateral performance and stability. Most Nike Air shoes will fall short in this vertical due to their platform-like build.
For example, despite the boot of my Air Max Alpha Trainer 5s being more rigid, the lateral performance of this shoe is lacking heavily. This is due to how high this model’s stack height is and how its sole compresses.
When doing skater strides or any form of lateral cutting work I felt like I was about topple over due to my Air Maxes compressing and giving away to the lateral force I was placing in them.
If you train like an athlete then you’ll want to explore training shoes that have a blend of lateral support and sole flexibility and pliability. This type of shoe will move better with the foot versus feeling rigid and blocky like Air Maxes.
For Nike shoes that do good a job in this training vertical, I’d suggest looking into options like the Nike Zoom Metcon Turbo 2 or React Metcon Turbo.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:Are Nike Air Max good for lifting?
Q:Can you run in Nike Air Max shoes?
There’s no denying the popularity of Nike Air Max shoes, but I think we have to remember that just because Nike suggests that they’re “great for training” doesn’t mean they actually are.
Sure, Nike Air Maxes can work for beginners, but if you’re serious about your strength training and cross-training then you’ll want to pass on most Nike Air Max shoes.
There are countless stronger options on the market compared to Nike Air Maxes and if you need help finding shoes that will be best for you, drop a comment below or hit me on Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).