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What Are Cross Training Shoes? Why Everyone Can Use a Pair

The cross-training shoe market continues to grow with new models coming out every year. More than ever, recreational exercisers are switching from traditional training shoes and running shoes for their workouts.

If you’re someone who has never worn a pair of cross-training shoes, then you might be wondering, “What are cross-training shoes actually good for? Are cross-training shoes the same thing as training shoes?

Cross-training shoes are great for a variety of activities and exercises. In fact, the name “cross-training” is a nod to this style of shoe’s ability to cross multiple exercise categories and excel with them.

If you’ve landed on this article, then you’re likely wanting or looking for a list of activities that cross-training shoes are good for. I’ll provide that below and also shed more context as to why every lifter and athlete should own at least one pair of good cross-training shoes.

Must Read: The 7 Best Cross-Training Shoes for Your Workouts In 2021

What Are Cross-Training Shoes?

Cross-training shoes are shoes designed with versatility and stability in mind, think of a shoe that offers a crossover appeal to multiple training styles. These are shoes that can tackle things like HIIT workouts, agility training, and heavy lifting. Basically, they’re a type of training shoe designed to be somewhat of an all-in-one style product.

Whether you’re an avid CrossFit athlete or someone who enjoys weekly classes, cross-training shoes are designed with the intent of tackling all of these activities without you having to change shoes.

For example, traditional training shoes can fall short for niche activities like rope climbs and heavy lifting. Cross-training shoes, on the other hand, are designed to tackle activities like these and more due to their versatile construction which also generally has long-term durability aspects built-in.

Generally, cross-training shoes will possess four key construction details.

  1. Fairly Stable Midsole: Cross-training shoes will usually utilize a medium or high-density foam throughout a shoe’s midsole to provide a stable, yet versatile feeling when training.
  2. Full Rubber Outsole: Most, if not all, cross-training shoes feature full rubber outsoles. This is to provide lifters with a stable base that has traction on a variety of surfaces. Plus, they’re more durable than foam midsoles.
  3. Durable Upper Construction: Popular materials used in cross-training shoe upper constructions include things like reinforced mesh, thicker knit blends, 3D print overlays, and synthetic materials.
  4. Lower Heel-to-Toe Drop: Heel-to-toe drops or offsets in cross-training shoes will range from 2mm-8mm which is fairly low compared to some standard training and running shoes.

Outside of these core four construction features, you’ll also see other construction features that play into the niche usage for certain types of shoes.

what are cross training shoes (1)

For example, shoes like the Nike Metcon 6 and Nike Metcon 7 feature an increase in mid-foot materials to support rope climbs. These shoes are slightly more geared towards CrossFit athletes, thus why they feature niche construction aspects like materials to support rope climbs and make the shoes more durable.

If we look at something like the UA HOVR Rise 3, this shoe falls into the cross-training category, however, it’s not geared fully towards CrossFit athletes and instead HIIT and recreational training. So, in the HOVR Rise 3’s case, you won’t get the same features for supporting CrossFit workouts specifically, but instead, you’ll get a blend of features to support casual lifting, HIIT, and so forth.

The takeaway here is that there’s an umbrella that covers multiple types of cross-training shoes and as you get more niche with your training, you’ll find certain cross-training shoes that will support your performance better than others.

This is why finding the right model can certainly be confusing at times, and this is also why I created That Fit Friend to help you out.

Cross-Training Shoes Vs Training Shoes

Cross-training shoes are not the same thing as traditional training shoes. That sounds confusing, but allow me to elaborate and explain why I like to create different buckets for these two types of shoes.

When we’re talking about cross-training shoes, we’re specifically talking about shoes designed for and capable of tackling a variety of high-performing tasks. This could mean deadlifting 315 lbs, then going straight into a HIIT workout where you’ll be doing a variety of plyometrics and bodyweight exercises all in one training session.

cross training shoes vs training shoes

A cross-training shoe will provide you with the stability and versatility to tackle both of these tasks with relative ease. There will be fewer times when working out in cross-training where you’ll have to ask, “Is this the right shoe for this workout?” 

With traditional training shoes, you’re not going to get the same level of niche performance aspects. For example, think of the classic New Balance training shoe (also known as the dad shoe).

This is a shoe that you can wear out and about and for very casual training sessions (and grilling, if you’re a dad!), but it’s not going to be a model that you’d want to squat heavy in and do clean & jerks. Training shoes are much more generic with their construction and will be limited in regard to their performance for niche exercises and training styles.

When talking about cross-training shoes and training shoes, remember that the devil’s in the details of a shoe’s construction. How your shoe is built and intended to be used will help create the buckets it will fall into in regard to being labeled as a cross-training shoe or a training shoe.

Cross-Training Shoes Vs Running Shoes

Cross-training shoes and running shoes are very different in both their construction and performance. Cross-training shoes will have a higher focus on stability with lower stack heights and more dense midsole and outsole materials while running shoes will be responsive and designed to provide ample ground feedback.

training shoes vs running shoes performance differences

There are key construction features that come with each shoe. If you’re someone that likes to take their gym-focused training and running seriously, then it’s a good idea to have separate pairs of shoes for your training sessions.

Just because you can technically use running shoes for heavier training sessions doesn’t mean you should or that they’ll be the optimal choice. In fact, I’ve discussed in detail why you should avoid squatting and deadlifting heavily in running shoes.

To add to the above, I like to explain the topic of cross-training shoes versus running shoes to beginners by comparing them to a pair of soccer cleats and a pair of Converse. One shoe is designed for soccer while the other is designed for more casual wear and can be used for lifting.

Nike Metcon 7 Stability and Lifting

You’re not going to wear the pair of Converse for a specific activity like soccer especially if you’re serious about your performance. For soccer, you’ll want a pair of shoes to help you optimize your performance output like a pair of soccer cleats.

By using our shoes for the activities they’re intended to tackle, we’ll get more out of them and put out bodies into better scenarios while prolonging their durability. You don’t have one jacket for tackling every single season, similarly, we don’t want one shoe to tackle every single way we train.

What Are Cross-Training Shoes Good For?

Cross-training shoes can help you excel at multiple exercises and activities. Some of the most popular forms of activity that athletes and lifters will use cross-training shoes for include:

  • Lifting
  • HIIT Workouts
  • Shorter Runs
  • Plyometrics
  • Agility Workouts
  • Various Workout Classes
  • Short-Medium Walks
  • Some Recreational Sports

And this list can continue. The main takeaway is that cross-training shoes are good for a variety of activities and are designed to be a “jack of all trades” in the workout setting. They deliver various levels of stability and versatility and can hold their own in multiple training styles.

If we look at cross-training shoes on a scale of exercise specificity or under the cross-training shoe umbrella that we discussed early, then usually they’ll land somewhere in the middle.

For example, on one of the spectrum, we could have shoes like dedicated running shoes and on the other end, we could have shoes like weightlifting shoes. These two shoes are both designed for tackling specific workouts and training styles and they’ll be poor choices for tackling tasks outside of their specific training niches.

what are cross-training shoes good for

With both of these shoes, they’re only really good for their specified tasks, and that’s why cross-trainers will usually land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. A cross-training shoe can tackle a little bit of everything and their performance can scale further per their construction features.

Why Are Cross-Training Shoes So Versatile?

The versatility that comes with cross-training shoes relates fully to their construction. These shoes are constructed to purposely promote stability, versatility, and responsiveness all at the same time.

Construction details that most cross-training shoes will have in common include:

  • Lower Heel-to-Toe Offset (to promote stability and multi-directional movement)
  • Dense Midsoles (to limit compression when lifting)
  • Firm, Grip-Focused Outsoles (to promote traction and stability)
  • Durable Upper Construction (to resist abrasion from the ground, ropes, and other implements)

Note, there’s a lot more that goes into cross-training shoes than what’s listed above, but these are the big four (in my opinion). To learn more about the intricate construction details, check out my cross-training shoes explained article.

Hopefully, this article helped clear up some initial cross-training shoe questions you may have. If you ever need help deciding on which model would be best for your goals, then please feel free to reach out.

Oftentimes, different cross-training shoes will be better for some exercisers, lifters, and athletes than others based on what one’s weekly training looks like. Also, make sure to check out my cross-training shoe reviews before you invest.

Takeaway Thoughts

I think owning at least one pair of cross-training shoes is a smart move for every athlete and lifter. They’re a dynamic type of shoe that can tackle a variety of training activities and they’ll outperform traditional training shoes and running shoes in pretty much all gym settings.

If you have any questions about cross-training shoes, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly).

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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