What are cross-training shoes, honestly? There are a TON of different cross-training shoes on the market and not all of the widely available options are created equal. This shoe category continues to evolve and grow quickly, so if you’re on the market searching for a new pair, it’s probably a good idea to understand some basic construction features that you should consider.
To the unknowing eye, all cross-training shoes can look alike, however, there are some stark differences worth noting about how each shoe will fit and perform, and the devil’s in the details of their construction.
In this article, I’m going to answer two key questions. First, what are cross-training shoes? Second, what cross-training construction features should you pay attention to? Basically, how to look at a shoe’s construction to make an educated buying choice.
Cross-Training Shoes Table of Contents
For my visual friends, pair this article with the video below to get a full lay of the land for cross-training shoes and their construction.
What Are Cross-Training Shoes?
Cross-training shoes are a type of training shoe designed to tackle a variety of tasks. The term “cross-training” in this context means multi-functionality. This style of training shoe will support multi-directional activity, heavier lifting, HIIT workouts, shorter runs, and multiple other styles of training.
The construction that goes into a cross-training shoe is what makes this style of shoe so great for all of these activities. There are multiple key differences between cross-training shoes and something like running shoes. Below, I’ve outlined all of the key construction details that you know before buying a pair of cross-training shoes.
The outsole is the texturized hard bottom of the shoe. It’s basically the rubber on the bottom of your shoe that provides your shoe with its traction, firm/soft feeling, and support.
In cross-training shoes, the outsole is incredibly important for three key details:
- Support: A firmer outsole will provide more stability under various loads.
- Durability: Ideally, you want an outsole that wraps up over the midsole to protect the shoe from abrasion and premature breakdown.
- Traction: This is important when considering the various surfaces you might be training on.
What to Look For: When looking at cross-trainers, always check out the outsole and note how it’s constructed. Then, create a list of questions that tie into your training goals and how you like to train. For example, you could ask, is the outsole flatter and designed to be stable? Does it wrap over the toe to protect from toe drag in exercises like burpees?
The midsole is the visible material that separates the outsole (bottom rubber portion) from the outer construction. Midsoles are incredibly important for providing shoes with their stability, responsiveness, and overall feeling.
With cross-training shoes, generally, you’ll have midsoles that are designed with a high-density EVA foam or variants/hybrids of it. This type of material is designed to limit compression and provide some reactivity and responsiveness.
What to Look For: In many cases, a midsole can be a make or break for a cross-training shoe depending on your training goals. For example, if you want maximal stability, then you’ll want to find midsoles that limit how much they compress. Conversely, if you like training with more diversity and want a pair of shoes to run in, too, then you’ll want a midsole that walks the middle ground between very supportive and soft.
The heel-to-toe drop is the difference in height between the base of the heel and the forefoot. This is important to consider because as we lift, we’ll want to be mindful of how our shoes are promoting and supporting our balance.
A higher heel-to-toe drop will provide a bit more heel to sit back on and a lower heel-to-toe drop will provide a flatter and more stable surface to lift on.
What to Look For: Generally, the popular cross-training shoes will have a 4mm heel-to-toe drop. This is the drop you’ll see in shoes Reebok Nanos and Nike Metcons. A lower heel-to-toe drop would be considered <2mm or less, which is a feature the Under Armour TriBase Reigns have (2mm) and New Balance Minimus (0mm).
Anything that’s >6mm or higher, in the context of cross-trainers, would be deemed as a bigger heel-to-toe drop. Some shoes that have this type of drop include the Inov-8 F-Lite G 300 and Under Armour HOVR Rise.
The shank is the mid-foot construction of the shoe that provides structure and functionality along with separation from the toe and heel. This is important to consider for athletes that like having more or less support around the mid-foot.
A shoe with a more built-out shank will usually provide a “flatter” and more supportive feeling than some of the more thin, athletic-style shoes. A good example of a cross-training shoe that has really interesting shank construction is the Nike React Metcon Turbo.
What to Look For: Shank construction isn’t usually the biggest deal for athletes and lifters, so I’d recommend simply considering how you train, then how the shoe appears to fit and perform. If you have a wider mid-foot for example, then you’ll likely want a more supportive shank in your shoe.
The toe box is the space in the shoe that spans from the base of the forefoot up to the top of the shoe. A toe box is important to consider because as we lift, we’re constantly splaying (spreading) our toes at various points during a workout to promote stability and balance.
If a cross-training shoe has a limited toe box, then a lifter may feel like their feet are being squeezed or that they’re not able to fully grip the floor when training. This is a factor that most cross-training shoes account for, however, with so many different lasts (shoe builds), we still have to be cognizant of it though because all companies vary in this construction area.
What to Look For: Reviews! Look for other athletes’ thoughts and what has been said in reviews about the shoe in respect to the toe box. You can also visually look at the shoe, but hearing testimonials is always more accurate.
The outer constitutes the construction that covers the foot and provides the shoe with its overall durability when resisting abrasion. In addition, outer construction is also where companies will usually implement various parts of their shoe tech and branding.
With cross-training, there are infinite ways to train. If we consider how we primarily train, then we can look for outer constructions that will play into our training style and resist breaking down quickly. For example, if you’re continually climbing ropes, then you’ll want a more synthetic outer that resists abrasions compared to a lighter mesh.
What to Look For: Primary type of material. Mesh will be breathable and lightweight but can be more prone to fraying and breaking down quickly. Synthetic materials will resist abrasion well but can be a bit heavier and less accommodating. For this part, it’s also a good idea to check out reviews!
Tongue and Eyelets
A cross-training shoe’s tongue and eyelets go hand-in-hand, in my opinion. They both play a role in mid-foot durability and can be incredibly important for providing the shoe with a snug and comfortable feeling.
Thicker tongues will be heavier but less prone to breaking down, and thinner tongues will feel lighter and more prone to ripping/breaking down. Well-built eyelets can be crucial for durability and shoe security.
What to Look For: Check out the shoe’s tongue you’re looking at and then note what you prefer to currently wear and make educated decisions off of this. As for eyelets, usually, eyelets that have additional support or material that covers them are always better for long-term durability.
Heel Collar and Tab
A shoe’s heel collar is the material that wraps around the medial and lateral sides of the shoe to enclose the heel and the tab is the most posterior portion of the heel that locks the foot in. With diverse training, we want a heel collar and tab that locks the foot in and prevent heel slip.
Heel slip is the act of the heel slipping out of a shoe mid-movement. An example of this would be when you’re doing a box jump and notice that your shoe starts to slide off or down and your heel begins to come out of the shoe.
What to Look For: Similar to the toe box section, look at reviews. That’s the best way to identify if a shoe has heel slip at all during workouts. It’s tough to see just visually when looking at a shoe!
The last of a cross-training shoe entails the physical build of the shoe that creates its “skeleton”. Basically, it’s the molding that creates the shoe’s fit and feeling and provides models with their unique feeling.
There’s no “perfect” last out there to look for, however, there are better fits for your foot’s size and how you like to train. This is why we usually gravitate to certain shoe brands that seem to just “fit right”. That’s actually their last being modeled similar to the anatomy of your foot.
What to Look For: For this section, it’s best to physically try the shoes on. A runner-up if that’s not an option is to look at reviews and note how others have mentioned how a pair of shoes fit.
Cross-training shoes continue to evolve and grow with a rapidly growing industry. With so many options on the market, it can be incredibly useful to equip yourself with the knowledge necessary to make educated buying decisions.
This way you can ensure you’re buying products that actually coincide with your performance goals, needs, and wants!