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Ask 10 people what constitutes cross-training, and I’d wager you’d get at least five different answers. Now, I bet if you were to ask those same 10 people what shoes they wear to cross-train, you’d get an even more varied response. This makes sense, since cross-training covers a wide spectrum of activities.
HIIT, CrossFit, running, jump roping, weightlifting and even walking are all forms of cross-training. The truth is, not all shoes are ideal for cross-training. For example, the majority of running shoes make horrible CrossFit and HIIT shoes because they lack much-needed stability, support and grip for these exercises.
So, how do you find the best cross-training shoes? Great question. Let’s dive in.
Activity-Specific Shoes vs. Cross-Training Shoes
Workout shoes can typically be placed into two categories: specific and multi-faceted. Activity-specific shoes like running, rock climbing, hiking and walking shoes are easy to identify. Their purpose is very clear and they’re primarily designed for one activity.
Multi-faceted shoes are a little different. These are the “jack of all trades” shoes and can be classified as true cross-training shoes. They’re more versatile and capable of handling a broad range of activities and movements.
“A good cross training shoe includes lateral support and heel lockdown for multi-directional movements, so that your foot is kept in place and secure,” says Grace Wentzien, Project Line Manager for Women’s Train Footwear at Under Armour. “Flexibility and cushioning are also key, so that your foot can move naturally and freely, which helps when quickly changing directions or balancing.”
When shopping for your perfect pair, it’s important to consider the types of cross-training activities you’ll be doing.
“Cross-training involves lifting, running, jumping, climbing and a range of other functional movements, so the shoe needs to be stable, flexible, durable and responsive all at the same time” says Training Marketing Manager for inov-8 and competitive CrossFit athlete Fran Calvert.
Do Cross-Training Shoes Make a Difference?
The answer is yes, depending on the type of cross-training you do. If you occasionally run or workout on the elliptical or weight machines, any running shoe will suffice. However, once you start getting into more intense activities like HIIT classes, CrossFit and Olympic-style weight training, owning the right pair of cross-training shoes for each particular activity is key.
“Cross-training shoes are built specifically to provide lockdown, stability and support that other types of footwear are not able to throughout the various exercises and movements you may encounter in a workout,” says Wentzien. “They’re versatile, just like cross-training in itself.”
Can You Use Walking or Running Shoes for Cross-Training?
Generally speaking, you should avoid this. Walking is a unidirectional activity, meaning it moves in one direction, whereas, most cross-training activities are multidirectional. Walking shoes just don’t have the support and stability needed for most cross-training movements.
Wentzien adds, “Cross-trainers also tend to be a little firmer when it comes to cushioning and shock absorption, as running shoe foam compresses over time when repeatedly absorbing weight. Cross-trainers, on the other hand, are able to withstand the weight absorption that cross-training requires without compromising stability or longevity.”
What Are the Best Shoes for HIIT Workouts?
According to Wentzien, the best types of shoes for HIIT workouts keep your feet locked in throughout the various movements in your workout. They should also provide cushioned support to absorb impact and “send the energy right back to power you through your training,” he says.
For a simpler shopping experience, we’ve compiled the best cross-training shoes for women. These have been selected based on feedback from reviewers and experts, as well this writer’s own technical experience with various cross-training model. Here’s the scoop.
Nike Metcon 7
Best CrossFit Shoe
Nike’s Metcon series has long been the gold standard for weight training and CrossFit shoes. And despite some pretty significant updates to the line over the years, its status remains. For the seventh iteration, Nike changed the shoe’s midsole to include React foam — a soft yet responsive material used in the brand’s running shoes. The new midsole is a bit more forgiving for cardio and sprints, however the shoes still offer a firm platform and sturdy heel — which means no power is lost through the shoes during squats, deadlifts, cleans and snatches.
Under Armour Project Rock 4
Most Versatile Cross-Training Shoes
Ideal for just about any cross-training activity, the Under Armour Project Rock 4 features the brand’s highest energy-returning foam — called Hovr — in the midsole. I’ve personally been a huge fan of Hovr ever since Under Armour released it. It’s not only super responsive, but also over-the-top comfortable to support you through any run. The engineered mesh upper is highly breathable and fits like a sock. Gold TPU overlays provide medial and lateral support for any type of lateral movements.
New Balance Minimus TR
Best Cross-Training Shoes for Narrow Feet
The Minimus TR has long been a New Balance favorite as an all-around great cross-training shoe. To call these a true minimal shoe would be somewhat misleading. While they’re minimally cushioned with high sensitivity, they also offer some extra underfoot protection for those who want it.
Even so, they’re extremely lightweight. Weighing just six ounces, they’ll help you crush those short sprints and agility drills with ease.
“These are the best cross-training shoes for my workout routines,” wrote one reviewer. “The soles of these shoes are thin and grip the floor and platform well during both weight training and HIIT.”
Just a heads up on sizing — a majority of reviewers agree they tend to run small and very narrow.
Adidas Fluidflow 2.0
Best Budget Cross-Training Shoes
Adidas styling is classic. It’s eye-catching, but doesn’t scream, “Hey, look at me.” The Adidas Fluidflow 2.0 gives you that classic Adidas look in a functional, well-priced training shoe. The soft and stretchy knit upper allows for excellent airflow for those stuffy gym sessions, while the midsole gives you a perfect balance of cushioning and stability. If you’re looking for something a bit softer underfoot, I highly recommend the UltraBoost 21, but for squats, deadlifts, and agility drills, they’re going to be too squishy.
Brooks Levitate StealthFit GTS 5
Best for Running
If your cross-training involves running, look no further than Brooks’ Levitate StealthFit GTS5. While technically a running shoe, it doubles nicely as a cross-trainer due to its stability. A firm piece of plastic cradles your heel to help eliminate excess movement and provide added support. The midsole is on the firmer side, making it better than most running shoes for side-to-side movements and cut-and-stop drills.
A great hybrid running/cross-training shoe, as one customer wrote. “Obsessed! Finally, a support shoe from Brooks that looks less than, shall I say, orthopedic? I Love my Brooks and am so happy this shoe exists. The stealth fit is like a glove. Comfortable and springy right out of the box.”
Inov-8 F-Lite G 300
Most Durable Cross-Training Shoes
Cross-training can be brutally rough on shoes. Between all the jumping, sprinting and climbing, you need a shoe that’s durable enough to withstand forces from all angles. Meet the Inov-8 F-Lite G 300, “the world’s toughest training shoe.” It’s the only shoe that’s infused with graphene, which is 100 times stronger than steel (meaning you won’t wear through the rubber soles on these shoes). In addition to be extremely rugged, the style also offers unmatched grip for box jumps and stop-and-go sprinting.
As one CrossFitter says of the F-Lite G 300, “These are amazing! I’ve had all the other CrossFit shoes and these are by far the best. Seriously, the most versatile CrossFit shoe.”
York Frank Trainer
Most Stylish Cross-Training Shoes
York may not have the same name recognition as some of the others listed here, but don’t let that deter you. Besides being ultra-comfortable, the brand’s Frank shoes are capable trainers. Their leather overlays not only look sharp, but offer built-in support for lateral movements in conjunction with internal and external molded heel counters for rearfoot stability. The outsole is flexible and outfitted with slip-resistant gum rubber.
Dozens of reviewers rave about the style. “Don’t sleep on Frank!” one said. “These shoes are great. The leather cage holds the foot well and comfortably. The look is slick; the feel is great.”
Reebok Nano X1
Most Trusted Cross-Training Shoes
Whether you’re a competitive CrossFit athlete or weekend warrior, the Reebok Nano is one of the most trusted fitness shoes for just about any form of training. Rearfoot stability is top notch. A lightweight heel clip keeps the foot locked in and prevents unnecessary movements.
To note, the firm, deep heel cup did receive mixed reviews, though. Some shoppers praised it for keeping their heels in place, while others found it to be too hard and noted that it irritated their Achilles. For that reason, most reviewers agreed these shoes shouldn’t be worn with ankle socks.
Still, the overwhelming majority of reviews echo this one: “I absolutely love these shoes! Perfect for workouts! Very comfortable and roomy!”
Salewa Ultratrain 3
Best for Hiking
If your idea of cross-training involves anything in the mountains, this shoe is for you. This lightweight hiker will keep your feet glued to the ground and give you the traction and confidence needed to crush those day hikes.
“A serious shoe for passionate outdoors people,” said one reviewer. “This is a privately-owned company, and they don’t make crap. The shoe fits like a glove and comes with a two-year guarantee. Will be buying Salewa for now on.”
Altra Solstice XT
Best Cross-Training Shoes for Wide Feet
Altra shoes have long been a fan-favorite for runners with wide feet. Their famed FootShap toe box allows for full, natural toe splay. Grooves in the midsole and outsole give the shoe a good amount of flexibility, which extends into the upper as well.
While this offers peak comfort, it also means that these shoes are much less secure and stable than most dedicated cross-training shoes. If you value comfort and toe space, though, these are the best. As one returning customer mentions, “This is my third pair in as many years and they are wonderful. They truly feel like slippers that you can wear out. I like how the shoe allows my foot to spread as if I’m barefoot.”
Merrell Vapor Glove 5
Best Minimalist Cross-Training Shoes
For those who would go to the gym barefoot if it was allowed, try Merrell’s Vapor Glove 5. As one of Merrell’s top minimalist shoes, the Vapor 5 gives you just a touch of cushioning and arch support while maintaining exceptional ground feel and flexibility. The Vibram EcoStep outsole is both tough and grippy.
These aren’t for everyone, but if you’re curious about a more natural-feeling shoe, these are a great place to start.
“This is my first time wearing a minimalist shoe and I am hooked,” one reviewer said. “They’re lightweight and have traction on every terrain I have been on so far. I would buy them again for sure.”
Under Armour Hovr Apex 3
Best for Agility
Agility training, like stop-and-go sprints, is tough on the ankles. All the abrupt change of direction and pace places extreme amounts of force on your feet and ankles. No shoe offers better foot and ankle support than Under Armour’s Hovr Apex 3. External overlays around the ankle provide just enough stability while Under Armour’s most energetic midsole gives you a snappy pop off the ground. The consensus is that these run a tad small, so if you’re between sizes, consider the smaller size.
Nike Air Zoom SuperRep 2
Best for HIIT
Taking cues from the world-famous Nike Alphafly NEXT% carbon-fiber running shoe, these flashy HIIT-focused shoes will keep you energized all class long. Dual Air Zoom bags in the forefoot give a rather uniquely cushioned and bouncy experience, one that’s perfect for burpees. Despite a visible cutout at the midsole, it features a full-length plate with plenty of arch support that most shoppers agree gives the shoe a stable and supportive feeling.
A word to the wise, these run a little small.
Reebok Legacy Lifter II
Best for Weight Lifting
What sets these apart from all other weightlifting shoes? The firm, stable platform and raised heel puts your feet and body in proper stance for lifting. A raised TPU heel clip stabilizes your heel so all forces are directed upward to eliminate excess side-to-side movement.
There’s no doubt these are pricey, but if you’re serious about weightlifting, there’s no better shoe. Just listen to one happy customer’s review: “These are my first weightlifting shoes, and boy do they make a difference! And I can tell you you won’t want to go back once you use them. They’re a game changer! Comfortable, good quality and stylish!”
Asics NovaBlast 2
Best Cross-Training Shoes with Arch Support
People who have high arches tend to underpronate, meaning their feet roll inwards as they walk or run. These individuals need a shoe with lots of cushioning to disperse force and reduce the chance of lower leg injuries. While technically a running shoe, the Asics NovaBlast 2 is one of the most comfortable cross-training shoes you can buy. If you’re struggling with lower leg pain, these may help, as they’re well-cushioned and ultra-comfortable. Just be aware that for heavy lifting and agility work, the extra cushioning in these reduces stability.