While we might be reaching peak fashion sneaker, sometimes you need a bit more — technology, support, strength — in a shoe you’re going to work out in. Whether you need something for double-dips at Barry’s or traversing 18 miles of asphalt, we spoke to 12 fitness-minded women to find out the best workout shoes for any activity. Also check out our megalist of the best running gear for women, and the best workout leggings.
“When I was training for an Ironman (after coming back from knee surgery), a friend who had done the race a year before recommended I check out Hokas. The sort of clown-looking shoes? I thought. But after going to the gym and doing a five-mile run in them, I was hooked. They look big and bulky to put on, but feel amazingly light when running. The toe box is just a touch wider than a standard running shoe, which gives a noticeably more comfortable and relaxed fit without feeling like your foot is sliding or shifting around. And thanks to the ample amount of cushioning packed into the outsole, I have far less aches and pains in my knee compared to other sneakers when running long distances.” — Jen Ator, 31, fitness director at Women’s Health magazine, running on treadmills and outdoors
“When the Adidas UltraBoost first came out, I was skeptical of the brand’s big claims about how revolutionary they were … and had yet to find a pair of shoes to make me want to alternate with my Asics Gel Nimbus (which I still wear and love as well). They weren’t exaggerating, though: The UltraBoost actually do feel like clouds on your feet, and I’ve never felt faster. I’ve now run three marathons in different versions of the UltraBoost (Boston, Berlin, New York City), and trained for others in them. I also think they’re one of the most stylish workout-shoe options out there. I try to keep one pair just for running and another for the gym and for walking around.” — Caitlin Carlson, 29, deputy editor at Furthermore, running on treadmills and outdoors
There are more sizes of the Adidas Running UltraBoost available at Zappos.
“I came across these incredibly lightweight trainers when I was on a fashion-PR salary, which meant they became my one pair of sneakers that had to work everywhere: at the gym, in cycling classes, and on hikes. I now wear them on my frantic trips between my office and the yoga studio. They’re hardly in style, but they still have enough sturdiness and shock absorption to support my busy city life (and tired arches).” — Maggi Warner, director of executive services at Axcess Worldwide, yoga instructor, hiking, running outside and on treadmills, strength training
“I went to the New York Running Company store to get fitted for new shoes, after injuring my knee wearing the wrong shoes to train for a half-marathon, and found these Brooks. They are the BEST. They might feel big and bulky at first if you’re used to Nikes, especially around the ankles, but these felt great to run with, and my knee was painless. I ran the Brooklyn Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in them and have never felt better.” — Isabella Chacin, 25, mobile marketing specialist at Mobext, running outdoors and on treadmills
“I owned the last make of these sneakers, and I wore them until the knitting fell apart. Safe to say, they are the most comfortable sneakers. I am on my flat feet for about 14 hours per day, so comfort is a must, and I noticed it helps my foot create a comfortable arch. Along with that, the sole is supportive, so it doesn’t feel like I’m wearing socks all day, and in between clients, I can squeeze in a quick workout. I mostly love them for their versatility — I’m able to lift in them and switch to a cross-training workout, then even meet my friends for dinner without changing into another pair of shoes, since they’re stylish.” — Julie Wandzilak, 25, Equinox E Tier X coach, strength training, cross-training
“I’ve had this same pair for years. Many times when they’ve felt snug (like during pregnancies), I’ll go to the store and get a non-Asics pair, but they never support my toes, so I go back to these. I do hikes, walk on an incline, run, strength train, and kickbox with them, which requires good heel and ankle support for all that twisting and turning.” — Maaria Mozaffar, 40, civil-rights attorney, hiking outdoors, treadmill workouts, strength training, kickboxing
“I found these kicks strolling through a boutique in Montreal and walked out with them on my feet. The fit is super lightweight and airy, and while they’re a little hard to get on, they make my foot look slim and narrow. They can also get you through an Orangetheory class.” — Julie Mayville, 33, senior client partner at Twitter, cross-training and strength training
For high-intensity interval training
“I get a ton of compliments on the color of these shoes, and love running outdoors in the evening with them on because the lime-green turns into reflectors. They have an awesome snug fit, which is helpful for my high-intensity interval training, but I cross-train in them and even wear them for agility and plyometric training, such as box jumps or ladder drills. I can’t stand shoes that you have to constantly adjust the lace to put on and take off, and these are so easy to get in and out of.” — April Sutton, 30, professional stuntwoman, running outdoors, HIIT, plyometric workouts
Note: There are more sizes and colors of the Nike Air Huarache Run Ultra available at Bloomingdale’s.
“I had been looking for a sleeker pair of sneakers to wear to some of my favorite classes, like Fhitting Room and Rumble, when I came across this pair. I needed the same support as my traditional running sneakers (Asics) to comfortably do burpees and box jumps, but wanted a more fashionable look that could carry me throughout the day. These hit the mark. My feet feel just as secure and — bonus — they look so cute.” — Brooke Lessinger, 30, freelance TV producer, HIIT, boxing, plyometric workouts
“After having chronic blister issues with my running shoes about eight years ago, I switched to the Asics Kayano — and have never worn another shoe since. About two times a year, I go to my local running store, and simply switch out to the latest version of the shoe. Regardless of look or sometimes the unfortunate colors they offer, I know that Kayano will provide me the comfort and stability that I need for AKT studio and on-demand training (and keeping up with my 1-year-old).” — Linsey Wheeler, 32, director of partnership marketing at Life Time, dance cardio, HIIT, strength conditioning
“I am obsessed with UA shoes lately, whether for fitness or leisure. I wear these all day. From teaching a morning class, to training clients throughout the day, to taking a Barry’s class — they’re perfect for any situation. Plus they’re super lightweight and they fit like a glove.” — Lindsey McMeen, instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp, HIIT, strength training
“For years, I wore trendy lightweight running sneakers, but last year I started to experience knee pain that couldn’t be explained. After numerous tests, I finally switched to a running sneaker that had more support and better catered to my stride, and voilà — my knee pain completely vanished. The added benefit of these Asics is that they’re super lightweight and flexible, making them perform well in high-intensity training classes where there is a lot of jumping and other activities that put stress on my knees. Although they’re not the best-looking sneakers, my knees feel great, and I’ll take that over style any day.” — Samantha Flax, 27, account manager at Pinterest, HIIT, plyometric workouts
Our on-staff Strategist writer Karen Iorio Adelson is such a running enthusiast (she used to work in a running store and did a megaguide to running clothes for women) that we asked her to share her favorite running shoes with us, too. Below, her six favorites for all kinds of runners.
The best running shoes for a barefoot feeling
In the early 2010s, when minimalist running shoes were peaking in popularity, all the major running brands raced to release shoes with low heel drops and extremely thin midsoles that allowed for a close-to-the-ground feeling. While not all of these shoes were hits, Brooks managed to actually create an awesome shoe that outlived the trend and is one of my all-time favorites. The PureFlow is streamlined enough for a near-barefoot feel, keeping me connected to the ground below, but with enough soft cushioning to protect me from the aches and pains that can come from high-impact pavement pounding.
The best running shoes for beginning runners
The Cumulus is a great middle-of-the-road shoe for those who don’t care about terms like heel drop and midsole density and just want to start running already. When I was first getting serious about running and graduated from picking out shoes that were cheap and cute, I went to a specialty running store for some expert shoe advice. One of the first pairs the sales associate brought out was the Cumulus, and I ended up buying them. They felt just right — not too hard or too soft. Flash-forward a few years to when I started working at the very same running store, and this Goldilocks of shoes became one I sold very frequently, since its versatility offers a little something for every runner.
The best running shoes for speed work
Lightweight and bouncy, the Kinvara is my go-to shoe for 5K and 10K races because it just feels fast. The soft, low-density foam of the Kinvara’s midsole that’s to thank for its springiness, also causes it to wear out a bit sooner than a sturdier shoe, so I consider this a special-occasion shoe for weekly speed sessions and races when I’m gunning for a personal best. They feel much lighter than my everyday shoes, so lacing them up is like a signal from my feet to my brain that it’s time for some speed.
The best running shoes for marathon training
On the other side of the cushioning spectrum is the Brooks Glycerin, a super-plush shoe that will give you cloudlike softness every step of your run. I like the Glycerin for marathon training and racing, especially for first-time marathoners who are entering uncharted territory with each week’s long run. The Glycerin’s layers of foam can stand up to the steady buildup of weekly mileage and still feel good as new on race day. Buying the Glycerin is like treating yourself to a luxury car with all the bells and whistles. You might not need all that sumptuous foam underfoot, but once you try it, it’ll be hard to go back to anything else.
The best post-injury running shoes
I wrote about these here before, but I have to give the Triumphs another mention since I currently run in these most days, and I credit them with getting me back to a regular routine after a nagging hamstring strain. I usually prefer more minimal shoes, but my old favorites weren’t doing my aching body any favors when I was injured, so I switched to the Triumphs, which are somehow both lightweight and generously cushioned. My hamstring is thankfully feeling better, but I’ve been sticking with the Triumph just because it’s a well-constructed shoe that feels great on the foot.
The best treadmill running shoes
Oddly enough, when I’m not running in the Triumphs these days, I’ve been turning to the extremely pared-down and minimal Nike Free. I’m a little obsessed with Mile High Run Club classes, and I like how light and flexible these are for short sprints and incline intervals. Nike shoes also tend to be a little more fashion-forward than the others, so I like these for travel since they can double up as everyday walking-around shoes, which means one less pair to pack.
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