Why Athletic Brands Haven’t Been Able to Figure Out the Training Shoe Market Yet

All the top athletic brands have cross-training sneakers on retail shelves. Nike’s latest is the Metcon 4, and Reebok recently introduced its Nano 8, to name a couple standouts available now. But industry experts believe no label has figured out how to effectively cater to the cross-training enthusiast — or ever will be able to.

The reason, according to The NPD Group Inc.’s senior industry adviser for sports, Matt Powell, is an inability to make a complete multipurpose workout shoe.

“Training is a multifaceted activity. To say, ‘This is the perfect shoe,’ doesn’t really work,” Powell said. “If you’re doing CrossFit, as an example, you need a very stable shoe because you’re doing a lot of lifting. [But] if you’re doing other kinds of training, you need shoes with cushioning or better grip or side-to-side motion. The idea that there’s a perfect training shoe is not achievable.”

And Sam Poser, a Susquehanna Financial Group LLLP analyst, agreed. “A shoe that you would do aerobics in, lateral motion, can’t be a running shoe. And if it has too much cushion, it can’t be a good training shoe,” Poser said. “It’s hard to have something that does both.”

Reebok CrossFit Nano 8
Reebok CrossFit Nano 8
CREDIT: Reebok

Despite the daunting task to make a shoe that can do it all, brands continue to build models equipped to handle some, but not all, gym activities. Powell doesn’t believe the current cross-training model will work and that the answer to the multiuse issue plaguing the training marketplace isn’t readily available.

“Probably the only way [to cater to the training market] is to make activity-specific footwear and to say, ‘This shoe is for lifting, this shoe is for side-to-side,’ and so forth, and hope that the customer will buy multiple pairs of shoes,” Powell said. “But that’s highly unlikely. Today’s consumer is saying, ‘I want a versatile shoe I could wear for lots of things.'”

Aside from falling short in execution is the shoe category’s performance in stores.

“The trend line in training has been negative for several years now, and I don’t see that turning in the short term,” Powell said.

But training isn’t failing for all brands.

“What’s really starting to kick in is training, what you wear when you work out. We had a big year in training — specifically with Dick’s Sporting Goods,” Mark King, president of Adidas North America, explained to FN ahead of the brand’s earnings announcement on March 14.

For those brands without success in the training category, Poser questions if they even care about having a substantial presence in that area of the market.

“I don’t think the brands are overly concerned about solving that problem,” he said. “I think brands are concerned with finding compelling shoes that people want, and I don’t know if the consumer is out there for a better training shoe.”

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